As 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.
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.