[Update 14 May, 2010: The Leeds 2.0 blog at the University of Colorado at Boulder mentioned this post on May 4.]
[Update 14 May, 2010: The Leeds 2.0 blog at the University of Colorado at Boulder mentioned this post on May 4.]Last week we exchanged ideas on Alumni Futures about Class Notes in alumni publications. As if on cue, I then stumbled across UMagazinology – "News and observations on university magazines." One author of that blog is Johns Hopkins University Magazine's associate editor Dale Keiger.
Keiger, who is vastly experienced in magazine journalism, explained the site's point of view back in March, and he espoused this credo:
Be read or don't bother.
Specifically, Keiger rails against
senior administrators, deans, development communications VPs, alumni association directors, and public affairs professionals steadfast in their belief that [alumni] will shove aside The New Yorker, the sports page, the laptop, and the remote in order to read the status of their latest capital campaign, news from the Muskegon alumni chapter, six superficial profiles of earnest undergraduates who are passionate about giving back to the community, and The Dean's Message. But the truth is, almost nobody reads that stuff. It's boring, it insults our readers' intelligence, and it can't possibly compete with a new episode of Lost. [bold added for emphasis; italic in original]
OK, now we know how Dale really feels. So, what can compete with Lost, the laptop or The New Yorker? Simple: what people actually read. Keiger explains:
People read stories. Engaging, compelling, deeply reported, well-crafted stories. True stories. Ergo, if you want people to read your magazine...you need to tell great true stories, real stories that have narrative drive and vivid actors and meaningful knowledge, all conveyed with a storyteller's verve.
Easier said than done, obviously. But it sounds like good common sense – and the central importance of authenticity holds true across institutional advancement. Successful educational alumni relations, communications and fundraising are fundamentally based on relationships. Real relationships engender trust, and if university magazine authors (as well as the administrators Keiger lists) trust their audiences and don't insult their intelligence, the audience will repay that trust with loyalty and attention.