Tagged: jason smith

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For the second issue in a row, Baylor put football on the cover. OK, the first, Fall 2011, was technically a homecoming cover, but homecoming revolves around the football game, of course, and football players were part of the cover illustration. Winter 2011/12 featured Baylor’s new Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III. That makes four football or football-related covers in the last 14 issues. Can’t wait for the Spring 2012 cover—spring football practice! (Randy Morrison edits Baylor. By the way, RG3, as he’s known at the school, also made the cover of The Baylor Line. Yes, Baylor has two alumni magazines. It’s complicated.)

New redesign for CM, the magazine of the Commonwealth School in Boston. Editor Tristan Davies—you may recognize him as the CUE-L listserv majordomo—notes that the new biannual magazine consolidates the formerly annual alumni publication and two yearly newsletters. Davies says, “I’m an alumnus, and even before I came to work at Commonwealth, I had talked with people at the school about how old-fashioned its pieces seemed: loaded with dense text, almost no color, illustrated almost completely by student art that also printed in black and white, and not based on the standard periodical magazine. Once I started working at Commonwealth in July 2008, I started thinking more seriously about merging the three pieces into one. But I was also about to lead a complete redesign of our admissions materials, and so I put off a decision.” Then came last year’s Editors Forum. Davies got a critique from Middlebury’s Matt Jennings—hard to see how any good could come of that, but maybe it’s just me—and attended Tina Hay’s “Magazines 101” workshop. Says Davies, “On the Friday afternoon of the Forum I sat in my hotel room and mapped out the new magazine format.” Jeanne Abboud of Abboud Design had been doing the publications the last few years, and she did the new look, as well. “Yes, the same person did both the before and after,” Davies says, “which I think says quite a bit about how much we were holding her back.” The first issue of the new CM surely does look better, and includes a couple of fine pieces, Janetta Stringfellow’s “Unbreakable,” and Melissa Glenn Haber’s “Into the Words.” Now if only they’d stop employing the term “alumni/ae.”

Two other major redos: USC Trojan Family, from Southern Cal, and Drexel Magazine. First issue of the new USC magazine includes a letter from athletic director Patrick C. Haden detailing the violations of NCAA rules that led to sanctions against Souther Cal football, men’s basketball, and women’s tennis. The NCAA ordered publication of the letter, which is not exactly what you want appearing in your pretty new magazine. Sympathies to editor Lauren Clark.

Drexel’s previous design was hardly bad, but I thought the book looked more like a corporate report than a magazine. Editor Tim Hyland says, “Content-wise, the magazine was just fine when I arrived. And it looked pretty good, too. But my sense was that we really wanted to make sure that we achieved a sort of ‘cutting-edge’ look to this redesign, and to make sure the look of the magazine matched up with all of the exciting things that are happening here at Drexel today. It really does feel like a university on the move, and there’s a lot of energy here right now. I wanted the magazine to capture that.” He retained designer Emily Aldritch, who previously had designed Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin and Voice (Carleton). “She came for a campus visit, and within no time delivered two really interesting design directions. Both of them reflected the ideas we wanted to convey about Drexel—it’s urban location, it’s focus on experiential education, it’s fast-paced environment, etc. In the end, we ended up choosing a hybrid approach that borrowed from each of the design directions.” The new look makes use of bigger type and bigger art, and drops the dragon mascot from the nameplate. I was actually sort of fond of the dragon, but will concede that working your sports mascot into your nameplate is a bit lame. (Unless you are the University of California, Santa Cruz, in which case I want to see banana slugs all over your pages.) Says Hyland, “I think from a design perspective we are exactly where we want to be. Emily has done her part, and now I’d like to really focus on making the content as engaging and interesting as possible. I want our alumni to look forward to getting the magazine, and to reading it. I want to see more feedback and more letters to the editor. To get there, we need to churn out really interesting content. That’s on me as editor and on my team as well.”

Sad to say it, but the mail brought the last print edition of Endeavors, the axed research magazine at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill. Jason Smith’s fine publication lives on as a website, but it just ain’t the same. And it must be said of the Winter 2012 finale—Best Pig Cover Ever. Look at the penetrating gaze on that beast.

Finally, the latest Drew Magazine (Renée Olson, editor) has a centerfold. Yeah, yeah, yeah, not what you’re thinking, grow up already. It’s a double centerfold, actually, of a watercolor by Drew faculty member Roberto Osti of four seasons in Drew’s much-loved Forest. Look, it’s got birds and a chipmunk and a bunny. Now don’t you feel bad about where your mind went first?

Requiem for a fine research magazine

RIP Endeavors, 1984–2011. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will cease publication of its magazine of “research and creative activity” two issues hence. The state budget’s spreadsheet, like those of so many states, looks like something from the inside back cover of the old MAD magazine, and the office that produces Endeavors has endured the loss of something like a quarter of its funds. The magazine will live on, sort of, as a website. But the print publication, ably edited by Jason Smith, has been first rate and it’s sad to witness its demise.

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The inbox bulgeth. I’ve been overwhelmed the last few weeks, but just back from speaking at the annual conference put on by the fine folks at URMA, the University Research Magazine Association, I can turn my attention to what everybody’s been up to over the last month.

First, a few killer covers. Jonathan Franzen not only graduated from Swarthmore, but taught there, too. Swarthmore College Bulletin‘s April cover features a digital sculpture of Franzen created by Joel and Sharon Harris. “Digital sculpture” feels a bit oxymoronic to me, but there’s no arguing with the results. Jeff Lott is the Swarthmore editor, for a few more months. (No jealousy here about his impending retirement, no, none at all.)

The art works great for the feature spread, too. (click to enlarge)

Another great cover, and continuing impressive work from Endeavors at North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The cover story is “Deathwatch” by Susan Hardy, and the cover begins a list of the names of every person executed in the United States since 1977, plus the names of their victims. The list continues on the story spread. I know from talking to editor Jason Smith at the URMA conference that this cover was born of desperation when the planned cover blew up at the last minute. However desperate the circumstances surrounding it, I think it’s a superb cover.

Finally, one more redo, which is actually a rebirth. MTSU, out of Middle Tennessee State University, ceased print publication with its Fall/Winter 2009 issue. Then the university changed its mind and told the recently hired Drew Ruble, senior editor for university publications, to relaunch the magazine. More on this in a later post, but here’s the cover of the first issue of the reborn MTSU.

More to come. Have a good weekend, and watch tomorrow’s Preakness—it always makes my town look good.

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The most impressive magazine to land in my inbox the last week or so was the Winter 2010 issue of Endeavors, a research magazine out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published by that school’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development. First, I think the publication looks great. Striking cover photo of Aaron Copland composing by candlelight, sleek design on the feature spreads, good art. I don’t share the magazine’s fondness for sans-serif type, but eh, editor Jason Smith might rightly tell me to go write another story.

Where Endeavors shines is its content. Copland graces the winter cover because of”Songs as Bullets, Music as Bombs,” Mark Derewicz’s fascinating story about how the U.S. government, during the Second World War, commissioned new classical compositions from great composers—Copland, Samuel Barber, Elliot Carter, Henry Cowell, even German-born Kurt Weill—because it thought music was important to the war effort. Here is a bit of Derewicz’s story:

In a letter to radio journalist and composer Deems Taylor, an anonymous soldier wrote: “I know that I express the feelings of thousands who perhaps don’t have the time to sit down and write to you. We who are busy seven days a week training and fighting for our ultimate victory want and need good music. We need it because it clears our minds and gives us relaxation; we need it because it gives us purpose, courage, and hope in the cause for which we are fighting.”

Great stuff, and I knew none of it before reading Derewicz’s piece. Can you imagine the hue and cry if the federal government proposed funding a new piece from Philip Glass for our fighting men and women in Iraq or Afghanistan? Boggles the mind.

Another nice piece is “Cold-called,” a short feature from Alex Raines on researcher Carol Otey. Raines’ opening paragraphs demonstrate how you write a narrative research story:

When her phone rang in 2004, Carol Otey had no idea it would chage the course of her research. The call was from a stranger, Teri Brentnall at the University of Washington. Brentnall had done a genetic analysis of a Washington State family, referred to by researchers as Family X, that had an extremely high rate of pancreatic cancer.

Seven members of Family X had already chosen to have their pancreases removed—giving them instant diabetes—to prevent this deadly cancer. Brentnall knew generally where the mutation was that was causing their disease, but that left about 250 candidate genes. Number twenty on the list was palladin.

Otey had discovered palladin years before. Now a stranger from across the country was calling to ask whether she thought it was possible that a mutation in palladin could be causing pancreatic cancer in Family X. Otey hesitated. A cold call like this is rare in science, where competition for funding and publications discourages tipping one’s hand.

Go ahead, stop reading after an opening like that. Great stuff.

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This is a special editor’s note edition of the inbox. I have a love-indifference-hate relationship with editor’s notes. I am indifferent to the ones that try to alert me to the fine content to be found in a turn of the pages. I can find it on my own, thanks, I’ve a lot of experience at this and I can take it from here. I don’t really hate the self-indulgent “news from inside my office” notes or the “let me add my praise” cheerleader notes or the “look at my new cat” notes, though they irritate me out of proportion to the sin and if I’m being honest I have to say I really like pictures of other people’s cats. The notes I love are the brief essays by those uncommon editors able to combine ruminative intelligence, acute powers of observation, and dexterity with the language. One could argue that they take advantage of their power to command a column or two of Bodoni for personal use, but I don’t care. Done right, the words on the page justify the commandeering of space.

Editor Jason Smith opens the fall edition of Endeavors, from UNC Chapel Hill, with a lovely reminiscence of his grandfather. If Smith’s five paragraphs about the old guy are any indication, he was worth knowing.

My grandfather used to make up stories abut a little red Volkswagern Beetle that outwitted a mean black Cadillac. He would pay for our McDonald’s Happy Meals with exact change: handing the cashier the coins, he’d say, “Here’s your cost,” and then—forking over the bills—”and here’s your profit.” He didn’t say hello when he answered the phone. He’d just announce his name, James, as if the caller should get down to business. He would say that his garden was doing pretty well, but the macaroni he planted still hadn’t come up.

A recent envelope contained a couple of issues of Portland, whose editor, Brian Doyle, does so well with Montaigne’s form I’ve decided he should pay for my drinks at every Editors Forum to palliate my envy. The spring issue of Portland has, on the inside front cover, “His Father,” Doyle’s telling of a story that he says he has harbored for 30 years, a story of witnessing a classmate’s, a friend’s, humiliation by a drunken father. The essay’s last sentences:

All the rest of my life I’ll remember my friend’s face as he carried his dad in his arms that night, though. I’ll never forget that. You think we have words for this sort of thing but we do not. All we can do is witness and report and hope that somehow stories turn into prayers. All we can do is drape words on experience, and hope the words give some hint of the shape of the moment, and pray that our attentiveness matters in a way we will never know. I believe, with all my heart, that it does. What do you believe?

What I believe is that contained in those seven sentences is as good a mission statement for writers and editors as you are ever likely to see.

(The photograph up top is Portland‘s cover image, by Jean-Paul Nacivet of Getty Images.)