Tagged: kenyon

The Sibley

bulletin2013springAs most of you know, the 2014 Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year award went to Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin. This is the third time in the last six years that Kenyon garnered the top prize in the CASE awards. There is particular poignancy to this year’s award, as Kenyon editor Shawn Presley died on April 1, a massive shock to all who knew him. From the judges’ report, which was written by Jeff Lott, editor emeritus at Swarthmore:

Most of the Sibley judges were unaware of Presley’s death as they deliberated this year’s magazines, learning of it only after the decision was made to honor Kenyon. The community of alumni editors of which Presley was a vital part will feel the tender significance of this award. Shawn Presley was beloved force among his fellow editors not only for the high bar he set through his work, but also for his humor, friendship, teaching, and mentoring. His passing leaves a void at the heart of the profession.

The report makes some observations that should be of interest to university editors everywhere.

Kenyon never brags or gushes over the school’s achievements. With its light touch, wry humor, and skeptic’s eye for the foibles and failings of campus life, the Kenyon Alumni Bulletin never takes its subject too seriously.

… To the casual reader, Kenyon‘s features also seem effortless, but clearly they are not. This easy relationship with the reader is difficult to pull off, making the average alumni magazine story seem like a chore. (You think you ought to read it, but do you really want to?) Not so with Kenyon, which offers an eye-popping, socially engaging, and intellectually hefty choice of features in each finely crafted issue. Yes, there are the obligatory pieces—summing up a departing president’s achievements and introducing the new guy on the block—but even these are insightful and well written. And when you turn the next page, there’s a portfolio of great photos of hip-hop stars by a Kenyon alumnus. (A full spread is devoted to a masterful portrait of Eminem.)

That is, the bosses at Kenyon leave the magazine alone to have an editorial personality and leave the editorial staff alone to produce an actual magazine, not a torpid branding piece devoid of life.

Our 60 day guaranteed professional resume service are sure you will land a job within three months.

This was an interesting paragraph from the report:

Then there’s David Foster Wallace, who did not go to Kenyon, but whose 2005 commencement address there has risen to the pantheon of great American speeches. It would have been easy to merely capitalize on Wallace’s fame by reprinting the speech, but Kenyon goes a step further with an incisive literary detective story about how various versions of the speech came to public attention on the Internet and what effect it has had on Kenyon’s reputation.

Yes. Instead of the unimaginative course of reprinting Wallace’s remarks, the odds-on favorite for the idea most likely to be suggested by a vice president, Kenyon had the intelligence, wit, and creative flair to do something you would not find in any other magazine.

There was one last incisive compliment for Presley:

As editor, Shawn Presley orchestrated all this talent—writers, photographers, illustrators, and designers—with a deft touch. He seemed to see everything and know everyone at Kenyon. In the two issues that the Sibley judges reviewed, most of the features were professionally written by alumni, always a good sign that the editor is connected to the community of writers and artists that knows Kenyon best.


Attack of the 50-foot numbers!

“It’s not a design gimmick. It’s a design element. So shaddup.”

Oberlin Alumni Magazine:

Johns Hopkins Magazine:

Denison Magazine:

The Florida Engineer:

Sawdust (Stephen F. Austin State University):

The Penn Stater:

Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin:

The University of Chicago Magazine (no extra charge for the diseased intestine photo):

Eight questions for Shawn Presley

Shawn Presley, editor of the way-too-good Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin—winning two of the last three Sibley Awards generates envy and bitterness, though the friendly, collegial sort of bitterness—pauses from working on the magazine’s next Sibley to answer the UMagazinology questionnaire.

How long have you been in your job?

I’ve been at Kenyon for 15 years. I began as the news director in 1997 and started editing the Alumni Bulletin in 2002.

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

The best stories are the ones that involve a bit of a eureka moment. When someone spouts an idea, and the editors collectively say “we love it,” that’s usually a good story. When you have to spend an hour trying to define and develop a story, it’s not a good sign. I’ve also learned that magazines take lots and lots of planning and brainstorming.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Working with smart and talented people. Kenyon’s magazine is a team effort from story development to reviewing the proofs from the printer. We have big fun. I have learned a great deal from my colleagues.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

It irks me that it took me so long to weed out all the “who cares?” content in the magazine. I was quite devoted to covering grants, awards, and promotions in the early years. You know, that kind of “institutional news” that no one cares about except the people who are directly involved. I guess the advantage to slowly chipping away at that content was that it didn’t cause waves. In the end, no one realized it was gone. They just knew the magazine was better.

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

“Office Hours,” a section where we write about faculty and they write for us, is always a challenge. It’s changed greatly over the years, but I still think there are more creative ways to depict what happens in the classroom and with scholarly research. Covers are a challenge, too. We’ve hit a few home runs, but far too often I’m scrambling at the last minute.

What story are you proudest to have published?

I feel like I should name some kind of serious, hard-hitting piece about the political hot topics of higher education, but the first thing that comes to mind is a piece we called “Rural Legends.” It was a take on urban legends. In other words, it was things people think are true about Kenyon that are false. It was funny with great photography and even a superb cover.

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

David Sedaris. I’d love to have him at Kenyon for a few weeks and then unleash his wacky, grotesque humor with a piece on observations about campus life. He graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. If they haven’t done it, they should.

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

I hate these kind of questions. I’m one of the weird people who dreamed of working in public relations as a college student. In many ways, this is my dream job.

UMag inbox

I’ve had no time to actually read an alumni magazine this week, but here are some things that caught my eye.

Lovely photo essay by Dan McMahon, “It’s the Little Things,” in the latest Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin.

Took me a while to get to this, but Bentley Observer Magazine out of Bentley University in Massachusetts has a new look. Susan Simpson is editor.



Always pays to keep an eye on the juxtaposition of image and text, especially when the text is about the appointment of a new president for the state system:

(Apologies to Perspectives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for having a little bit of fun at their expense, but honestly, who among us hasn’t done something similar?)

And while I’m in the mood for snark, some stories that deserve to go on five-year hiatus:

  1. The wacky, fun new world of social media!
  2. How digital technology is remaking the humanities.
  3. Did you know that this C-list celebrity is also a _____ alum?
  4. _____ University’s contribution to the regional economy.
  5. We’re so global! We’re so diverse!
  6. Faces of the incoming freshman class, our biggest, most global, most diverse ever!
  7. Our researchers say this global warming thing is real.
  8. It’s not a story, it’s a phrase, but I’d still love to see it go away, and not for five years but for 10:  “_____ Nation”

Finally, I will have much more to say about this later, but for now, how great is this?

Guest blogger Claude Skelton on typography

Designer Claude Skelton has been casting his eye on type. Casting . . . type . . . typecasting . . . all right, look, it has been a tough week trying to get a winter issue out the door and on press, so cut me some slack. Better yet, let me turn this space over to Claude while I look for the martini shaker:

Thanks to all the UMag editors who have kindly included me on their mailing lists. A corner of my office is piling up with your publications—I hope they are fairly representative of what’s out there. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the quality of photography, and I can’t overstate the importance of great images on editorial impact. However, there’s another aspect of good magazine design that is just as important and too often overlooked: typography. Using type well is a skill that can be learned through observation and experience; using type creatively is an art form.

Legibility is not a problem in most university magazines these days. Vast expanses of unbroken nine-point text is becoming a thing of the past as editors and designers understand the importance of “entry points” for readers (subheads, callouts, quotes, captions, sidebars, etc). Font choices for body text are, for the most part, just fine. Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but for my money, classic serif fonts like Garamond, Caslon, and Baskerville (and their derivatives such as Hoefler and Mrs. Eaves) are hard to beat. Speaking as someone who’s been working with type for more than 30 years, these classics are still more attractive and easier to read than most “modern” serif families (actually, there are legibility studies, but I won’t get into that). As a rule of thumb, sans serif text is best used in small amounts or for contrast and, with few exceptions these magazines seem to understand that.

Similarly, many UMags are doing a good job with typography that’s used to organize and distinguish departments. News sections are the most difficult pages to design, requiring juggling of multiple stories, images, sidebars and graphics. Dartmouth, for one, maintains a distinctive look in their “Notebook” and “Alumni News” sections largely due to an appealingly chunky display font that’s also used in the cover nameplate. Along with a carefully balanced mix of contrasting serif and sans-serif text fonts, the overall effect is smart and professional. Auburn Magazine’s news sections and departments are masterfully designed with contrasting fonts, consistent type treatments, and varied column widths—not easy to achieve. Kenyon does some fun things up front—a “hot sheet” of short “things we love about Kenyon,” a box of “in & out” trends, a page of quotes, a few student profiles—all handled with typographic flair that remains faithful to the overall graphic brand of the magazine.

The main problem I’m having with many of the magazines I’m seeing is that too many designers are throwing the magazine’s typographic identity out the window when it comes to feature stories. The prevailing rule seems to be “anything goes” for display type in features. Many designers are attempting to use type to “interpret” the story. Once in a while this approach works (Denison manages to pull it off pretty consistently). Most of the time it doesn’t. Massimo Vignelli said it best: “I can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that [think that] when they write ‘dog’ it should bark.” True, some consumer magazines use typography as art, and when it’s done well it can restore your faith in print all over again—but those publications have world-class creative staffs and budgets to match. There are just as many consumer magazines that have a strong, consistent typographic identity and they manage to use it creatively throughout, even in features. My suggestion to alumni magazine designers is simply to use what you’ve got, but use it creatively. Play with scale, experiment with color, pair type with images, turn it sideways, but don’t stray too far from the integrity and spirit of your magazine’s visual identity. For inspiration, take a look at Cambridge Alumni Magazine (this year’s CASE Sibley Magazine of the Year), Bostonia, LMU Magazine, and Auburn—all produce dynamic, original feature design without sacrificing the brand.