Alumni net works

Time-Life subway stop

Time-Life subway stop

Alumni tent

Alumni Weekend

With long blue pennants flying over the giant white tent pretty as a medieval fanfare, my heart swells for the glory of W&L alumni. Alumna, alumnorum, alumius, whatever, they’re all over the place for Alumni Weekend. What I appreciate is how the alumni network worked to help set up our great NY Magazine visit that starts Sunday.

Here’s how W&L alums helped. We’ll start at ASME, whose summer internship program has taken on several of our journalism majors. Then we have lunch with Stacy Morrison, class of ’90, whose gift for magazine-editing (a certain shrewd optimism about people in the aggregate and culture in the now) put her in charge of Marie Claire, Redbook, Modern Bride and now, BlogHer. Then we go to the Madison Avenue offices where Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is re-positioning the historic New Republic for the 21st century – a visit set up for us by Will Chamberlin, ’08, one of the market-researchers in that office.

Tuesday morning, we walk to the dazzling Hearst Building (the only LEEDS certified skyscraper in New York, spurting out of the old 1920s pediment of the building). My former student Elyse Moody, ’07, an assistant editor at Elle, has us set up with an art director there. (Elle, born fashionably in Paris, is now involved – like, more than “dating” – with another Hearst title, Esquire. The current issues of both have a section from the other inside.) Then we hop down to Chelsea on the Hudson for lunch with another former student of mine, Becky Mickel, ’13, who is at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Becky has us set up for a tour of the Martha Stewart operation there. Then we scurry up to the famous Time-Life building on 6th Ave., across from Radio City. Alison Kudlacik, ’02, in the marketing side of Time Inc’s powerhouse, People magazine, has us set up with another W&L alumna, Lee Cordobes, ’01, associate publisher of Cooking Light.

What an itinerary! The only non-W&L alum is an alumnus of my college, Bennington. Alec Wilkinson, who graduated around the same time as I did from Bennington (we all sort of dropped in and out of Bennington as the spirit moved us in those days) will take us on a stroll to Strawberry Fields in Central Park on Wednesday morning. Alec has been a staff writer at the New Yorker for about 30 years, was taken under the wing of one of the best editors ever, the late William Maxwell, and has written a number of excellent non-fiction books.

— Prof. Cumming

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The Nut Graf

In a feature story, one technique is what’s called the nut graf. That’s the paragraph that gives a wider context or background, giving readers an additional reason to read the story  — besides the amazing subject being so fascinating. It puts the story in a nutshell, or maybe it’s called that for the nuts who still don’t see the point of the story.nut

Here’s an example from a story from my last year’s spring term class, called “A Sense of Place.” The story is about my friends John and Sarah Burleson, who run a small sheep farm just west of Lexington.

After seven grafs of an anecdotal lede, here’s the nut graf:

The family farm has been disappearing in the United States for at least a century. Although the small farm is celebrated in Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” and pictured on food packaging in supermarkets, the reality is that much of our food comes from vast middle-America flatlands and regimented orchards under the sway of consolidated agribusiness. However, small farms have remained a part of Rockbridge County since its settlement in the 18th century. Today, according to the U.S. Census, the county has 805 farms, about the same number it had in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War. The average size of a farm in the county is 172 acres.

— Prof. Cumming

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Overediting in Photography

Discussing the precarious nature of editing a photo while maintaining its integrity brought to mind a scandal that took place within the Los Angeles Times a short time ago. On March 31, 2003 the Times published a front-page photograph that was shot (and altered) by Brian Walski. The edited picture depicted a British soldier instructing a group of Iraqi civilians to take cover from hostile fire in Basra, while a man holding a young child seemed to be pleading for his help. The photograph, steeped in pathos, resulted from Walski combining two separate shots that showcased entirely different tones.alteredwalski

In the first unaltered photo, the soldier is gesturing and the man is looking away. In the second, the man and the soldier are merely facing each other.

Through editing, Walski was able to manipulate the significance of the wartime scene, thereby injecting his own agenda in the photograph. It was not true to life, and thus unauthentic photojournalism. As soon as this was recognized, the LA Times dismissed Walski from its staff and published a retraction.

Though Walski claimed his editing improved the photograph, the blatant insertion of the gesturing soldier alongside the pleading man with his child was an utter fabrication. Perhaps in the art or fashion industries, this kind of editing would have been acceptable. But, while fashion and art are expected to be fantastical and unrealistic, photojournalism is expected to be honest and informative. I thus agree with Walski’s dismissal based on his editing.

So, where is the line? What elements of editing are fair play in photography? In my opinion, cropping, altering light or shadow, and brightening or darkening colors are all okay to do, even in photojournalism–as long as the essential depiction of the scene and its subjects remains unchanged. And, of course, in fashion and art, the photographer has an even greater creative license to edit however much he/she pleases.

What do you think?

What about you?

— Andrea Siso

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The importance of a good photo

Today in lab we met with Kevin Remington, who is W&L’s campus photographer. He talked to us about photojournalism, specifically about photo essays. They should include five things:

  • the scene
  • a way to move from the scene into a more focused shot
  • a portrait of the subject
  • detail
  • action

Kevin with studentsA photo essay is different from typical journalistic style writing because not only do you get to spend time with the subject that you are covering, and really get a chance to get to know them, but you also get to plan out how you want the photos to look, whereas reporting is more reactive.

“The hardest part is explaining and then picking up the camera and doing it,” he said.

Kevin explained that you have to wait for the perfect shot, and sometimes this can take hours. You want to convey a certain message, and to get it exactly right, you have to be patient.

In class, we were divided into four groups and each assigned a photo essay topic to tackle. We only had a brief period of time, so it served as good practice for the real magazine. My group was assigned to cover Agnes Gilmore, who sits at the information desk in the Commons. She declined to be photographed, so we decided to cover Dick Grefe, the Senior Reference Librarian, instead.

Dick Grefe

Grefe, who books movies for W&L, in his office in the library.

I really enjoyed how this assignment gave us the opportunity to learn about him, and like Kevin said, it really gave us the opportunity to get to know him. I had no idea that he was such a movie buff, and he was shocked when I told him I had never seen the movie Once. My group was able to capture him in his element at the research help desk, but also in his office.

photo 2

Dick Grefe, research librarian in Leyburn

Other groups did their photo essays on Marquita Dunn, who works in Café 77, the Colonnade in the rain, and K.C. Schaefer, the director and merchandise manager of the University Store.

In terms of editing the pictures, Kevin said that as long as you aren’t changing the subject of the picture, he is not opposed to editing the photos. Brightening and darkening can help to focus on the center of the subject, but if you crop a photo too much, it could completely alter its message. He also talked about the rule of thirds and how he utilizes that in his photos. He said he likes to keep his subjects on the left side of the pictures because humans psychologically are prone to view that more positively because we read from left to right. He also said that killers in movies typically emerge from the right side of the screen, which is something I had never noticed.

“A smile and just interacting with your subject goes a long way,” he said, which I think is the best advice he gave us.

— Wyn Ponder

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From the wise words of Dan Smith

After visiting LeisureMedia360 Publishing, we embarked on the daring journey to downtown Roanoke to meet Dan Smith.  The trek was not without its hairy moments: we took a right at a fork when we should have turned left, dealt with the lunchtime craziness of downtown, and squeezed into the parking garage with what felt like only an inch between the van roof and the cement ceiling. We surpassed these obstacles, however, and headed into the Taubman Museum of Art to eat lunch in their café, Norah’s, with Dan Smith.

Dan Smith sitting back in his chair during lunch

Dan Smith sitting back in his chair during lunch

Dan Smith is currently a freelance writer and novelist. He previously worked as a sports writer for Madison Citizen Times and wrote sports features for The Roanoke Times. He is also the co-founder of the Valley Business FRONT magazine and previously served as co-owner and editor of the magazine. Smith is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame and has also created his own blog called fromtheeditr. It would appear to young, learning eyes like mine that Dan Smith has done everything you can think of in the news and writing business, and probably more.

We walked into the bright, airy café with large windows all along the side and sat at the big table and enjoyed a nice lunch. Sitting near Smith, I quickly learned that he was the type of guy that had a way with words that just makes you smile. In his soothing Southern voice, he calls out to the group to try the potato chips or the cheesecake pops, “Jump on these, they are as close to Heaven as you will get today.” With his arms crossed over his chest, he leans back in his chair and truly tells you how he thinks things are: from his opinion of a writer to his opinion of politics.

The class in Norah's café

The class in Norah’s café at the Taubman Museum of Art

Smith handed out a paper outline of all his tips to starting a magazine, and, after everyone had finished lunch, he stood up in front of the group. He began by explaining that, in today’s world, he sees no necessity for working for anybody. Below is a severely abbreviated outline of all the useful tips he gave us for beginning our own magazine:

  • Research the local market for a magazine topic that your audience needs
  • Find a topic for your magazine that is interesting to you and your audience
  • Take a good, college marketing class.
  • Plan the role you want to play in your magazine and the staff that you need. Smith explains, “Don’t leave yourself removed from the parts you love. If you’re a writer, write… But that is secondary to being an owner/manager.”
  • Make sure you have a good photographer and designer. Smith believes that a magazine must be pretty first to encourage the reader to read it, and good content comes in second.
  • Use freelance writers as much as possible and always read a writer’s work before you turn him/her down.
  • Get the needed business licenses and acquire a lawyer and a financial man.
  • Use a week to plan every detail of your magazine and determine what it will be.
  • Find a local printer and talk about costs and techniques for printing a magazine.
  • Plan out your distribution.
  • Have a strong online presence to keep your ideas interactive and alive on a daily basis.
  • Before you publish anything, print a small example issue for advertisers.
  • Strive to eventually create a 60-40 ad-news breakdown, but this ratio will not be achieved quickly.
  • Use Quark and InDesign for design and have a photo editing software. Also be sure that you have back-ups for everything.
  • Determine whether to charge for your magazine.
  • Using Roanoke’s market size as an example, seek about $50,000 to start up your magazine.

He finished giving his advice by saying, “I bet you can start a magazine from nothing tomorrow.” That most definitely is our goal in this class. The value of his advice is unmeasurable. His handout is something we will keep in close hand to reference as we move forward in the class and designing our own magazine. I know I will be keeping this information for my years outside of college.

— Laura Lemon

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Inside the world of Leisure Publishing

Upon arriving in Roanoke, we filed out of the vans and into a small, homey conference room at Leisure Publishing.  We were immediately welcomed by Kurt Rheinheimer, the editor in chief of a number of publications including Blue Ridge Country and The Roanoker.

Students listen to Kurt Rheinheimer talk about his success in the magazine business

students listen to Kurt Rheinheimer talk about his success in the magazine business

Rheinheimer began his presentation by giving a brief history of the company, noting that Richard Wells, the owner and founder, is still daily involved at Leisure Publishing.  The two major magazines, Blue Ridge Country and The Roanoker, are quite different and Rheinheimer shared with us some valuable information about each one.

Blue Ridge Country celebrates the states and regions of the south, namely the Appalachain regions of the eastern United States.  Rheinheimer emphasized the term “celebrate,” noting that the magazine focuses on the positive and highly acclaimed details of the region.  Through employing a number of mostly freelance writers, the magazine is made up of mostly travel articles that attract an older readership.

Contrarily, The Roanoker focuses on the city life in Roanoke, Virginia.  This magazine is more upscale, with features on homes, travel, and lifestyle.  This publication fits the mold of other city magazines around the country.  Issues of the magazine have different focuses throughout the year.  The most popular are “Top Docs,” “Best Of…,” and “Dining Awards.”  Multiple spinoffs of the magazine have entered the spotlight, including The Menu and Bride Book which are both successful due to their narrow focus.

Rheinheimer stressed that for both magazines, there was “a commitment to fine paper.” Focus on such small details enhances the quality of the magazine and attracts readers.  He also gave us the inside scoop on magazine terms, such as decks, sidebars, and pull-quotes.

We also got to read an article sent in by a freelancer, Fred Sauceman, who writes about food in Blue Ridge Country.  Our mouths watered as we studied “Pintos and Persistence” and were able to see what an editor looks for in an article.  Rheinheimer showed us the finished product in the magazine, finished off with glossy pictures of the restaurant’s southern delicacies.

Kurt Rheinheimer tells us how he edits freelance work.

Kurt Rheinheimer tells us how he edits freelance work.

It was truly a treat to hear what Mr. Rheinheimer had to say about magazines.  He gave us the perfect overview of the business and, more specifically, how an editor organizes a writer’s story and adds pictures—creating a magazine is truly an art form.  After visiting Leisure Publishing, we are ready to take on the challenge of creating our own.

— Barbara Bent

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Cover Art

The old Masters of painting may have been right about suffering, but magazine illustrators  got the American public right. The Taubman Museum, it turns out, has quite an amazing

Waiting to leave, art-fully.

Waiting to leave, art-fully.

collection of old and not-so-old Masters that we got to see yesterday afternoon – Peale, Eakins, Winslow Homer, an American Impressionist named Childe Hassam who did a hypnotizing springtime in Central Park of 1904 (a lot like the glimpse of Central Park I saw two weeks ago). Not much of mythology and Christian imagery of old Europe that Auden meant by “suffering” in his famous Musée poem. It’s all more upbeat American or 20th century.  I was drawn to a Norman Rockwell called “Framed.”

It’s of a Jackie Gleason-like museum worker carrying an empty frame through an art museum. The surface joke is that it frames him as if he were a portrait in the museum

Norman Rockwell cover from March 2, 1946. Original in the Taubman Museum

Norman Rockwell cover from March 2, 1946. Original in the Taubman Museum

where he’s just a schlepping worker. The more subtle joke is that in the paintings on the wall, the aristocrats of Europe’s various eras of Fine Art are looking at this Ralph Kamden-nobody of Brooklyn with scorn or bemusement. The subtext of that joke is: Get over it, Europe. We’re Americans. We’re Brooklyn. We’re the Saturday Evening Post.

When this Norman Rockwell ran on the cover of the Post in 1946, the magazine was more than 100 years old and was by then the most popular and widely circulating magazine in America. Rockwell drew 321 cover illustrations for the magazine, many of them becoming iconic images that, as the museum blurb on this said, “created an idealized portrait of America.”

In 1946, a little irony about fine art was cool with the mass market. In the 1960s, the irony turned more hip and cynical, with Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards and later magazines doing The Worst of. . . and The 10 Dumbest Congressmen and such. At Leisure Publishing, where we began our field trip to Roanoke yesterday, editor Kurt Rheinheimer talked about the struggle of regional and city magazines to survive, and the need to stay upbeat. The ad department can’t afford to have potential advertisers called the worst, or stupid.

(from left) John, Courtney, Caroline and Maggie, at Norah's.

(from left) John, Courtney, Caroline and Maggie, at Norah’s.

The Taubman has a great little restaurant called Norah’s. Local writer and raconteur Dan Smith joined us there for lunch, and gave us instructions on how to start a magazine in this bloody hard environment. When one or two of you actually do this in a few years, you’ll pull out the notes he handed out and see how gobsmacking on point the were, and are.

— Prof. Doug Cumming

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“Learning and gaining from every job”: Campbell shares her story

In 1981, recent college graduate and aspiring magazinist Julie Campbell turned down an $11,000 a year secretarial job at Condé Nast and found herself instead at a Colorado real estate firm.

Julie Campbell talks shows off an issue from the first magazine she worked for, Colorado Homes and Lifestyles Magazines.

Julie Campbell shows an issue from the first magazine she worked for, Colorado Homes and Lifestyles Magazines.

“Sometimes I think about what would have happened,” Campbell, now the editor of W&L’s alumni magazine said.

But the route she chose has ultimately exposed her to nearly every type of magazine in the industry.  Company newsletters, consumer magazines, trade magazines, historical journals, and specialized, no-ad magazines!  Oh my!

Clearly, Campbell has packed a great number of skills under her belt during the past three decades.  She’s worked up through the hierarchy from administrative assistant to editor.  Along the way, she’s adapted to her constantly changing audiences.  She’s dealt with advertisers.  She’s dipped her toes in design.  She’s experimented with digitalization of the medium.

One of the most precious tidbits Campbell offered us in her reflection applies not only to mass communications, but also to all careers—capitalize your time and effort at any and every internship and job opportunity.

“You never know what you might learn, what skills you might learn, what connection you might make,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who chiefly admires history and literary writing, did not necessarily look on to Plastics Machinery and Equipment with the same enchantment as the Virginia Cavalcade or the Journal of Arizona History.  However, she found that it presented the potential for priceless experience and connections.

Even if chasing your dream of interviewing All-Star athletes has so far only landed you a job as fact-checker for National Hog Farmer Magazine, go with it and proudly play your part for the swine squad.

“You never know what you might learn, what skills you might learn, what connection you might make,” Campbell said.

“You never know what you might learn, what skills you might learn, what connection you might make,” Campbell said.

Go into work every day grateful and motivated to shape your skills, Campbell said.  Be polite and friendly.  Be an “indispensible person” on the team.  Not only will you master tackling tasks and maneuvering the office, you’ll form a priceless network that might help you make it to the Major League someday.

And Campbell spent years working at different publications before she fell into her first dream job—yes, first!

Right now, we might be shortsighted students who eye the dazzling gold trophy that is our single-most coveted, nothing-can-top-this career.  But later on, we’ll most likely fall in and out of love with different areas in the industry.

But the motivation, experimentation, adaptation, and life-long learning that teems in Campbell’s story suggests that help these are the keys to a successful journalistic dossier.

I know this is internship and job-orientated advice (finding an internship has definitely been on my mind!).  But Campbell mentioned a lot of other tips and anecdotes about her time in the industry that will be of use to us during this class, most of which I transcribed but don’t have room to summarize here.  I can always dig that up so we can look back at her words for inspiration when forming our own magazine.

— Hendley Badcock

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Welcome! We are only two days into this spring term, and already we have this blog up and running.

We also have 14 magazines that you, my students, are researching, looking at whatever you can find about their past and present.

Magazine rack in W&L Bookstore

Magazine rack in W&L Bookstore

And we have a vision for our own magazine. It’s “Town & Gown: A magazine for university town life.” This would be a regional Southern magazine for towns like Lexington, such as those with traditional private colleges in the Associated Colleges of the South (Danville, Ky.; Conway, Ark.; Winter Park, Fla.; Davidson, N.C., etc.) and university towns like Chapel Hill, N.C.; Athens, Ga., where two in this class are from. Team assignments spelled out in the file in Sakai called “Magazine focus ideas.”

We’ll aim at generating content and design for a prototype, and a business plan and market research for a prospectus.


It was 25 years ago that I was involved in the launch of a regional magazine in Atlanta called Southpoint. It launched just as its sponsor, Time Inc., merged with Warner Bros. to create a behemoth that was $14 billion in debt. We figured we could hide in the smoke and roar of that, and do our thing.

Tech guy Michael Todd, helping us launch this blog.

Tech guy Michael Todd, helping us launch this blog.

I think this class has covered more ground in two days that we covered in the six months it took to get Southpoint up to  halfway to a prototype and prospectus. Now that we’ve got a road map, I think we can slow down a bit and enjoy the work we’ll be doing.

Julie Campbell, editor of W&L’s alumni magazine, says our magazine looks great. “I would read it!” she says. She’ll be talking to our lab tomorrow afternoon.

Then, on Thursday, we’re taking two vans to Roanoke. At Leisure Publishing (Blue Ridge Country & Roanoker) we’ll talk with editor-in-chief Kurt Rheinheimer, the art director and a marketing person. Then we’ll meet Dan Smith, former Blue Ridge Business Journal editor and co-founder of Valley Business FRONT, for lunch at the Taubman Museum. After browsing the Picasso show there, we’ll be back by around 3 p.m.

Looking forward to New York City!

— Prof. Doug Cumming

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