Tagged: penn state

Once in a career

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When news of the allegations of sexual abuse by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky broke, the second response, after horror, by several hundred people who happen to be alumni magazine editors and writers was, “Oh man, what does Tina Hay do with this?” If you are fortunate as an alumni magazine editor, this sort of situation occurs only once in your career. And for better or worse, fairly or unfairly, it is going to be a benchmark for that career.

I think it is fair to say that, among our crowd, the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of The Penn Stater was the most anticipated university magazine edition in many years. The cover—if you don’t have a print copy of the magazine, you really do need to click on the thumbnail image above to appreciate art director Carole Otypka’s brilliant cover design—announced the magazine’s intent to step up and address the scandal, not minimize the damage or deflect criticism or “just put this behind us,” to use a particularly odious phrase that should be left to politicians. The inside front cover made the same point with a collage of photographs that included Sandusky in handcuffs, head football coach Joe Paterno besieged by reporters, a protester holding a sign reading “They All Knew,” and rioters overturning a television news van.

By email I asked Hay what her first magazine-related thought was when she heard about the scandal. “I think I had kind of a delayed reaction to it,” she wrote. “When it was just Sandusky being arrested, I think I figured we’d need to do a story in our sports section on it. The next day, a Saturday, the newspapers were saying that our athletic director and a VP were being charged as well (for perjury and failure-to-report). That same day, our president came out with what many people saw as an ill-advised statement of full support for the AD and the VP, and things got wild from there. By Sunday night, it was all over the media, and our senior editor, Ryan Jones, sent me an email saying: ‘Literally cannot stop thinking/reading about all this, and one thing that occurs to me is how, at some point, if this entire university is going to regain any credibility, people are going to have to start being open about things. . . . The responsible thing to do, for every Penn State alum who’s ashamed and horrified by this, would be to dedicate an entire issue of our magazine to this story. I’m sure that won’t happen anytime soon, but I like to imagine a near-future where there’s a . . . really serious self-examination of everything Penn State claims to be about. I’d love to see us play a part in that. It should be our responsibility.’”

If ever there was a touchy story for The Penn Stater to deal with, this was it. Said Hay, “We’ve published some fairly candid stories in the past, so we had a bit of a tradition in place in terms of being able to cover bad news. I also thought early on that the sheer magnitude of the crisis would work in our favor, in a weird way—it was just so big and so widely covered by the media that surely no one would be able to say, ‘Surely you’re not going to write about this in the alumni magazine, are you?’ But, thinking like an administrator, I could imagine someone saying ‘It’ll be old news by January; you’ll just fan the flames’ or ‘You can’t write about stuff that’s the subject of court proceedings’ or whatever. As it turns out, nobody said those things.”

Much of The Penn Stater‘s planned issue had already been written when Hay decided they would have to scrap everything and throw together a new issue in five weeks. “Throw together” refers to the pace—this was one edition of the magazine that had to be written and edited with the utmost care. The stakes were extraordinarily high for all involved. Hay’s biggest decision on editorial content was to gather a collection of essays written by faculty, alumni (including former Penn State football players), and students. Several of them had already been published by other publications, particularly online. The closest thing to reportage in the magazine is a timeline of events, starting with Sandusky’s arrest on November 5, and a few pages on the new president, the fired president, and the most important administrative changes. Hay: “We thought of that approach early on because it seemed to be perfect for the situation in two ways. One, there was so much hysteria and finger-pointing going on in the media, and we wanted to provide a thoughtful, reflective counterbalance to that. And two, we figured that essays or thought pieces had a pretty good chance of holding up from the time they were written until the time the magazine actually got printed and mailed. They wouldn’t be rendered irrelevant by whatever events might transpire while the magazine was on press.”

Hay and her crew divided the primary editorial content into five sections: Collapse: How Could This Happen?; Darkness: Understanding Child Sexual Abuse; Identity: Everything We Thought We Knew; Legacy: What Joe Paterno Leaves Behind; and Responsibility: On Pride, and Going Forward. The essays get off to a provocative start with Penn State sociology professor Eric Silver addressing the question of why no one acted on the first suspicions about Sandusky, if you can call an eyewitness report of rape in a campus shower “suspicion.” Silver minced no words:

I realize that everybody likes to think they would be the whistle-blower. They are the ones who would risk their job, their livelihood, their future, their letters of recommendation. This belief fuels our righteous indignation at those involved. What I told my class was this: Statistically, you’re full of crap. For every 1,000 people, you’re lucky if there are two or three whistleblowers.

Silver, who by all indications is a fine writer in service to an incisive mind, added:

The real problem, I told the students, is that we don’t see ourselves as moral agents in the workplace. We see ourselves there to do our bureaucratically defined jobs. The lesson this brings to light is that there’s a huge distinction between doing what’s legally right and what’s morally right. . . . Loyalty may be one of the most subtle undermining sources of morality there is.

Associate professor of communications Russell Frank was blunt in his assessment of State College and Penn State’s student body:

Too many of our students come here for the fun and games. Eavesdrop on their conversations as they shuttle between classes. You’ll hear a lot about drinking plans or drinking exploits and very little about the content of their courses.

Cross College Avenue and look for a downtown bookstore. You won’t find one. In a college town with 45,000 students! This is not, in short, a very intellectual place.

The section on sexual abuse included a wrenching anonymous letter from a Penn State student that had been read at a campus candlelight vigil shortly after the scandal broke.

Then came high school. I was being sexually abused two to three times a week—sometimes more, but never less. My school got a resource officer, whose job was to be the police of our school. I decided I needed to talk to someone, and one day I went to this officer and told him everything. I opened up for the first time in three years—and when I finished talking, I was laughed out of his office. I had just opened up and told a police officer my entire life story, and he laughed at me and told me not to tell lies.

The Penn Stater had the courage and integrity to publish voices questioning the primacy of football at the university. Alumnus and former NBA player John Amaechi wrote:

It’s not the entirety of Penn State that’s broken. It’s just that bits of it are disconnected from others. Specifically, you’re talking about parts of the athletic department, and football in particular. It’s the tail wagging the donkey. The disproportionate relevance of athletics, especially football, has become pretty pervasive among the student body. I think people have lost sight of what it means when we say, “We Are Penn State.” It’s become so associated with football games—in academic circles, we tend not to chant at each other.

It might sound like I want to remove sports, but I don’t. It’s not just about saying Penn State is an academic institution and sports doesn’t matter. I’m not naïve. But clearly it has contributed to a bending of the internal culture, and not just at Penn State. I’ve been to high schools where parents would stand and nod approvingly while their children are berated by coaches. If a math teacher had done it, they would’ve complained immediately and tried to get them fired. People have drunk the Kool-Aid, that Penn State is in fact its athletics. We’ve got to reassert the fact that Penn State is a lot more than that.

Hay put her experience at dealing with controversial material to work. “Early on I sent the boss (Roger Williams, executive director of the Alumni Association) an email outlining in broad terms what our plans were. He forwarded it to his higher-ups—the VP for alumni and development and the president of our Alumni Association. Nobody squawked, that I know of, but the whole time we were working on the issue, I definitely was thinking ahead to how we might have to sell it. I even started a Word file of arguments that I might use if I needed to make my case: things like ‘One of the five promises of the new president is “transparency”’ and ‘Alumni have already told me they’re anxious to see our coverage; our credibility is at stake here.’

“In the end, I sent a PDF containing the Jan-Feb copy (no designs or photos, just text) to Roger, and he read the whole thing and loved it. He forwarded it to his higher-ups, and to the VP for university relations—not so much to ask their blessing as to just give them a heads-up so they wouldn’t be surprised when it came out. He also gave us a pretty enthusiastic endorsement: ‘In my view, they have put together a truly superlative issue—a masterpiece—that addresses, through a multitude of voices, the most dislocating crisis in our 156-year history. In the process, they have rendered outstanding service to the Alumni Association members who will receive this issue in a few days. I am astounded at the imagination, creativity, and incredibly hard work on both the editorial and design sides that the staff put into this issue in just a few short weeks (though it seems more like a year).’ We got back a few small corrections and suggestions in response. We incorporated some of the suggestions and decided not to incorporate others. But, basically, at no time in the process did anyone tell us, ‘Hey, you can’t do this.'”

So they did it. Hay described the response, as of the end of January: “Well, the reaction from readers has been overwhelmingly positive. The mail (and there’s been a lot of it!) is running 4 to 1 in favor of what we did. I’m told that when the VP meets with donors in person, the reaction is more mixed, but he’s nevertheless supportive of us. I gave him a very detailed report of how many emails, letters, phone calls, blog comments, etc. we’ve received; what the mix has been; what the general themes are; and who are some of the notable alumni who have commented. That way he has a fuller picture of what people are saying.”

Reflecting on the experience, Hay said, “We tried to cover a lot of different angles to the crisis: what there is to know about child sexual abuse, how the scandal affects our identity as Penn Staters, what to make of Joe Paterno’s complicated legacy, and so on. In some cases there are pieces that I think we didn’t quite do justice to, where I think we addressed bits of the topic but not all of it. We already have a long list of stories to pursue for future issues.”

Eight questions for Tina Hay

Tina Hay booked me for my first CASE Editors Forum pre-sentation, more than a dozen years ago. To prove that no outreach goes unpunished, she now finds herself subjected to the UMagazinology Eight Questions of Death.

How long have you been in your job?

On July 1 it’ll be 15 years. Ridiculous.

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

An ongoing challenge for me is how to turn a “topic” into a “story.” We come across potential raw material for the magazine all the time, whether it’s from Google Alerts, or stuff that’s in the news, or the story ideas that readers or freelancers or administrators pitch to us. We have to figure out whether there’s really a story there, and if so, what exactly it is. Then we have to figure out how best to tell it: Is it a straight narrative? A profile? A Q&A? An as-told-to? That kind of assessment requires a higher-order skill that I feel like I still haven’t fully developed. I wish there were a session at the Editors Forum where someone could impart this wisdom.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

I know there’s something stirring and philosophical I should be mentioning here, but the first thing that comes to mind is getting to hang out the open door of a helicopter and shoot photos of campus.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

Oh man, there are so many. The fact that I’ve never really mastered the job; it has felt like a constant uphill struggle for 15 straight years. Losing so many quality staff who have gone on to bigger and better things: Vicki Glembocki. Jason Fagone. Mo Harmon. (That’s a source of pride, too, but . . .) How hard it is to cover a school as huge as Penn State—90,000 students, 150 majors, 31 varsity sports, more than half a million living alumni. You never feel like you’re on top of the job.

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

Our “Parting Shot,” which we’ve been doing since before I became editor, is always a challenge. We want to end the magazine with a really kick-ass photo that makes readers smile or laugh or go “ahhhhhhhh,” but the quality of the available photos is never quite as high as I’d like. There’s also “My Thoughts Exactly,” a first-person essay by a student, faculty or staff member, or alum. Over the years we’ve had a few really great essays in that space, but the vast majority are just OK. And, overall, I think the magazine is overdue for a redesign and rejuvenation, which we’re working on.

What story are you proudest to have published?

First of all, thank you for not asking “Which story do you wish you could do over again?” As for ones I’m proud of, I really loved the project where we sent Jason Fagone to Hungary to embed him with some U.S. officials who were trying to secure some highly enriched uranium (left over from the Cold War days) and transport it safely out of there. The story had a real cloak-and-dagger feel to it and could have held its own in a major newsstand magazine, I think. We also had Chris McDougall do a story on an alumna who’s a kindergarten principal in York, Pa., and who fended off—with her bare hands—a guy who showed up at the school with a machete; she was badly injured but survived and was quite the hero. Chris did a number of features for us before going on to write the bestseller Born to Run.

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

I’d love to have Chris McDougall write for us again. I love some of the stuff Chris Jones has written, like “The Things That Carried Him.” Tom Junod, of course. Perry Klass. Rebecca Skloot. Charlie Pierce.

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

I don’t know exactly, but I’m pretty sure it would involve (a) Europe and (b) my Nikon.

100 years

The Penn Stater just brought out it’s 100th anniversary issue, and it’s great fun. Editor Tina Hay and staffers Ryan Jones and Lori Shontz dug into the archives and created a gallery of past covers, which suggests that, among other things, football has some presence on campus. (Who knew?) A few of the best covers drew harsh expressions of disgust from readers, which proves that some things never change.

The magazine devotes 10 pages to some of the great stuff that turned up in all those back issues. Some highlights:

— A headline from 1922: “Poultry Men of State to Build Dorm.” Who you callin’ a poultry man?

— In 1938, the governor of Pennsylvania, George Earle, suggested changing the school’s name to University of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Can’t imagine why it didn’t catch on. Go CommPenn!

— The February 1931 issue ran a photo of a hen that laid 294 eggs in her first year. Apparently that’s good. Who you callin’ a poultry man?

— A guy named Bob McClintock donned a wig and what appears to be a fetching off-the-shoulder look and nearly won the title “Queen of the Ball” at the Penn State Army Trainees’ Ball. If the photo gives any indication, McClintock was not half bad as a woman.

— In September 1954, women—bet they were called “coeds” back then—were not allowed to wear bermuda shorts unless for tennis. Sometimes, you just have to draw the line.

— Male students in 1964 were furnished nine quarts of milk per week, women seven quarts. Recalling my own undergraduate days, I have to ask, “What the hell for?”

— A 1986 issue employed some sort of “scent-a-magazine” technology to smell like chocolate. Huh.

— The November-December 1997 issue included a two-page centerfold of Penn State Cheerleader Barbie. She was hot, although the knee-hinge thing is sort of a turn-off. Maybe it’s just me.

Finally, from 1999, a candidate for Best. UMag. Headline. Ever. From a brief item about some ducks that had to be scooped out of a University Park storm drain: “This is Your Drain on Quack.”

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Consistently one of the best-designed university periodicals, 2010 CASE gold medalist Drew Magazine, from Drew University in New Jersey, does well again with its spring issue. Art director Margaret M. Kiernan has mastered the ability to throw a slew of graphic elements onto a spread yet keep it clean, coherent, and attractive. Particularly nice (and clever) is “The Drewid’s Guide to How to Do Everything Better.” The idea of collecting snippets of expert advice from faculty and alumni is not new—Dartmouth Alumni Magazine did it in the January/February 2009 issue, as just one example—but the various how-to’s are fun and the layout, featuring Leigh Wells’ illustrations, is exemplary. (Try to grab a copy of the magazine; the web version does not do the graphics justice.) Renée Olson edits the magazine.

I am an inveterate reader of notes on contributors. The July 2010 UCLA Magazine has five, including, “Jan Sonnenmair, who hit the road to photograph our tour of Bruin wineries . . .” Man, there’s a job I want someday. Deeper in the magazine, where they keep the long stories, Alison Hewitt asks around campus if digital technology is ruining human minds. From the answers I learned that UCLA students fight over a certain corner of a lecture hall because it has the strongest WiFi signal, UCLA professors have come across undergraduates who have never hunted down a book on a library shelf, students these days seem unable to focus on a single topic, and computers appear to stunt frontal-lobe development. OK, that’s it, stop reading this and go read a book. That you found at the library. Wendy Soderburg is managing editor.

The latest edition of The Penn Stater (c’mon, guys, get a magazine website, it looks like this whole Internet thing might catch on) is most notable for its photography. For the cover story . . . cover spread, it’s not really a story . . . editor Tina Hay and undergraduate photographer  Andy Colwell ascended in a helicopter to snap some striking aerial photos of campus. I’m sure Hay, who is a shutterbug on the side, has a cogent editorial rationale, but she’s not fooling anybody. She just wanted to grab her Nikon and get airborne in a chopper. The second set of featured pictures are stunners from the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökul in Iceland. (Yeah, I can pronounce it, I just don’t feel like it right now.) The writer of the accompanying text, Penn State alum Nancy Marie Brown, recounts riding in a jeep over a glacier to a spot west of the volcano’s crater for look at the initial, comparatively mild eruption. What Brown did not know was that her driver had parked directly over the underground lava pool. Ten days later, reports Brown, “the spot I’d been standing on was blasted 35,000 feet in the air.”

UMag inbox

Four new titles showed up in the UMagazinology inbox last week:

Georgetown Law features a story by Ann W. Marks on the importance of interdisciplinary study in law school. It opens: “As Professor Robin West likes to tell students in the Law and Humanities seminar that she teaches in the fall, elite lawyers living in Thomas Jefferson’s time had to read a lot more than cases and statutes in order to be considered intellectually astute. To train in law then meant that you had to become a man of letters, someone who was completely familiar with the knowledge and wisdom that existed at the time.” A story by Anne Cassidy on bioethics and the law includes this quote from professor Patricia King: “Is it ethical to use parental genetic diagnoses to create a donor sibling? What would [Immanuel] Kant say?” (One imagines Kant saying, “You want to do what?”)

From Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida comes the Spring 2010 issue of PHCC Perspective with news of two new PHCC campuses opening soon. Apparently business is good.

The May/June Penn Stater has eight pages of remarkable photographs by alum Ted Anthony, remarkable because they were all shot with an iPhone. Further proof that the most important piece of camera gear is the photographer. And former staffer Mo Harmon, making good use of all that free time she has when she’s not being a mom and editing Denison, contributes a feature on dancer Barbara Weisberg, the founder of the Pennsylvania Ballet.

Finally, Harvard Magazine put libraries, as in the future of, on its cover. Feature stories include a piece by Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana on a new paradigm for executive compensation (how ’bout we start with half what they make now?), Jonathan Shaw’s cover story “Gutenberg 2.0,” about Harvard’s library and disruptive technological change, and a story on the emerging science of networks by Elizabeth Gudrais.