Friday, November 07, 2003

Breaking What Was Fixed

I stopped down at Weatherhead's Peter B. Lewis building yesterday to stick my head into an Appreciative Inquiry seminar, and while there I grabbed some reading material (including, I confess, a freebie Wall Street Journal, which lay in stacks of dozens every day, all the reason anyone would need to attend Weatherhead, I think). I also grabbed a copy of the latest issue of Case Magazine, a quarterly which has been newly redesigned for its newly rebranded university.

I've always had a soft spot for the pub, for a number of reasons. I've written for it in years past, everything from cover stories on family business to a long, complicated piece on genetics, maybe the toughest reporting I've ever done (it involved reading up on the subject for the better part of a week before I ever interviewed the first of several experts in the med school). Beyond that, I got to know and appreciate its former editor Roberta Hubbard, who died not so long ago. She went beyond an editor, and all the way to a writing patron, because of her early and crucial vocal support of my then-new freelancing career. She had been an editor at Northern Ohio Live many years ago, and when CWRU decided to launch a quarterly magazine in 1988, it hired the old Cleveland Magazine veteran Ned Whelan (of Whelan Communications, with offices in the Hanna Building where his old colleagues at the magazine also reside) to help bring it to life. He did a splendid job of birthing it, but soon lost the business to internal resources, headed up by Roberta. Roberta and her team breathed great life into the pub from their dingy offices (at the time) in ancient Yost Hall. She was an editor in the old school mold: she could be both cranky and inspiring at the same time, but always demanding on behalf of her readers, and a great lover of good writing and good publications. She knew how to negotiate the tricky politics of academia, mostly steering clear of anyone and anything that would keep her from putting out the best publication possible. And I never told her how touched I was when she sent a note via a friend that she was closely reading and enjoying some changes I had made to another local university publication, the John Carroll alumni pub. Her decidedly human approach was handed down to her second-in-command, Ken Kesegich, who's still editor today, when the mag has far nicer offices, along with the entire university publications office, in a beautiful old restored century-plus home on Bellflower Road.

Anyway, it's always hard to have one's favorite magazines redesigned. A good rule of thumb is to give it at least a handful of issues to see if you can get used to it. But I'll break my own rule and say that the new Case pub broke something that was fixed. It seems a step backward, the victim of some consultants that don't know magazines as much as fundraising and image enhancement. These days, it's all about branding at universities, and the lone chance of really reaching out and touching an audience in a warm and human voice by reminding them of what they're supporting--the university and its students and alumni--inevitably suffers. A pity...


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