The future of alumni magazines

This week the new Newsweek has been a hot conversation on the CASE CUE (university editors listserve). A few weeks back Newsweek introduced a new look and new approach to their magazine.

In the May 16th issue editor Jon Meecham (who spoke at Gettysburg last year) described the changes:

And so the magazine you are holding now—the first issue of a reinvented and rethought NEWSWEEK—represents our best effort to bring you original reporting, provocative (but not partisan) arguments and unique voices. We know you know what the news is. We are not pretending to be your guide through the chaos of the Information Age. If you are like us, you do not need, or want, a single such Sherpa. What we can offer you is the benefit of careful work discovering new facts and prompting unexpected thought.

The chief casualty is the straightforward news piece and news written with a few (hard-won, to be sure) new details that does not move us significantly past what we already know. Will we cover breaking news? Yes, we will, but with a rigorous standard in mind: Are we truly adding to the conversation? When violence erupts in the Middle East, are we saying something original about it? Are our photographs and design values exceptional? If the answers are yes, then we are in business.

As a long time Newsweek reader I was impressed at the new approach and one particular line stuck out for me. “Are we truly adding to the conversation?” They truly get it. I don’t want the hardcore news I can get that up to the minute on the web from a weekly magazine. Can they give me value added? Can they make me think? Can they bring a different perspective that I haven’t thought about before? Can they offer me a fresh idea?

Are we seeing the future of alumni magazines? Maybe not this year or next but in 10-15-20 years when this generation is in their mid 40’s and  comfortable with technology and news on the web. Could this be the future for higher ed alumni magazines?

7 Responses to The future of alumni magazines

  1. Ron says:

    I think the difference is, what’s the purpose of an alumni magazine? Is it all about the donations? Or about creating connections to Olde State U (so that people donate?) or is it about something else?

    I think that’s going to be the issue going forward, is how to create those connections with generations that will have had very different experiences than those who came before them.

    I think in the same ways that newspapers changed from say, the early 20th century to the middle to late part in the wake of television having a lot more influence, we’ll see how colleges and universities respond to connecting with their alumni in the next twenty years.

    Perhaps I’m just overreacting to the sort of buzzing I hear, but I’m convinced that the changes in how school is financed by many students, coupled with the rapid pace of technology will force us to really think in different ways to how we reach those audiences without alienating the alums who are still valuing the old way.

    Maybe there will be some sort of fork in the road where you’ll still print a magazine for the 30-50th anniversary crowd, while the 20 and under year classes will get some sort of other medium delivered?

    Exciting times.

  2. Erica says:

    A great alumni mag that is in print and on the web is Boston University’s Bostonia (

    Not sure how long they’ve been online, but they didn’t wait for graduates to become more web savvy – they basically already are.

  3. Ron says:

    I remember that thing during CASE and I remember being very very impressed with the work they do. The BU annual report was impressive too.

  4. Bill says:

    You ask “Are we seeing the future of alumni magazines?” … Could this be the future for higher ed alumni magazines?”
    I’m hoping that you were writing rhetorically because there is no doubt that alumni magazines will be electronically delivered. Not exclusively at first, but certainly as an alternate means of reaching the alumni of Ol’ State U. What will be challenging for advancement and alumni offices will be anticipating how quickly the tipping point is reached. When will more copies be delivered and read online than in print? And the follow-up to that is: At which point does the production of the magazine as a printed publication become unneeded or fiscally irresponsible?
    You stated, “Maybe not this year or next but in 10-15-20 years when this generation is in their mid 40’s and comfortable with technology and news on the web.”
    You only *wish* you had that kind of time to adapt! In 15 years the we’ve gone from Compuserve to Web 2.0. There is no reason to expect the pace of change in the technology (read: content delivery) of the internet to lessen. I cannot imagine this generation of college graduates sitting idly by waiting for the publisher of the Ol’ State U Magazine to determine that the time has truly arrived to take the step into electronic publication. How many student newspapers at universities are electronically published today? The students who read those papers online are next year’s graduates. They’re expecting to learn, to converse, and to interact with their media. And woe to the alumni office that fails their alums in their expectations! Because, and here is the key, without the appropriate means of delivery, the message never reaches its audience. No message = No donation. And that is what it all comes down to.

  5. Rick Hardy says:

    Thanks for the post, Paul. Colleges and universities do need to decide the purpose of their alumni communication, including the alumni magazine. But whatever the decision on the magazine, it is a key branding vehicle for continuing the sense of community across generations for the institution. While we sense that all communication may be online eventually, it’ll take awhile given the generations of alumni who are not used to reading online materials.

    The difference between what Newsweek is doing and what alumni magazines may do is news. Newsweek is attempting to continue their mission of being a journalistic gatekeeper, providing analysis of what has happened. While alumni magazines may provide news and information about the institution and how it’s addressing societal issues, it’s ultimately about telling a story about your institution that is effective with both older and younger alumni, letting them know that their alma mater’s best days are now and in the future…which may translate into pride, which may translate into alumni giving.

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