Tagged: jeff hagan

Eight questions for Matt Jennings

Matt Jennings, editor at Middlebury Magazine, is a fixture of the CASE Editors Forum. Usually at the hotel bar. In some city a couple of years ago—Boston? Nashville? Boston, I think—he stole my dessert fork. As payback he had to submit to the UMagazinology ques-tionnaire.

How long have you been in your job?

I’ve been editing Middlebury Magazine for 10 years.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

You know, there have been so many things I’ve had to learn and am still learning that it’s hard to pinpoint the most significant. I think that might be my answer, learning that the job of an editor is one of constant learning. Not just learning about fascinating subjects and people and issues, that’s obvious, but learning that there is no one best way to do something, to do anything. We should always, always be thinking about fresh approaches to everything we do. The minute we become complacent, the minute we think, “oh, I know how to do that” or “this is how we do this,” then our magazines are in danger of becoming static. Boring. Easy to ignore.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Working with young, extremely talented writers who also have a hunger to learn and be edited. I have a reliable stable of freelance writers, I have on occasion enlisted “big-name” writers to contribute to the magazine, and we have a talented editorial staff, and it’s a pleasure to edit all of them—but the biggest thrill has been working with these rising stars, this cohort of narrative journalists just a few years out of college. I almost think of them as a pack. They all graduated within a year or two of each other, all within the past five years; most, if not all, apprenticed here under Bill McKibben, and Chris Shaw and Sue Halpern; they come to me with these great ideas and the youthful freedom and energy to go anywhere and report for as long as it takes; and they can really write, but not just that, revise, take direction, fight and argue and do whatever it takes to really nail a story. Just this year, three of them won CASE Circle of Excellence medals for writing. Zaheena Rasheed won a silver, and Kevin Redmon and Sierra Crane Murdoch won golds. And that was Sierra’s second Circle of Excellence medal in as many years.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

Oh, I don’t know. There might be some universal frustrations that are best shared over a cocktail at Fandangles than on a public blog. One evolving frustration has been creating a digital complement to our printed periodical. We’ve made strides in this area—I think we are producing dynamic, rich content for our digital magazine independent of or complementary to what is in our quarterly periodical, but we need a better platform to deliver this work. We made a giant leap a few years ago into a WordPress platform and that was such an improvement, but already it’s outdated. The digital realm moves so fast. I want us to be as innovative online and in tablet form as we are in print, like the collegiate version of what The Atlantic has been able to master with the print magazine, theatlantic.com, and The Atlantic Wire. Obviously, what we should be doing is on a much different scale, but the media philosophy should be the same.

What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?

My obsessive-compulsive tendencies leave me incapable of being truly satisfied with anything. I am forever second-guessing decisions, redoing in my mind stories or story choices or cover directions. I loved Jeff Hagan’s description of not feeling relief when a magazine is on the way to the post office, but rather a feeling of “now comes hell.” I don’t think I have it that bad, though I recognize what he’s saying. Often I am pleased with what we have done, but being satisfied is different. Even if I am looking at a feature, say, that I really like, I’m still thinking, “but what if we had asked this question . . .”

What story are you proudest to have published?

My favorite story was a searing, heart-wrenching piece written by a Middlebury alumna, whose 2-year-old son was undergoing treatment for an extremely rare type of leukemia. We learned of the story through a class note, and Anne proved to be a really good writer and told a story that only she could. What I liked about it institutionally was that it showed that we care just as much about our alumni who are really struggling with a life-altering event as we do those who have achieved a large measure of success. We want to share their story just as much as we want to share the story of a geologist who helped discover the largest sub glacial lake on the planet (which is also very cool and in our next issue).

If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?

It’d have to be John McPhee. I would love to give him the keys to Middlebury, so to speak, and turn him loose.

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?

I so enjoy doing what I do, but if I had to do something different . . . I’d love to own an independent bookstore in a vibrant literary town.

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The current Oberlin Alumni Magazine (Jeff Hagan, editor) contains an excellent essay, “Poetry is Dangerous,” by Oberlin associate professor Kazim Ali. Ali, of Indian descent, left a box of discarded poetry manuscripts beside a trash can on the campus of the Pennsylvania school that employed him in 2007. Someone in the ROTC office, which is located in the building fronting the trash can, called the police because what else could a foreign-looking, dark-skinned man who leaves a box in front of a building be but a terrorist? The police overreacted, evacuating buildings and canceling classes. Here is the last paragraph, which reflects the elegance and thoughtfulness of the whole essay:

My body exists politically in a way I cannot prevent. For a moment that day, without even knowing it, driving away from campus in my little Beetle, exhausted after a day of teaching, listening to Justin Timberlake on the radio, i ceased to be a person when a man I had never met looked straight through me and saw the violence in his own heart.

A new look for Temple, or The Magazine Formerly Known as Temple Review. Executed by Greatest Creative Factor in Baltimore, the new design, above left, is cleaner, more contemporary, and more adventurous in its typography. Plus it’s got some 50-foot numbers, so you know it’s good. (There are also hilarious photographs of a lizard running, and how often can you say that?) I can’t tell from the masthead who is most responsible for editing, either Betsy Winter Hall or Maria Raha, so I’ll give them both credit.

Virginia Tech Magazine (Jesse Tuel, editor) sports its own new look. Again, new is on the left, old on the right.

Finally Harvard Medicine has issued a video trailer promoting its forthcoming spring issue. This may not be a first for a university magazine, but it’s the first one that’s come to my attention. Many of us are producing video extras for magazine websites and iPad editions, but I haven’t seen a trailer before. Good idea, if you have the resources. Ann Marie Menting is editor. (Oh, clicking on the image below will not play the video. Sorry—I haven’t figured out how to embed video yet. Remember, I’m an old print guy.)

Eight questions for Jeff Hagan

Jeff Hagan, editor of Oberlin Alumni Magazine, checks in from my birthplace state, which is overpopulated with schools turning out fine alumni magazines (I’m looking at you, Denison and Kenyon). Love his response to the fifth question.

How long have you been in your job?

Three and a half years.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

Planning. Followed closely by growing a thicker skin (which I haven’t learned yet).

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Finally publishing on time several issues in a row that I like, and having coworkers I really enjoy. These thing are not only tied, they’re tied together.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

Feeling like that damn Kenyon magazine takes more chances than we do, and feeling like I’m censoring myself.

What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?

The magazine part. The part that isn’t even in mailboxes when I start hearing about errors or omissions. The part that you realize only later could have been better illustrated or better written. The part you have to look at long after you’ve lost interest or grown openly hostile to it. The part where you get criticized for something and know they’re right. When the press run is done and I hear it’s on its way to the postoffice, I feel no sense of relief. I just think, “Now comes hell.”

What story are you proudest to have published?

The next one. I don’t mean that in a “we’re always striving to do better” way—I just mean our next issue is going to have a monster feature about Oberlin folks who did civil rights work. The writer graduated last year and poured her heart into it. I have no idea how to edit it into something that will fit in eight pages, but I’ll figure out something.

If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?

I notice when I’m reading something I like and I then look at the byline, it’s often Anthony Lane. He tosses out at least one devastating description in each review. I’d like to try to figure out something vaguely related to Oberlin for him to write about.

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?

An NPR essayist, or weekly columnist for a newspaper.

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So, any bets on what snares the cover of the next issue of Kentucky Alumni? C’mon, chance a guess.

Carolina Alumni Review, in its March/April 2012 issue (Regina Oliver, editor), reports that dog handlers now bring therapy pooches to UNC’s library to provide a bit of solace to students cramming for final exams. Yes, the image of the spread is here because I wanted to run the adorable dog photo. Yes, that violates the babies-and-cute-animals-are-cheating rule. I’ll wait while you click to expand the image, show your office mates, get all doe eyed, then come back here . . . . . . . . . . OK, that’s enough. Now, credit to Oliver and writer Beth McNichol for the cover story “Family Matters” (no link at the moment), an honest exploration of legacy admits—children of alumni who want to attend North Carolina, are expected to attend North Carolina, but don’t always get into North Carolina, and perhaps should not always get into North Carolina. From an institutional standpoint this is dicey emotional and political ground, and McNichol does a good job with the story. Her opening provides a sample of her lively prose:

One week after we had our first daugher, who is now 7, my husband and I had a serious discussion about commitment.

“Look,” I told him, flush with 2005 pre-national championship game fervor and my fair share of postnatal hormones. “I know you didn’t go to Carolina, and I know that you’d rather watch MythBusters than a basketball game. But I am going to need your help with this.”

I pointed to the slumbering child in the bassinet, who wore a Tar Heel onesie.

“She has to love Carolina,” I said. “I’m going to do everything I can to instill this in her, but I would really appreciate it if you would, from time to time, help push my agenda. Talk it up a little. Get on board with some sporting events and the like. Tell her she’s going to school there one day. OK?”

McNichol delves into the numbers—the percentage of alumni offspring who gain admission versus the percentage of non-alumni kids—and the fact that whether you are a Tar Heel alum or not doesn’t alter the fact that if you live in the state, you pay the state taxes that support the school and expect a fair shake from admissions. She quotes extensively admissions people who seemed to be doing their best to honestly respond to her questions and articulate however much, truthfully, it matters that your parents have UNC degrees. She also discusses—and due credit to Carolina Alumni Review for putting this in the magazine—an example of appalling parent behavior when the son does not get in, and the aggrieved father, an alum, whose first three kids got into Chapel Hill but the fourth did not, on two tries. The story notes legacy students who question whether they got in on merit or because a parent was an alum, and quotes the parents of a rejected kid who wrestle with their respect for fair admissions and their understandable wish that, in the case of their own kid, their legacy status had landed her a spot. Finally, McNichol comes back to her own ambivalence.

Everyone has a life story. At some point, that story becomes an admissions tale, sifted like sand and rock for gold. No one, including me, wants her children to be labeled silver. Twenty years ago, it mattered who I was on my UNC application. A decade from now, should it matter who I am on my daughter’s?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

In the same issue, Carolina Alumni Review devotes a feature to debate over the university’s 212-year-old honor code, in light of a football player recently accused of plagiarism. That makes for a damned strong issue of the magazine, I’d say.

Also in my mailbox was Oberlin Alumni Magazine‘s redo. (That’s the old on the left, new on the right; Jeff Hagan edits the magazine.) I think the new design looks great, and as an editor on a publication that is just receiving the first reviews of its own revamp, I loved this letter to the editor:

At the risk of not being politically correct—I hate the new look of our alumni magazine. In fact, I first threw it away, thinking it was some corporate investment brochure, until I saw the words “Class Notes” (my favorite part), as the pages fanned out falling into my recycling bin.

Alumni magazine editors everywhere will wryly note the unwitting irony in that letter.

Finally, under “things I didn’t know until I started receiving ’most every alumni magazine in the country”: Hobart College and William Smith College are close neighbors in upstate New York, so close they operate as a “coordinate college system” and publish a joint alumni magazine with the lovely title Pulteney Street Survey (Catherine Williams, editor). Now I know, and so do you.