I think of St. Thomas, edited by Brian Brown, as one of the stealth alumni magazines: It does not get a lot of attention from the alumni magazine editorial community, but it consistently does a fine job of exemplifying the University of St. Thomas, which you will find in St. Paul, Minnesota. Next March during the Editors Forum in Minneapolis, take a little time and swing by the St. Thomas campus. Brown tells me he will buy the beer. (Actually, he said just the first round.) (Actually, he didn’t even say that. I made the whole thing up. Somewhere, Jonah Lehrer has detected a disturbance in The Force.)
St. Thomas has an excellent football team that tomorrow will be playing in the national division III semifinals has advanced to the NCAA Division III title game this year. The team is known as the Tommies. Nearby Saint John’s fields the Johnnies. Imagine if this had caught on throughout the country. Swarthmore would be the Swarthies. Johns Hopkins would be the Johnsies. Wisconsin would be the Whiskeys. But I digress.
Brown graciously responded to the UMagazinology questionnaire.
How long have you been in your job?
I’ve been at St. Thomas for 20 years (15 as a writer/editor). I have been the senior editor of St. Thomas since 2007.
What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?
I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that the only thing our 90,000+ alums all have in common is that they have diplomas from the same school. Political views, socioeconomic circumstances and connections to former classmates and faculty vary wildly decade-to-decade, alum-to-alum. Even the most benign story may trigger an angry response. I’m still learning to deal with that disappointment. To keep things in perspective, I have Jeff Lott’s answer to this question posted on my office door:
When bad things happen, move on. And yes, bad things will happen. You will publish factual errors, misquote professors, and piss people off. “Appalled” readers will go straight to the top with their complaints, which will rain back down on you from that unfortunate direction. Stories will be spiked by administrators who had previously given them the green light. Writers will fail to turn in their copy on time – or at all – leaving gaping holes in your next issue. Shake it off, look ahead, and keep your wits about you to fight the next battle.
What has been your best experience at the magazine?
Having the opportunity to tell the university’s story through features and profiles. Our talented photographers and writers have the ability to share these stories on a very personal level. I am often humbled by the deep and passionate connection so many students and alumni have with St. Thomas. And if the (unskewed) results of the CASE Readership Survey are any indication, the magazine remains one of the most valued benefits of being a Tommie.
What has proven to be your biggest frustration?
Technology. (Insert idiom about leading a horse to water.)
What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?
The alumni news/notes section. Should we place class notes online or in print? Use submitted grip-and-grins that don’t match the quality of our feature photography? How many graphic identities for alumni programing is too many? Most of this content is provided to the magazine by other sources, and the end result often reflects that lack of editorial direction.
What story are you proudest to have published?
With every issue I am inspired by the research students and faculty are doing to make our world a better place. And I am touched by those who allow us to share their personal moments of pain and suffering. Two stories that best represent these experiences would be “John Abraham Takes a Stand,” a profile on a faculty member who has used science and civility to call a climate-change skeptic’s bluff, and “Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts,” the story of a former dean who is documenting his life and death with ALS.
If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?
Norman Maclean would be a real “get.” But if we’re relying on the undead, I would choose someone only slightly less available: Cormac McCarthy—our country’s greatest living writer.
If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?
Guitarist for Arcade Fire with time to fly fish during the day.