Tagged: portland

Doyle on Birnbaum

bcmBrian Doyle, editor of the estimable Portland and instigator of disputations with the Dalai Lama regarding the relative virtues of soccer and basketball, writes a Friday essay for the online edition of The American Scholar. His column is called “Epiphanies” and a recent epiphany was about Ben Birnbaum, editor of Boston College Magazine. I thought it be good reading for the UMagazinology audience, and Doyle and TAS were gracious about extending permission to republish it here. (I know, I know, two Doyle posts in a row, but these things happen.)


The third great editor I worked for, after Mister Burns in Chicago and Floyd Kemske in Boston, was Ben Birnbaum, also in Boston, where he still edits Boston College Magazine, which is still a very fine magazine, largely because Ben insists that it be interesting to anyone on the planet, and not just to Boston College alumni and donors. This philosophy, I learned, is the secret of an excellent college or university magazine, and the reason so many of them are so awful; a remarkable number of “alumni magazines,” as they are inaccurately called (many of them go to stunning numbers of donors, legislators, media folk, and prospective students and contributors), are only newsletters with shiny covers, and do not seek in the least to engage, enrage, rivet, startle, move, amuse, entertain, or elevate their readers; they seek merely to report feats and fetes, rather than any serious discussion of, say, student alcoholism, cheating, financial travails, date rape, or suicide, let alone soaring topics like grace and pain and peace and war and miracles and prayer and love in all its astonishing and confusing incarnations.

“. . . a remarkable number of ‘alumni magazines’ . . . are only newsletters with shiny covers, and do not seek in the least to engage, enrage, rivet, startle, move, amuse, entertain, or elevate their reader . . .”

I learned much else from Ben. I learned to curse with panache and confidence. I learned to say no politely but firmly to ideas for the magazine that were offered by people who did not understand the magazine’s range and ambition. I learned to be absorbed by the theater and passion and communal energy of sports while remaining skeptical of claims that sports build character. I learned to pay meticulous attention to the smallest building blocks of magazines—captions, headlines, decks, rubrics, outtakes, indicia—and to try to bring to even the smallest detail some humor and dash, if possible. I learned to edit with a cold heart, seeking only clarity between reader and writer. I learned that sometimes the best editing is none. I learned that a lot of good editing has nothing to do with words and ink and everything to do with asking questions and listening intently to what is said and not said. I learned that a university magazine at its best is not a literary magazine, not an academic journal, not a general interest organ, but a deft and gentle advertisement for the zest and verve and dreams of an institution that wishes to educate and shape the tall children it launches into the bruising and miraculous world.

I also learned a bit about driving taxis in Brooklyn, and working in circuses in Australia, and studying in rabbinical school, and writing poetry, and being married, and being a dad, all of which he had done and none of which I had, yet; but it’s the editing lessons that stay with me the most, many years later. In a real sense Ben taught me to dream much, much bigger; if you are going to make a magazine, why not try to make the best one in the world? The scope of the dream surely feeds the range of accomplishment, and you will then be working with the best writers and artists you can find, and in the end the work of the best writers and artists doesn’t need to be edited, much, so there you are, with much more time for poetry, or circuses.


portlandkidI’m on record teasing editors for putting adorable babies and little kids with big eyes and irresistible furry critters on their covers and in their feature wells. C’mon, what’s the challenge in drawing readers with a snuggly baby picture? I think the word “cheating” may have been used once or twice. Three times.

A couple of weeks ago I plucked from my stack of mail an envelope from Portland, Oregon. Inside was the latest issue of Portland, with a little note from editor Brian Doyle taped to the cover. For anyone who can’t read the note on this image from my scanner, it says “hahahahahaha a cute kid cover — BD.”


UMag inbox

What all is stuffed into the mailbox this week? Let’s see . . . mm-hm . . . mm-hm . . . Portland . . . looks like a food issue . . . damn you Doyle!

The winter issue of Portland flaunts editor Brian Doyle’s unparalleled ability to convince world-class writers to contribute to his magazine. This time, damn him, he has pieces from Michael Pollan, Pico Iyer, and Edward Hoagland. Pollan to Iyer to Hoagland—man, there’s an infield. To be accurate, Pollan’s long contribution, “The End of Cooking,” is an excerpted reprint of something he published in The New York Times Magazine, and Hoadland’s “The Top of the Continent” is drawn from the essayist’s new volume, Alaska Travels. But still.

By the way, there’s a lot more to a meaty issue. I especially liked the photo essay by Steve Hambuchen of Pacific Northwest farmers, bakers, vintners, and brewers.

IC View from Ithaca College sports a redesign, as well as my favorite subhead of the week: “Alumni See Trash With Fresh Eyes.” Robin Roger edits the magazine. (Below, new cover is on the left. Relative dimensions are not accurate. The new design has the same trim size.)

The 2013 record for most people smiling and facing the camera on the cover is currently held by The Baylor Line (editor Todd Copeland:

California (editor Wendy Miller) produced my favorite lead sentence of the year, so far, in David Tuller’s “Putin v. Pussy Riot“: “In a cozy, two-room apartment in a leafy Moscow neighborhood, I gathered with half a dozen local gay and lesbian activists on a mid-August evening to drink tea, munch on zakuski (snacks), and discuss the regime of creepy Russian president and former KGB thug Vladimir Putin.” Love the opening spread, too:

Good words alerts:

— Binghamton University Magazine (Diana Bean edits) has a recurring feature called “The Other Side,” and in the Fall 2012 issue devotes it to a four-question Q&A with associate professor Steven Tammariello, who at age 43 still plays football for the semi-pro Cortland Bulldogs. (I know what you’re thinking . . . another story about a PhD biologist who plays semi-pro football?) My favorite line: “I used to be the only player with a PhD, but one of our defensive linemen earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Cornell, so I have some company.”

— My second-favorite lead sentence so far in 2013 comes from Immaculata Magazine: “When Bob Kelly’s radio station asked if he knew a football expert who could be on their morning show The Breakfast Club, he immediately said, ‘I know just the nun!'”

— Extraordinary, moving essay by Mel Livatino, “Dogged by the Dark,” in the latest Notre Dame Magazine, Kerry Temple, editor.

Finally, since I began this post with my nose out of joint—damn you, Brian Doyle!—I will end with this great spread, from the Fall 2012 Medicine at Michigan. The photo illustration is by Clint Blowers; editor of the magazine is Richard F. Krupinski.


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.

Some of that outside validation we all crave

This year’s edition of Best American Essays lands in bookstores today, and alumni magazines and writers are represented. Listed among “Notable Essays of 2011” are:

— Brian Doyle, editor of Portland, for “The Creature Beyond the Mountains,” which appeared in Orion.

— Patrick Dunne, for “Into the Deep,” which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

— Kerry Temple, editor of Notre Dame, for “A Summer Night,” which he scribbled for the Summer 2011 issue of his magazine.

Congratulations to all.