Magazine changes aplenty

We’ve had some fairly significant changes with Ohio State Alumni Magazine over the past few months.

In September, our longtime editor Lynne Bonenberger retired. Having Lynne leave was a huge loss for us. Under her leadership, the magazine was recognized numerous times for excellence.  Lynne’s curiosity, keen editing eye and ability to make a pretty good story a great one made the magazine a quality publication. She will be missed, although we are hopeful to keep her involved with the magazine in a freelance writing capacity.

In October, we were pleased to welcome Mary Alice Casey as our new editor. Mary Alice joins us from the Ohio Attorney General’s office where she served as senior editor. She also brings experience in higher ed, having worked at Ohio University as its magazine editor nearly 10 years. Mary Alice is thrilled to have an opportunity to help our magazine expand on its strong base. She has strong family ties to this institution and a great appreciation of what the magazine means to our alumni and friends.

The first edition that bears Mary Alice’s name is our November edition, which is nearing completion. This edition will also adebut the re-design we’ve been working on since early May. My colleague Rick Harrison and I will present a UC Academy on the re-design project next Tuesday. We hope to see you there.

A story and man worth remembering

If you work as a storyteller long enough you’ll eventually encounter a tale that really sticks with you. It might even change you in some way.

Chuck McMurray was at the center of one of those types of stories for me.

Chuck (or “Mac” as we called him) was a longtime staff member at the Alumni Association and someone I was fortunate to know. Mac passed away this past Saturday after a short illness. He was 89.

There are so many good things that I can say about Mac, probably too many to capture in an entry like this one. He was incredibly wise, kind and giving. A former colleague at the Alumni Association once referred to him as the organization’s “conscience,” because he always had insightful feedback when asked about the proper way to approach something.

I arrived at OSUAA in 2005 and Mac offered to take me out to lunch within my first few weeks on the job. It was the start of what I consider a valuable friendship. Over the next few years I got to know Mac fairly well. He was a proud graduate of Ohio State (1950) and he had many, many stories to tell about his nearly lifelong relationship with the university.

Listening to his recollections inspired a story idea that my colleague and I Rick Harrison decided to pursue. Mac talked often about his time as an undergrad at Ohio State. These were transitional years where the university was seeing its first large-scale increase in the African American student population.

Mac lived through that turbulent time and his memories of those years really struck me. With Mac’s help, we connected with three other African American alumni from that era (Judge Robert M. Duncan, Barbara Thornton Harris and John B. Williams) and began work on a video project titled Pilgrimage of Progress. The goal of the piece was to paint a clear and honest picture of the university in post-WWII America.

This was one of the first video projects Rick and I tackled, and to be honest the production value is not that great. What is exceptional, however, are the stories and memories shared by these four trailblazers, individuals who earned their degrees and then went out in the world and made it a better place.

Mac led us to that idea and I feel fortunate that he did. As members of the Greatest Generation leave us, I think it is important to capture their stories and make sure they last far into the future. These stories are worth remembering, repeating and learning from. I’m grateful that Chuck McMurray gave me that opportunity.

A new (old) look for onCampus

Readers of onCampus will note that today’s edition has a slightly different look.

We’ve redesigned the front page, moving from a single image and story to a design that allows us to feature multiple stories. The onCampus logo, fonts and other design elements have also been freshened up to bring the publication more in line with Ohio State’s overall brand standards.

I don’t think that any of us would claim that these are groundbreaking moves. Longtime readers of onCampus will remember that we had a straight news approach in the past before moving to a more feature-oriented style that focused on one story. And we will still use the single image in the future when the story and art dictate that type of play. But taking this approach gives us more opportunities to highlight news and some of the online content being generated by our multimedia team.

In addition to the change to the cover, we have four open pages in the center of the newspaper devoted to our special report on new President Michael V. Drake’s arrival at Ohio State. In-depth feature packages like this one are something we expect to be a more regular part of onCampus in the coming year. Taking in a deeper dive into some of the more important Ohio State stories presents a lot of opportunities both for us and for our collaborative partners around the university.

The overall changes have required some adjustments from our team  so I credit onCampus staff members Jeff McCallister and Adam King for the heavy lifting required to implement our new approach from a content standpoint. Rick Harrison from the brand and marketing team provided the overall publication design refresh.

Going forward we’ll continue to tweak, refine and seek ways to improve our look and feel. We welcome any feedback you have on the changes that rolled out today.

What makes a good magazine feature?

My colleague Kristen Convery recently shared a post that outlines what her team looks for when determining stories. There was a lot of good stuff in there and it got me thinking about what makes a good story for Ohio State Alumni Magazine.

Before I go further I’ll say that many items Kristen mentioned apply perfectly to what we’d seek in a good magazine feature. All of our stories should advance awareness of the great academic and research achievements happening on campus as well as supporting the university’s national reputation. We aren’t doing our job if we don’t share that type of content with readers.

But there are some areas where a print publication that’s delivered six times a year is going to be naturally different than a digital platform. With that said, I’ll move onto three items we consider when deciding if a story is a good fit for the magazine.

  • Broad appeal: The magazine audience is as widely varied as you will find. Our readers come from every college and major and graduated in many different decades. To that end, we are always looking for stories that have broad appeal and matter to people of varied backgrounds. When considering stories I often ask the question, “If I had no connection to Ohio State, is this a story I would be interested in?” If the answer is yes, then that’s a good sign we may have a winner on our hands.
  • Results matter: A story that can clearly illustrate positive outcomes from a university effort is going to merit consideration. We live in a results-oriented society, so any time we can show how the university’s work is producing positive and quantifiable results it’s a plus. And tying back to broad appeal, the more wide-ranging the impact the better.
  • Take them back: Alumni magazine readers by and large have favorable memories of their times on campus. A recent magazine reader survey indicated that two of the most popular reader topics are institutional history and traditions and campus facilities and growth. Simply put, readers love it when the magazine can be a vehicle that transports them back to campus and reminds them of their time here. As a rule, we want the magazine to be forward looking, but with an alumni audience we’d be ignoring the obvious if we don’t look back every now and then.

Those are some of the items we consider when evaluating a story’s potential for inclusion in the magazine. With all of that said, there is no exact formula for what is going to be in each edition. Sometimes you get a great idea that doesn’t fit the above criteria but is interesting enough on its own that it merits a story. And you also want to keep your readers surprised and guessing, so zagging when they expect a zig can have some value, too. As long as you are keeping the readers’ interest at the forefront of your decisions, you really can’t go wrong.

Our readers have spoken

A few weeks ago I mentioned we were in the process of conducting a survey of Ohio State Alumni Magazine readers. The survey itself (which was conducted using the CASE magazine survey template) is just another piece of the groundwork we’re doing to set the foundation for the overall magazine re-design scheduled for completion in November.

I want to emphasize the survey is just one piece of information we are considering as we examine ways to make the magazine better. No one piece of data is going to entirely direct our thinking, because it’s important to assess a wide range of inputs before moving forward. And I think that survey results can be misleading in some cases. From my time in newspapers I know that what readers say they want in a survey does not always square with reader behavior measured by pageviews to particular stories. So the proverbial grain of salt is in play here.

With that said, it is always good to take the temperature of your readership to see where they say they stand. We had 1,229 respondents, 59 percent male and 41 percent female. The age of participants skewed to the older end with 75 percent of respondents aged 50 or older. To take a closer look at some information from the survey, you can review a presentation I shared Wednesday with our UC editorial staff: OSAM readership survey.

I don’t believe we discovered anything terribly earth-shattering in the results. Readers generally have a favorable view of the magazine and think it is fairly objective when reporting on the university. There were a few items that did pique my interest, however.

In the quantitative portion of the survey many readers indicated they are interested in coverage of athletics. However in the qualitative portion many felt that there is too much athletics coverage. Our recent magazine content audit indicates that athletic content makes up less than 10 percent of all content, so perception may differ from reality here. It’s also possible that readers are taking ads into consideration when assessing overall content, and many ads that appear in the magazine have an athletic theme.

Another piece of info that was interesting to me is that more than 85 percent of respondents said they are very or somewhat interested in content that covers the changing landscape of higher education. I’ve always felt this type of story was more internal than external, but many in our audience want this type of information. This makes some sense since many of our readers likely have kids or grandkids who want to attend college some day. In that regard, I’ve adjusted my thinking on our coverage. It isn’t navel gazing, but instead practical and useful news that has a real-life influence on peoples’ lives. Color me better informed.

The survey itself gives us a nice snapshot of our readership and will be helpful going forward. If you’re interested in taking a look at the full report, just contact me via email and I’d be happy to share.

May 28: Story meeting recap

Ohio State is fighting the battle against cancer in just about every corner of the campus. That was apparent after Wednesday’s story meeting where campus communicators shared just some of the ways that students, faculty and researchers are advancing the fight. To take a look at some of the ideas shared, you can review the story-meeting notes here: May 28 meeting notes.

The ideas we gathered are a great starting point for some of the coverage plans centered around the opening of the new James Cancer Hospital later this year. We will continue to build ideas from this base and welcome any new stories that detail the ways your college or unit is helping to advance the cancer fight. In addition to the discussion of cancer efforts, two stories are coming up soon that will merit some attention: Ohio State’s Big Idea Finals is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Friday, and the three-year Eco-Car competition will come to a close with finals beginning this Sunday.

The next meeting will be on June 26 here at Gateway. I would invite any attendees to bring some of their success stories with them to that and any future gatherings. We’d like the meetings to be a place where our campus storytellers can share accomplishments and best practices, so if you’ve recently completed a project you are proud of, we’d love to hear about it.

Stop the presses!

Earlier this week a copy of the New York Times’ Innovation report leaked, giving us a chance to look at a news organization that is taking a hard look at itself as the media landscape changes at an ever-increasing pace.

The report itself is examines how the NYT is trying (and failing by its own assessment) to transition to a digital-first news organization. I found the report interesting, and applicable to some of the work we are tackling at Ohio State.

This is probably a good time to say that we are not the New York Times (duh). Our work and goals are significantly different. With that said, there are some organizational similarities. We are both large influential brands, have rich print and digital storytelling platforms and loyal audience bases. So while this isn’t an apples to apples comparison, I think there is something to be learned from the Times’ soul-searching.

One item that stands out is that it’s apparent the NYT, while still producing outstanding journalism, is struggling to make a full-fledged shift into the digital realm. The print product remains king, largely because of the revenue it generates. This has created some challenges, because continued audience growth hinges on the Times’ ability to have digital lead the way.

At Ohio State, there are some similar challenges. While our non-print advertising revenue has grown over the past few years, it doesn’t come close to the resources provided by print. So while I think we all agree that we are heading to a digital-only time, there’s less agreement on the speed with which that transition needs to happen.

Will we have print publications in five years? In 10? That is largely unclear at this point. What is clear from the NYT report is that when the change is made, it won’t be as simple as turning off the presses with the flip of a switch.

A brand new look

We’ve just recently moved past the one-year anniversary of operating under new brand standards. The anniversary coincided with the launch of a redesigned brand website that is easier to navigate and puts more resources in the hands of those who need them. These are all good things.

While we are undoubtedly proud of the work done to establish the standards, there are still many steps to be taken to get to where we want to be. One of the next ones involves a redesign of all publications that are produced by University Communications. The reorganization that merged the teams from UC, the Alumni Association and Foundation together also brought a number of publications under one umbrella.

Generally, those publications look like they were produced by different teams with different goals. Our aim is to bring them more in line with each other and Ohio State’s overall brand guidelines.

While we are still developing a timeline for roll-out of some of these redesigns, we do know that Ohio State Alumni Magazine will have a new look beginning with its November/December edition.

The magazine was last redesigned in 2005. Since then we’ve tweaked here and there, but this will be the first major overhaul since ’05. I think we all agree that the magazine is long overdue for a makeover.

We are currently in the beginning stages of that redesign. We’ve already tackled internal auditing of magazine content, shared ideas of other magazines we like and are currently using the CASE magazine survey to ask our readership what it thinks of the publication. This information will form the foundation for the work that lies ahead.

Writing about LASERs

The May/June edition of Ohio State Alumni Magazine is scheduled for a mail drop today, which means folks in central Ohio should begin receiving their magazines very soon.

The cover feature in this edition focuses on Ohio State’s Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER) program. The LASER program was established in 2009 by Ohio State director of Latino studies Luis Aldama, a recipient of the university’s 2014 Distinguished Scholar Award. The story focuses on the student success being created by this academically rigorous program, and how mentors and young people are both benefitting from the program’s scope. One LASER program mentor and mentee, Guadalupe Medina, is featured in our magazine cover image:

MJ14 OSAM cover_Page_01

In addition to the LASER feature we feature Ohio State food scientist Monica Giusti is featured, alums Peter McGraw (a humor researcher at the University of Colorado) and Ram Mohan (owner of Reynoldsburg’s Avian Health Clinic), and Ohio State’s top-scholar athletes, among others.

We are already deep into work on the July/August edition. That cover feature will take a close look at how the university’s North Residential District will help further ensure student retention and success. It will also give us a chance to allow alums to look back and share stories about their experiences in Ohio State residence halls. Well, at least the stories that are a fit for a family publication.

The style, it is a-changin’

When Ohio State switched to AP as its primary editorial style last year one of the main factors driving the change was the fact that it is perhaps the most current style. AP updates and changes pretty regularly based on trends, new words entering the lexicon and, in some cases, common sense prevailing.

Two weeks ago, AP made a shift that falls in the latter category, moving away from its rule of abbreviating state names in the body of stories  (which seemed, well, odd). Here is AP’s explanation:

“Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories. Datelines will continue to use abbreviations. Currently, most state names are abbreviated in stories. The change is being made to be consistent in our style for domestic and international stories. International stories have long spelled out state names in the body of stories. State abbreviations will continue to be used in lists, agate, tabular material, nonpublishable editor’s notes and credit lines. They will also be used in short-form identification of political party affiliation. Photo captions will continue to use abbreviations, too. This change will improve consistency and efficiency for domestic and international stories, eliminating the need to spell out all state names in international copy, and to abbreviate them in domestic copy.”

This change is welcome as far as I’m concerned. It always seemed counterintuitive  to abbreviate states in running text, so it warmed the heart of this word nerd to see the shift.