Around here, we always celebrate the birth of a new print magazine, so let’s have a round of applause for Glimpse, the new research magazine published by Clemson University, weighing in at 50 pages and edited by Neil Caudle. Caudle retired in 2010 from UNC Chapel Hill, where he had edited and designed the lamentably expired Endeavors (later edited by Jason Smith). He came out of retirement to work on the Clemson project last fall, chronicling his progress on Glimpse in a blog. (On said blog, Caudle refers to his new periodical as glimpse, but there’ll be no monkeying around with English capitalization rules around here, my friend. Not even for Bell Hooks or E.E. Cummings.) I can’t improve on his most recent post there, so I won’t try:
Even ordinary print retains an extraordinary power to provoke. The boss and I had a suspicion that Clemson was famished for a magazine, but I had no idea how much pent-up energy would erupt with the advent of glimpse. For several days now, I’ve been riding a psychic seesaw, hearing first from people thrilled with the first issue (“a home run,” “magnificent,” “just what Clemson needed”) and then from an angry mob indignant that they were not among the first to be featured. I don’t blame the angry ones. It’s one thing to have your work pumped into pixels, drifting about in the ether. It’s another to have it deemed worthy of a real commitment: print.
Universities that publish good magazines for years sometimes begin to take them for granted. Research divisions tend to measure success in quantitative terms—grant dollars and such—easy data to obtain. Magazines boost revenues only indirectly, mostly by helping to build the school’s reputation and the public’s support for research. But those intangibles are a lot harder to measure. So a new boss comes in, dumps the predecessor’s pet projects, and makes a big show of conspicuous frugality. Slashes the magazine’s printing budget to zero. Orders up a new marketing plan. Says, “Put the stuff online. Print is dead.”
Clemson knows better.
I’m guessing there’s a bite at UNC there for killing the excellent print edition of Endeavors. In the debut issue of Glimpse, vice president for research Gerald Sonnenfeld says all the right things:
We wanted to share this culture of discovery with people everywhere, to give them a glimpse of what goes on here. That’s why we chose to create a magazine, the first-ever campus-wide research magazine here at Clemson. Yes, we will continue to use the new tools of modern communication, including websites, digital publishing, and social media. But there is nothing like a magazine to capture, in tangible and enduring form, the spirit of a community. We believe that over time our magazine will help us enlarge our community, drawing new readers into the intellectual life of Clemson University. We will do this with good, true stories, not with bragging points and spin. And we will do it with our readers foremost in mind.
I don’t often find opportunity to sing the praises of senior administrators here, but . . . well said, sir, well said.
The first issue’s feature well includes meaty pieces on riparian environmental monitoring, the dangers of exporting supply chains (especially food supply chains), and Mongolian aquatic insects (they’re more important than you’d imagine). There’s a Q & A with novelist Keith Lee Morris, an encouraging sign that Glimpse means to expand its definition of research to other creative endeavors. Humanities scholarship gets its due, as well, with a story on a collection of South Caroline slave narratives. (All worthy stories, but a bit hard to read, not because of any fault in the prose. I usually veer away from criticism of specific magazines here, but I have to say the tiny body type of Glimpse‘s editorial content was tough on my middle-aged eyes.)
Caudle says the plan is to publish two issues per year, with the next one going up to 56 pages and perfect binding. “Response on campus has been more enthusiastic and positive than I expected. There’s been genuine excitement. The comment I got most often: ‘Clemson really needed this.’ If nothing else, the mag has provided a morale boost. People said they liked seeing their colleagues in print, and learning about the work of neighbors and friends, and they liked feeling proud of their school. I haven’t heard complaints yet about the decision to print. When I made the rounds on campus, I asked people what they wanted from the magazine, and they said more visibility and prestige for Clemson research. So I said, ‘If prestige is a factor, we should probably do this in print.’ No one disagreed. There are other reasons to use print, of course, but this one seems to work here.”
I asked Caudle, now that he can hold his newborn in his hands, what needs more work: “Absolutely everything in the magazine needs more work. I’ve found several typos, which drive me crazy; I need a team of hawk-eyed proofreaders like those at UNC. I had four months to produce a magazine from scratch, and it wasn’t enough, given the need to meet everybody, choose and vet a name and design, find a printer, and manage all the other start-up chores. I’m determined to spend much more time on content and layout for the fall, and to have enough stories on hand by the layout stage that I can kill stuff that doesn’t have good story value or arrive on time. Several spreads in the first issue came together in the final week, and it shows. Overall, the stories should dig deeper, risk more. There’s been a culture here of vetting absolutely everything through umpteen levels, so stories wind up too safe and too burdened with institutional overhead. I’m fighting that, and the VP has been backing me up, but it will take some time to persuade people to relax and let me do my job. And we’re just getting started on the Web version and social media stuff. It needs a lot of work.”
He added, “Clemson, which had never published a campus-level research magazine, was starved for recognition. Over the last decade or so we had made some bold moves in research, but people here felt that no one had noticed; we were still just a football school. When I go to a diner or bar around town, I carry a magazine with me because I will almost always meet a Clemson alum or employee who will go through the magazine with obvious pride. ‘I knew Clemson was a good school,’ they say, ‘but I didn’t know they were doing all of this.’ They seem truly grateful. I’ve had at least two dozen conversations like this, so far. It’s hard to know what that kind of reaction will mean to the university, but it means a lot to me.”