Mark Kendall edits the estimable and eponymous Pomona College Magazine, when he isn’t answering questions from UMagazinology.
How long have you been in your job?
Four years (eight at the college). I should note, though, that the magazine comes together through a partnership with my boss and mentor Mark Wood, who is executive editor and is responsible for the snazzy design, creating a culture of respect for the creative process and many other important elements.
What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?
I’ve become a big fan of using themes, but it’s an organizational method that I inherited and I’ve needed time to get the knack of it. Early on, I had the mindset of wanting to gather up every good story I could around the particular topic. It was too much, and it often felt like we were cramming in at least one feature too many. Now I’m more willing to ditch ideas. One benefit is we have more space to go longer with our strongest stories. Also, I don’t rush into picking themes and it’s not unusual for them to change along the way. I know there’s always concern among editors about choosing one that is too narrow and might turn off some readers. There’s also a point at which overly-nebulous themes aren’t really themes at all. I try to aim for the middle. Looking a few issues back, I thought “Islands” worked well for a theme. Our soon-to-mail spring magazine is “The Racing Issue.”
What has been your best experience at the magazine?
That would have to be getting to write a cover story about Richard Nixon and his fateful 1948 run for Congress against our alumnus Steve Zetterberg. Under California’s quirky ballot rules of the time, Nixon was able to run in both the Republican and Democratic primaries. Nixon’s campaign even sent out mailers to “Fellow Democrats,” and he knocked our guy out before the general election. It was fun to do some old-school, non-Internet research, poring over spools of microfilm at local libraries. After all these years, Nixon still stirs emotions. I got letters.
What has proven to be your biggest frustration?
I was the college’s web editor before taking this role, so it’s not like I’m completely flummoxed by the Internets. But as we’ve recently re-launched our magazine web and added blogs, I need to try to quickly toggle back and forth between print and web. And yet my mindset when blogging is very different then when I’m conceptualizing the content for the slow-moving print magazine. There’s always a time tradeoff: Should I being tending to the immediate needs and wants of the web or doing more trench work for the next issue?
What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?
We have an “Alumni Voices” section for first-person pieces, but I’ve found it tough to establish a steady flow of essays from sources beyond our alumni who are “known” writers. I’ve been moving away from running as many profiles as we once did and I’d like to print more pieces from people in their own voices. I’d like to see more humor and surprising topics. But I need more submissions or pitches from a wider range of alumni.
What story are you proudest to have published?
Sally Ann Flecker wrote a gripping and moving 4,000-word piece for us last summer about an accomplished young alumna whose life takes a devastating turn as she makes her way up Machu Picchu. I thought it was worth every word. I’m still high on long-form journalism. We’ve run pieces in that length range in each of our last three issues. In a different vein, I was proud of another piece that morphed into a manga. Pomona has a special affinity for the No. 47 – long story – and for years our alumni in Hollywood have been sneaking the number into various movies and TV shows. We started off planning a story but wound up with a six-page manga from our illustrator alumnus Andy Mitchell. It was a fun departure for an alumni mag.
If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?
I can’t say I have a single dream big-name writer in mind. I am partial to writers who really dig in and do the reporting, so maybe I’d go with Sonia Nazario, who won a Pulitzer for her Los Angeles Times series delving into the world of Central American children who travel across Mexico to reach the United States and try to find their parents. She even rode on top of a train. The author Richard Preston, a Pomona alumnus, is another writer I admire for the sheer depth—and height—of his reporting. He learned to climb giant redwood trees as research for one of his books. Pie-in-the-sky aside, there are a slew of strong writers in our own little world of college mags. It might be beneficial to have an informal exchange program in which college editors or staff writers take on assignments for different schools’ magazines. Heck, that Brian Doyle guy wrote a piece for us once.
If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?
I would want to help tell the stories of people who have disabilities that prevent them from communicating in any sort of readily understood system. I have a daughter who is in just that predicament, unable to speak, sign or write. Having rights is great, but having a voice, a way to be known by some other group of people, is just as important.