Tagged: stanford


On July 1, I became editor of Johns Hopkins Magazine. I was already deep into a complicated feature story on pain science, so the plan was for Catherine Pierre, who was promoted to interim communications director, to co-edit the forthcoming issue with me. But Catherine had to step right up to her new duties, which meant I was on my own finishing the magazine. So time for blogging has been in short supply.

Today, though, there’s an interlude before I have to start writing captions and heads and cover lines. Speaking of  . . .

A batch of striking covers have appeared in my mailbox in the last month. First up, great minds think alike:

car   wellesley

The Carolina Alumni Review cover is for a special food issue, which includes recipes from alumni cooks. As a resident of Baltimore, I must take exception to Robert Stehling’s recipe for crab cakes. It calls for diced bread. You do not, under any circumstances, sir, put filler like bread in a crab cake. That sort of thing will get you in trouble in Baltimore.

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Next . . . excuse me, but your cover is dripping:

stanford   holyoke   texas

The Alcalde cover story gets that magazine’s digital multimedia treatment, which is starting to make me jealous.

Finally, there’s this one. Just because it’s so pretty:



More to come in the days ahead, because how much work could this new editor gig be?

Eight questions for Michael Antonucci

Mike Antonucci, senior writer at Stanford, sets aside his quill—this is Stanford we’re talking about, so his quill is a transponder/stylus that inputs his cursive straight into an InDesign file—to answer the UMagazinology writer questionnaire.

How long have you been a writer?

I got my first daily newspaper job in 1975 at the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York. I was at the San Jose Mercury News for 31 years in a variety of roles, mostly writing, before joining Stanford in July 2008.

Of all the things you have to do to produce a story in the magazine, what do you enjoy the most?

Learning enough about the material to mix useful reporting with storytelling. That was true in newspapering and it’s exponentially true at Stanford, given the range of topics.

What has proven to be your biggest challenge?

The six-times-a-year schedule. It’s possible to be newsy as well as interesting, but the word “challenge” sums it up. On the other hand, that’s what I think my biggest challenge is. Maybe you should double-check with my editors.

For interviews, notepad or recorder? For writing, legal pad, typewriter, or computer?

Almost all of the above. For interviews: a recorder whenever I expect the story to be (a) very technical or nuanced or (b) very long. When I have a quick turnaround (and no time to transcribe), or I know the setting will be noisy or too awkward for a recorder, I rely on a notebook. And whenever a recorder is running, I’m taking at least some backup notes by hand. For writing, mostly, a computer. No typewriter (despite fond memories). I do use a legal pad (one is always nearby) because what passes for inspiration sometimes strikes when I didn’t think my brain was capable of it.

What do you wish you were better at?

Finding what a writing coach called “the emotional center” of a story and smoothly—smoothly—integrating it with the 5 Ws-and-H, plus crystal-clear translations of whatever is complex, in everything I write. In other words, making sure all the elements of every story mesh without losing the humanity that should drive a narrative.

What story are you proudest to have written?

I’ll stick to what I’ve done at the magazine, although I have some nice memories of assignments from when newspapers were so much better than they are now. What you want to do as a writer is make a difference. That can mean spurring some kind of change in the world or connecting with readers in an emotionally powerful way. The piece I did on Jim Plunkett about his life 40 years after becoming Stanford’s only Heisman Trophy winner clearly had a deeply felt effect on many readers, and there’s an enormous sense of satisfaction in that.

Who among writers have been your exemplars?

A long list. Self-editing: Red Smith (who I got to meet at a Super Bowl when I was a sportswriter), Paul Hemphill, Joseph Heller (Catch-22 is my favorite book), David Halberstam, and Stan Lee (that’s right, the comic-book writer).

If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?

Comic-book historian. OK, historians write, but that’s the dream job, so that’s my answer.

UMag inbox . . . the back of the inbox

A check of the bottom of the stack of new magazines that has grown to dangerous proportions on my desk has brought to light some items worthy of attention.

Magazine renovators have been busy at Southern Cal. USC Trojan Family Magazine unveiled a new design with its summer edition. New, bolder, sans serif nameplate shifted from center to left. More assertive typography inside as black lowercase section heads replace serif white type reversed out of color blocks. The biggest apparent change in organization has been a reduction in front-of-the-book pages from 10 in the spring edition to only three in the new magazine. USC also debuted a new online magazine and in the summer print edition devoted a page to nudging readers to it. The web version looks good, though USC has run into the problem we all have with magazine websites—the Southern Cal site looks good in the same way that all of our newer magazine sites look good. The medium seems to have imposed a design template on us and we all pretty much look alike. One more argument for print. Don’t get me started. USC editor is Nicole Malec.

The spring issue—told you I was behind—of NYU Alumni Magazine (editor Jason Hollander) has a nicely done cover story by Jascha Hoffman. “Patient, Heal Thyself” opens with 30-year-old research that has long fascinated me: Ellen Langer’s study that asked a group of elderly men to spend a weekend together pretending the year was 1959 and they were about 20 years younger. After the weekend, Langer recorded an astonishing array of physical changes in the men. After their weekend retreat they had improved posture, strength, flexibility, vision, hearing, and intelligence. Versus a control group of men on the same retreat who were asked only to reminisce, not pretend, their physical improvements were significantly greater. Through a purely mental exercise, they had effected physical change for the better. Hoffman goes on to recount the history of placebos, report some of the skepticism about the placebo effect, and explore the current research into a possible biological basis for mind-induced physical improvement. He gracefully covers a lot of ground, including Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work with meditation, John Sarno’s studies of treating back pain by emotional therapy, and the knotty dilemma of placebos versus an obligation to tell patients the truth.

In the February 19, 2007 issue of The New Yorker, Susan Orlean wrote a fine piece titled “The Origami Lab” about a physicist-turned-origamist named Robert J. Lang. Lang used computers and his physicist’s way of approaching a problem to create folding patterns that allowed creation of fantastic paper sculptures, such as a life-size cuckoo clock folded from a single sheet of paper with no cuts and astonishing realism. Lang earned a master’s degree at Stanford in the 1980s, and Greta Lorge profiled him in the May/June issue of Stanford. We can all feel for Lorge—who wants to step on to ground already covered by Susan Orlean? But she does an admirable job, particularly in how she moves between the artistic aspect of Lang’s folding to the scientific and mathematical side. Kevin Cool edits Stanford.

Finally, behold the cover of Auburn Magazine. Does the summer issue, edited by Betsy Robertson, contain advice on hygiene of the most personal sort? The definitive feature on the Department of Human Waste Sciences? (I made that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised to come across one somewhere.) No, the cover image refers to Mike Tierney’s “Family Trees,” a feature on a set of trees beloved by Auburn students and alumni. The oaks at Toomer’s Corner on the Auburn campus are regarded as the heart of campus, which is why someone poisoned them after Auburn defeated the University of Alabama in a football game last year. (A retired Texas state trooper and ardent Alabama fan named Harvey Updyke has been arrested and charged with the crime.) Tierney writes about the ongoing effort to save the trees, an effort funded by donors from both Auburn and Alabama. Now I advocate writing for the broadest possible audience in a university magazine, reporting on subjects of interest far beyond the boundaries of our institutions and incorporating the perspectives of people outside our schools. But at the same time, I think we should always be alert for those stories aimed purely at the narrowest definition of our readership. Not many people outside the state of Alabama know or care about the Toomer’s oaks, but they are a big deal at Auburn, and a feature story like this does a lot to sustain Auburn Magazine‘s community. It’s silly stuff, but every one of our schools has some sort of silliness at the heart of the emotional bond we feel to alma mater.

And the toilet paper? Tradition dictates that after an Auburn victory, students drape the oaks with it. If you’re part of the War Eagle family, you know at a glance what the cover story is about.

Eight questions for Kevin Cool

We are pleased to present a new recurring feature here at UMagazinology—“Eight Questions.” From time to time we’ll present the same octet of queries to a university magazine editor, sort of like Vanity Fair‘s “Proust Questionnaire,” but much brainier, of course. How often will the feature recur? Erm . . . whenever I get around to doing a new one, but let’s say at least every two weeks or so. The first respondent is the estimable Kevin Cool, editor of Stanford. Enjoy.

How long have you been in your job?

Ten years.

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

How to calibrate and meet the expectations of our staff, our readers, and university officials. Although we are all committed to the same basic objective, which is to engage our alumni in meaningful ways, there are a hundred ways to disagree on how best to do that. I’m not the only one who has ever encountered this, of course. It’s to some degree inherent in a situation where you’re trying to balance constituent relations, corporate expectations, and professional integrity. Managing these interrelationships remains the single most difficult part of the job.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Simply the opportunity to work every day with a group of talented people in a place that hums with energy and intellectual curiosity. And the weather is nice.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

The biggest ongoing frustration is the partisanship of some segments of our readership. Anytime you’re producing a publication for 200,000 people ranging in age from 19 to 99, it’s fair to expect broad diversity in opinions, ideologies, etc. What is troubling is the level of hostility evident in some of the feedback whenever we do a story about a person in politics or engaged in some sort of advocacy role. I’ve been an editor for 25-plus years and the current level of incivility is off the chart.

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

We strive to have at least one must-read feature in every issue, but it’s an elusive goal. He hit the occasional home run, but we also hit a lot of doubles.

What story are you proudest to have published?

In 2009, we ran a cover story about Brooksley Born, a former head of the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission, who took on Alan Greenspan in the late ’90s by warning that lack of regulation in the credit markets was a disaster waiting to happen. When the mortgage crisis hit and banks collapsed because of exposure in massive derivatives contracts, Born was proved prescient. She was retired, living a quiet life in D.C., and already had rejected several media requests. For whatever reason, most likely her fondness for her alma mater, she said yes when we called. As a result, we were able to get what was essentially an exclusive. Our story was widely picked up in the blogosphere and mainstream media, and inspired a Frontline documentary about the origins of the financial crisis that featured Born as the protagonist. It’s rare that magazines like ours get to be first, and that, in combination with the quality of the piece, written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Rick Schmitt, was a source of pride for everyone on our staff.

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

Gene Weingarten. Every editor should read his collection of work, The Fiddler in the Subway. It’s all in there—the absurdity, the grace, the wonder of the human condition. His storytelling skills are just extraordinary.

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

Play-by-play broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals. That is, if they wouldn’t let me play centerfield.

Weekend read: “Don’t”

One of my favorite science writers currently plying the trade is Jonah Lehrer, who in pictures looks about 14 years old but is author of two books, including Proust was a Neuroscientist. In May 2009, he published “Don’t” (the deck is “The secret of self-control”) in The New Yorker. It concerns fascinating research that has tracked children who demonstrate little ability to hold out for delayed gratification as they become adults who are more likely to be overweight, have drug problems, and otherwise fall prey to shortcomings. Lehrer’s story is, I think, a great example of smart, engrossing science storytelling. He opens the story with a study done at Stanford in the 1960s, in which kids were given their choice of treat—marshmallow, cookie, pretzels. They were told the nice grown-up who had given them the treat had to leave the room for a few minutes, and if they held off eating their selection until he came back, they could have two treats. Here’s a taste, for those of you lacking the self-control to wait until you can read the whole thing:

Footage of these experiments, which were conducted over several years, is poignant, as the kids struggle to delay gratification for just a little bit longer. Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal. One child, a boy with neatly parted hair, looks carefully around the room to make sure that nobody can see him. Then he picks up an Oreo, delicately twists it apart, and licks off the white cream filling before returning the cookie to the tray, a satisfied look on his face.