Tagged: middlebury

Editors Forum 2017, Day Two

And on the second day, no rest for us. A full day of keynote presentations and elective sessions.

— From Evan Ratliff, co-founder of The Atavist and the Longform podcast (who was superb): “We’ve just experienced a radical failure of comprehension. You can’t fix that with hard news. You fix that with stories.”

— More from Ratliff: If you are ever describing your story to someone, notice the first thing you tell them about it. And never take that thing out of the written piece.

— And more: Stories, deep meaningful stories, are essential to our primary mission, to engaging an audience in the only way that matters—sustained reading. And what matters is not the digital media metrics. “You’re trying to reach people. Clicks are not people. Tweets are not people. Downloads are not people.”

— Kerry Temple, Notre Dame Magazine: “A Notre Dame education does not end when students graduate. Notre Dame Magazine extends continuing education to them.”

— Temple again: “When I say we cover the institution, we cover the institution. We are not a mouthpiece for the administration.”

— And again: In anticipation of controversy over a story you want to do, address the concerns of your bosses early in the process. “Don’t get too far out in front of your blockers.”

— And: “When readers get the magazine, I want them to feel like they’re having a visit to campus.”

— Kat Braz, Purdue Alumnus: Question the rules about what’s acceptable in magazine design; you might find that you want to break some.

— More Braz: “Crop [photos] like a mofo.”

— Sean Plottner and Wendy McMillan, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine: Stop shooting pictures of professors and students standing next to a globe, a bookshelf, or an open laptop.

— More McPlottner: Stop worrying about stealing. Stop running crappy headshots. Stop with the boring history. Stop being so serious with science stories. Stop with all the meetings. Stop running cutesy author’s bios. Stop running editor’s notes. And stop using semicolons.

— Richard Rhys, Wharton Magazine, and Renee Olsen, TCNJ Magazine: Casual conversations with senior administrators over lunch are much more fruitful than office meetings.

— Matt Jennings, Middlebury Magazine: “Recording an interview frees you up to notice things the digital device doesn’t. That doesn’t mean get lazy.”

— Jennings again: “Have a good plan [for an interview], but plan on deviating from your plan. The interview subject is driving the train.”

— Madeleine Baran, American Public Media and the podcast In the Dark: “Start [reporting] by assuming you’re wrong.” Continue reporting until you’ve run out of good arguments for being wrong. Only then are you probably right.

— Some more Baran: “It’s not just about knowing the facts of a place. It’s also important to know the feel of a place.”


Remember when I referred to my three-part strategy for posting to UMagazinology despite deadline hell? Strategy One was cut and paste an insight from somebody else for elaboration. Stategy Two was just outsource the whole post—thank you, Paul Dempsey! Strategy Three—monopolize the office scanner to post visuals and let the images do the talking! Let’s begin, shall we?

Clever new covers from NYU Alumni Magazine and Middlebury Magazine.

I feel certain that were Johns Hopkins Magazine to run Middlebury‘s cover, we would get at least one letter complaining about the hand containing three Obama cards and only two Romney cards. Probably from the same guy who sent us a huffy note a few years ago when editor Catherine Pierre referred to Gloria Steinem as “still beautiful.”

Next, a pair of cover portraits of attractive women that seem much different to me. College of Charleston Magazine has a great cover shot of boxer Lucia McKelvey. I especially love the pink boxing gloves. I’m less enamored of the cover of Georgetown Law. The magazine always has a cover portrait of a Georgetown law school person looking all lawyerly. Visually unexciting, but appropriate. This time the magazine opted for a portrait of Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie. The fighter McKelvey is subject of a substantial feature profile inside Charleston. There is no cover story on Guthrie, per se—you have to page through all the way to the back cover before you come to a few hundred words of editorial content pertaining to her—which to me makes the Georgetown Law cover feel gratuitously babe-ish.

I am rarely in favor of smiling-subject-facing-the-camera covers, but is this Sarah Lawrence cover not the best? (Photo by Don Hamerman.)

Apparently great Wisconsin minds think alike. First, from the new issue of On Wisconsin, a feature spread on something called Little Free Libraries.

Then, in Beloit College Magazine, a feature spread on . . . Little Free Libraries.

Finally, I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Cute animals are cheating. But look at this guy’s face. What’s not to love? From Portland.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. UMagazinology should resume some semblance of normal publication next week.

Guest blogger Claude Skelton on editorial illustration

My long-time friend and Baltimore colleague Claude Skelton has written some of the most-read blog posts in UMagazinology‘s brief lifespan. Today he offers some thoughts on illustration.

A good illustration can do what a photograph can’t. For communicating difficult and abstract concepts, drawn art says more with a single image than a collection of photographs can. Illustration can be technical, serious, quirky, or silly, depending on the tone of the piece. A really good conceptual illustrator can interpret a story in ways that surprise and delight, and in the best cases, introduce a whole new spin. Take a look at these Bloomberg Businessweek covers, for example. Could a photograph demand as much immediate attention or communicate so effectively? Not likely. [Throughout the post, you can click on the images to view them larger.]

Bloomberg Businessweek cover credits: Bernanke: David Parkins (after Milton Glaser); King of Vegas Real Estate Scams: Barry Falls; Coke in Africa: Nick White; Crisis in Japan: Noma Barr; creative director: Richard Turley.

So how do you find and work with illustrators to get innovative, thoughtful results? First, familiarize yourself with the talent that’s out there. Look for great work. Don’t limit yourself to local or regional illustrators (another advantage of illustration is that artists don’t need to be on location; almost all work electronically). Use the best, most professional illustrators you can afford. Amateur or mediocre illustration reflects badly on your magazine and ultimately on your institution. Look at sites such as drawger.com, illoz.com, picturemechanics.com, or theispot.com, all of which can connect you to individual artists or artist’s reps. Another approach is to notice illustrations that grab your attention in publications you read; start a reference file with names and samples as you find art that impresses you.

As you plan a story lineup, consider illustration as part of the mix. If you’re profiling a professor or an alum, the natural default solution is to commission a photograph. An illustrated portrait, like this drawing of a disabled war veteran from Dartmouth Magazine, can add style and substance to an otherwise run-of-the-mill profile. If the work or activity of the profiled person is more to the point, illustrating that idea or topic is an effective approach. The full page image below, from Cambridge Alumni Magazine, illustrates a complex essay by a neuroscientist on movement and the brain—a far more intriguing and informative solution than a portrait of the author.

Illustration and text combine in a pop-inspired spread (above) by Design Army, Washington DC, from Kogod Now, the American University Kogod School of Business’ magazine. The article, on targeted food marketing to minority populations, is original, eye-catching, and unexpected in the context of a business school publication.

When you’re ready to choose an illustrator, think about the tone and emotion you want the story to communicate and find illustrators whose styles best fit what’s in your mind. You’ll need to be confident of the illustrator’s track record and ability to translate an idea into art. And you’ll need to sell a working concept, knowing that the illustrator will be bringing additional thinking and visual interpretation to the table.

This is a very subjective process and should never be attempted by committee. It’s a matter of trust—between publisher and editor, between editor and creative director, between creative director and artist. If approval from “above” is necessary before hiring an illustrator, you’ll be forced to justify your choice with nothing more than your idea and samples from the artist’s portfolio. It could be hard for an administrator to visualize the outcome, therefore the need for trust.

Art directors: it’s usually best to communicate a general concept and supply a draft of the story to illustrators, then wait and see what they come up with before making suggestions or over-directing. It’s your job to inspire creativity, not solve the problem. Trust your illustrator to find a solution that fits the assignment and suits his or her style. It rarely works to force a pre-conceived vision on an artist; be open to surprise and innovation and you’ll almost always get the best results.

A word on stock illustration: it is a less expensive alternative, but generally too generic to properly illustrate a feature story. Spots can liven up a news or class notes section, and stock can be a good substitute for those bland head shots that show up in faculty or alumni profiles—better to illustrate what they do (with symbol or icon) rather than what they look like (do readers care?). If stock isn’t available, original illustration can be cost effective for simple spots, drawing attention to complex, text-heavy pages (see news spread from Auburn Magazine, above).

Illustrated covers can be both challenging and satisfying. You have two big challenges: Finding the right artist for the job, and getting approval of concept, style, and budget. Then it’s working with the illustrator through sketches, revised sketches, more approvals, adjusted deadlines, and the holding of breath before the final artwork arrives. It’s the rare (and lucky) editorial staff or art director that has enough autonomy to move ahead through this process with no roadblocks. It’s the not knowing until it’s finished that can make you uneasy. What if it’s a disaster? What if readers are offended and cancel subscriptions? What if it’s just not quite what you had in mind? What if you hate it? These are the questions and fears that might keep you from taking a risk in the first place. But when that finished, original art finally appears, and your cover sings, it’s so worth it.

To illustrate my point, a few covers that sing (all very different tunes):

Pentagram spiffs up Middlebury

The Summer 2012 edition of Middlebury debuted that magazine’s new look, courtesy of D.J. Stout and Barrett Fry of Pentagram Design. I think it looks great, page after page. Editor Matt Jennings and art director Pamela Fogg discussed their reset in an email interview.

UMag: This sort of thing is a big project. When did you start?

Matt Jennings: It was a huge project. Far more stressful and exhausting than I anticipated. To say that I’m not comfortable with messiness is a massive understatement, and a redesign is an inherently messy process, to a degree that I didn’t fully comprehend until I was ready to have a nervous breakdown. But I’ve learned that it has to be this way to get the result you want. And we couldn’t be happier. Now, to answer your question (thanks for listening, Dr. Keiger) . . . We started almost exactly a year ago, late August 2011. We held a retreat with the magazine stuff to just talk magazines—what makes a good one, what defines a successful redesign? We came up with enough ideas to probably make three or four different books. I then sketched out a very rough issue map of what I thought we should consider, and then Pam and I travelled over two mountain ranges in the days after Hurricane Irene ravaged the state’s roads to spend a day with the mag guru that is Jay Heinrichs. Time well spent. We came out of that meeting with a more refined issue map, and more importantly, a way forward. Jay was invaluable. We contracted with D.J. and his team in the Austin office of Pentagram in late November, brought them to campus for a kickoff meeting in December, saw initial concepts in February, batted those around for at least a month. And then we were off and running, really beginning in earnest in the spring.

UMag: Why do it at all? The existing Midd Mag looked pretty good to me.

MJ: We certainly were not unhappy with the magazine before we redesigned, but there were some things that we were itching to do that wouldn’t have worked as well with the old design. We’ve been wanting to switch to a paper that “felt” more like Middlebury, that featured a higher recycled content that was more in tune with the college’s sustainability mission. But the biggest thing, to me anyway, was that the college has changed so much during the past decade (the last time the magazine was refreshed, much less redesigned), and we needed a magazine that reflected those changes. We needed a structure, an architecture that would allow us to cover the college in a comprehensive and seamless way. At the same time, we want folks to feel like this is still “their” Middlebury. I think of Middlebury as a place that has roots in Vermont but is also forward thinking and global in its outlook. We wanted the magazine to reflect that, as well.

UMag: In addition to a graphics refurbishing, was this regarded as an opportunity to think about the whole book—content, structure, audience, history?

MJ: Yes, absolutely. The redesign was as much about creating the best architecture possible as the best look possible. We spent a lot of time talking about how to structure the magazine, how to approach the new book, well in advance of thinking about how it should look. One of the first things I said to our staff was there are no sacred cows here. Anything can go. Let’s think about what makes the best possible magazine for us.

UMag: Was the pg. 1 essay related to the cover story a one-timer, or will that be a recurring feature of the magazine?

MJ: A recurring feature. I loved the idea of opening the book with an essay that speaks to what you just saw on the cover. It’s unexpected. And I like being able to establish additional context and tone for the package that appears in the feature well. It gives you a substantive taste for what is to come. It can stand alone, but it also works in concert with the feature package.

UMag: OK, what’s up on the letters spread with the smidgen of Russian on pg. 13? And the other cameo appearances by foreign tongues? This is America, ya know.

Pam Fogg: Last I knew the United States is not an island. Language learning is essential to understanding other cultures and is part of a well-rounded person’s education. Middlebury teaches 10 languages and has study abroad programs in 38 sites in 16 countries . . . makes sense to engage directly to the folks who participate in these programs, eh? (That’s my Canadian . . .)

MJ: I was intrigued with including marginalia in the new book, and it was D.J. who came up with what he called the “secret codes.” Everything that is written is germane to Middlebury. I’ll leave it at that. And it will have to be left at that if you don’t speak the languages included because we forgot to include a box with the translations in the back of the book! That was our intention, to reveal the translations there, but in the chaos of closing this issue, we forgot! Next time.

UMag: Talk to me about the paper.

PF: We adopted an environmental paper policy at Middlebury about four or five years ago and this was the last, and biggest, project to fall into line with that policy. The text sheet is Rolland Enviro 100, which is 100 percent recycled and the cover is Rolland Opaque, which is 50 percent recycled, and both are FSC and Process Chlorine Free.

MJ: I should add, I have yet to hear from anyone—good, bad, or indifferent—who has not remarked on how much they like the paper. My favorite might be “the paper is softer than a baby panther’s fur.”

PF: You didn’t ask about the size but I’m going to tell you about that anyway. We have always loved Garden & Gun and at our retreat that was a clear frontrunner for format. So when D.J. brought that up as a size he thought was appropriate for us, we were all in agreement. It’s the same height (10 7/8 inches) but 1/2 inch wider at 9 inches. Makes for yummy double page photo spreads.

UMag: Old front-of-the-book features out, new front-of-the-book features in. Your thinking?

MJ: I always loved our front-of-the-book, but it wasn’t allowing us to cover the college as broadly as I wanted. It didn’t allow us to seamless integrate Middlebury and Monterey (our graduate school in California) the way we could with our new “Dialogue” department, for instance. And as creative as we could be with the old front of the book, it could feel a la carte, sometimes. I saw this as upgraded our toolbox, adding some new tools while refurbishing some older ones.

UMag: “The Observer” is a clever idea. Whose idea was it? (Please don’t tell me it was Jennings’.)

MJ: Ah, I take great pleasure in letting you know that it was my idea. Several years ago I read Robert Boynton’s collection of conversations with narrative journalists titled The New New Journalism, and in his introduction he wrote about the progenitors of literary journalism—not Wolfe and Talese and Didion, but Charles Dickens and Daniel Defoe and Stephen Crane, who all wrote marvelous nonfiction sketches before they each turned to fiction and novels. In particular, I was struck by the description of Crane’s work, who, Boynton wrote, perfected the “closely observed sketch of city life . . . Crane writes not as a social commentator or a polemical, muckraking journalist but rather as a detailed observer.” As soon as I read that, I knew this could be a great narrative department, exchanging “city life” for Middlebury life. The ultimate in showing and not telling. So I just held on to this idea until it we decided to redesign.

PF: How pretentious.

MJ: [ignoring Pam] As far as the anonymity of “The Observer,” I like the air of mystery, the intrigue. Who is the person? The idea is not original by any means—one of my favorite things about the Dartmouth magazine when Jay Heinrichs edited it was a column he ran under the pen of Eleazar Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth. This particular “Observer” is under contract for one year. I already have some ideas for the Observer 2.0, though I hope folks will be clamoring for the assignment, as well.

PF: Pam, could you describe the experience of having another design team work up your new design template?

PF: I think it’s a good idea to solicit the ideas of the people on your staff and then work with an outside agency to take those even further. The in-house staff knows the institution and what will fly better than anyone. But an outside agency can push you a little further. Then we have to reign in the agency or push them in different way, and they do it back to us and over and over. Its all a good, necessary and, sometimes, messy process. (Can you tell we thought this was a messy process?) Getting as much brainpower as possible in the room makes for a better piece. A lot of the structure of this magazine came out of our team brainstorm session, but D.J. and his crew came up with some of the department names and a few of the other goodies like the “secret codes.” Plus who has time to redesign a magazine while doing the myriad other things one has to do?! For the love of Pete you need help and you need separation. Having said that, I would love to clear the decks and do this in-house if it were even possible. What’s wrong with me?!

UMag inbox

Told you we were back.

First, congratulations to editor Amy Braverman Puma, executive editor Mary Ruth Yoe, and The University of Chicago Magazine for being the newest recipients of the Robert Sibley Award as alumni magazine of the year. I find this hard to believe, but according to my list from CASE this is Chicago‘s first Sibley since 1957. (Third overall.) Congratulations also to Cathy Shufro, who scribbled the article of the year, “The Bird-filled World of Richard Prum” for Yale Alumni Magazine.

Betsy Robertson’s crew at Auburn Magazine had some fun with their 100th anniversary issue. Love the retro cover, and a class note from the first issue a century before that recorded the hiring of alum J.M. Moore to organize “pig clubs” around the state. I’ve been to a few pig clubs, but I’ve a feeling it meant something different in this context.

Wake Forest Magazine (Cherin C. Poovey, managing editor) made its summer issue all about writing. The school counts among its literary alumni Maya Angelou and A.R. Ammons. Laura Elliott, author of young-adult historical novels,  is quoted as saying, “The fun part about being a writer is you get to pretend all the time.” Yes, you do. You get to pretend that someone, somewhere is paying attention to you, and pretend that you’re making money.

Swell cover illustration from Concordia University Magazine. Howard Bokser edits.

And while we’re on covers, a couple of killer designs from Sarah Lawrence Magazine and Middlebury Magazine. Yum.