A few years ago, I published a newsletter about three common alumni magazine myths that you should ignore.
But there aren’t just three.
I continue to collect them and categorize them, because I’m interested in why we end up believing certain things about our publications that aren’t true. Sometimes, our beliefs are actively harmful to the broader work we’re trying to do.
So today I want to share a few more alumni magazine myths — and how you might rethink your approach to your publication as a result.
If you haven’t read the first three myths, you can find them here.
Here are three more:
Myth: You should minimize (or eliminate) class notes
First, let me just spend a moment here empathizing with your plight. I started my alumni magazine career as a class notes editor, and I know that they are painful.
They’re time-consuming to create and a bear to design. There are a million and one things that can go wrong.
During my time as a class notes editor, I misspelled alumni names (and heard about it). I accidentally included prank entries (and heard about it). And occasionally I didn’t include a wedding photo (and BOY did I hear about it).
The thing you should notice here is not that I was a terrible class notes editor, although you can make your own judgments about that. The important thing is what I noted in those parenthetical phrases.
I heard about these things because PEOPLE WERE READING THE CLASS NOTES.
Were they reading the profiles and features I spent hours crafting?
I don’t know, I hope so. I didn’t usually hear too much about them.
But I definitely heard from alums who were apparently going through every single class notes entry with a fine-tooth comb.
Surveys consistently show that class notes are among the most-read sections of your magazine. They are something only your magazine can do. (Often, because of privacy concerns, they’re something only your print magazine can do.)
Don’t minimize them. Make the most of them.
Myth: “Ambition” = Taking on Important Stories of the Time
Man, I know I’m going to be walking into the lion’s den with this one.
But I think too often, we conflate “ambition” in our magazines with Having a Take on Today’s Serious Issues.
You don’t have to do this!
Sure, if one of your alums is Anthony Fauci, it’s definitely okay to write a huge feature on him. And if your magazine’s entire focus is public health, of course you should take a big swing on the pandemic.
But just because everyone’s talking about the economy or our dystopian technological future — well, that doesn’t mean you have to, too.
If your story about one of these topics is going to be a significantly watered down version of what readers might find in The Atlantic or Wired, it might not be a great story for your institution.
You can still be incredibly ambitious with your magazine, even on lighter topics. Here are just a few examples.
- Read this cool story about the link between the rabid Nebraska Husker fanbase and red car sales.
- Check out the story I did about field research that scrambled my brain when I wrote it, but was also pretty amazing (if I do say so myself).
- This one is a chef’s kiss of a story about cinnamon buns from the University of Alberta’s New Trail magazine.
These are stories that only alumni magazines are well positioned to do.
Do them! And do them well.
Hungry to take on more serious stories? Consider stories that your institution might be uniquely positioned to take on — like the idea of testing-optional admissions, the dogfights about “wokeness” on college campuses, or the transformation of education during the pandemic.
These are huge, important issues, and they’re topics for which your magazine potentially has a front-row seat — deep expertise within your institution to address.
Myth: You can easily transform great print magazine stories into great stories for other media
For a while, I was obsessed with the idea of making modular, multipurpose stories.
Tell an amazing story in your print magazine, chop it up, then repurpose it for social media or your magazine website.
Or take that crazy popular social media post and turn it into a magazine story.
Copy, paste, done. Right?
I tried so many different experiments. My go-to storytelling technique is pretty modular and packaged, so I figured there was definitely a code I could crack.
But after spending years on this work, I don’t think there is a secret hack!
You can definitely create a great print story and an amazing social media post and a fun web story and an incredible podcast on the same topic. But they’re all going to require different things: a distinct tone. A unique approach that fits both the medium and the audience.
The problem of trying to create something that is easily translatable from one medium to another is that you’re going to create something that is mediocre in every medium. Not terrible! But I truly hope that you’re aiming higher than “not terrible.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t scavenge your other work for parts. You’re probably not going to have to start from scratch.
But when you’re thinking about your print magazine, think about your print magazine.
Your print magazine is how the vast majority of your alumni audience will get information about your school and its community. It’s worth spending the time to get it right.
Your magazine is not the place to see how many ways you can easily repurpose other content for this medium. (If you want to know the why behind print mags for your audiences, grab my report, The Case for Print. I know that several institutions have used the research in it to get more resources for their own print publications.)
Your print alumni magazine has a uniquely valuable audience and a distinctive, powerful impact. When you create multitasking stories, you dilute their impact in every medium.