College and University General Interest Magazines: Denison University - Silver Medal

Category 17: College and University General Interest Magazines
Denison University, Denison Magazine

Contact: Paul Pegher, editor, Office of Public Affairs, PO Box 701, Granville, OH 43055, Phone: (740) 587-6267, e-mail:

Mission Statement:
“Our purpose is to inspire and educate our students to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents and active citizens of a democratic society. Through an emphasis on active learning, we engage students in the liberal arts, which fosters self-determination and demonstrate the transformative power of education. We envision our students’ lives as based upon rational choice, a firm belief in human dignity and compassion unlimited by cultural, racial, sexual, religious, or economic barriers, and directed toward an engagement with the central issue of our time.”

In other words, students come here to learn, to live, to learn to live together, and to apply what they learn towards making the world a better place to live. (And, in the universal subtext of college life, to have fun doing it).

In this framework, Denison Magazine seeks not to report on Denison University, but rather to reflect it. The magazine therefore has to bear the curious, vibrant, tolerant, rational, intelligent, bold characteristics that members of the campus community see every day. And for alumni, who may remember their college days in somewhat different societal context, the magazine must revive the liberal arts learning experience that has held true through the decades. The objective across all audiences is to foster dialogue and to engage them in the life of the college.

For the sum of these reasons, Denison Magazine is a predominantly theme-based publication. The editor selects stories based on their relationship – obvious or otherwise – to a common thread, with the objective of making each issue its own experience – one that hopefully contains at least a few of the “aha!” moments that the bulk of readers associate with college learning. Themes like Life on Earth, Home, and Enterprise are chosen to compel readers to look for underlying connections, to want to know how the contents fall into place. The editorial content, artwork, and design are created to engage and inform, to entertain, and sometimes even to challenge what may be conventional notions about various topics.

Acknowledging that news will continue to happen outside the scope of any given theme, each issue includes a “back of the book” collection of departments and articles that don’t necessarily relate to the front (but could). The result is a two-in-one magazine: one part guides readers through something of a focused study, the other informs them, in general fashion, about each other and the college.

In 2006, Denison University introduced a variation on the magazine’s format in response to challenges of limited (and diminishing) staff and the need to economize the budget for other marketing and communications initiatives. The editor teamed up once again with Pentagram Design to create the Denison Magazine A-Report, a sister publication that fulfills some institution “must haves,” such as donor recognition and reunion coverage that the magazine’s standard format could not. Acknowledging that the standard, theme-based format often fell short on reporting news of the college, we dedicated a significant portion of the A-Report to highlights of the preceding academic year. The A-Report served as the third issue in the magazine’s quarterly publication schedule and took the place of a separately produced annual Donor Report, thereby making those funds available for some new efforts.

Staffing and resources: Denison Magazine is staffed by one editor who, at the beginning of the year, devoted 95 percent of his time to researching, planning, writing, editing, art directing, managing the contents and contributors, managing business aspects of the magazine, and even laying out portions of each issue. However, due to the early retirement of one-third of Denison’s public affairs staff by mid-year, the editor was only able to give about 80 percent of his time to the magazine as he covered other duties. It should also be noted that the editor missed almost two months of work in the fourth quarter due to viral meningitis, but still was able to have 85 percent of the fourth issue produced by the end of the calendar year. (The remaining 15 percent was in large part an extremely overdue feature article by a freelance writer.)

Two associate editors, who hold other titles in Denison’s Office of Public Affairs, give roughly two percent of their time to the magazine, occasionally producing content but otherwise serving advisory functions when difficult decision must be made. One Office of Information Services support staff member serves as class notes and obituary editor, a role that requires about 40 percent of her time. One public affairs support staff member spends 15 percent of her time on proofreading and compiling a brief campus news section and another spends less than one percent on maintaining business records. One casual employee spends and average of two hours per week researching or assisting with photo editing. Two student employees spend varying amounts of time (zero to 10 ours per week) research various topics, proofreading, assisting with administrative tasks, and occasionally writing short articles.

Outside of Denison University employees, the magazine’s staff includes one graphic designer, three or more photographers, and a half-dozen or more freelance writers for any single issue.

Audience: Denison Magazine is written and designed to be a “college” magazine, as opposed to an “alumni” magazine. The objective is to build a shared sense of community and ownership in the life of the college among alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents of current students and recent alumni, and friends of Denison University.

Frequency: Four times a year

Average pages per issue: 72 plus cover

Circulation: 38,000

Annual Budget: $250,400

Average cost per issue/unit cost: $62,600/$1.65

Results: Going into the 2006 calendar year, the editorial staff planned to conduct a reader survey, having given the readership a chance to become accustomed to the Denison Magazine format that was introduced in 2005. However, due to the personnel issues described above, time did not allow for any empirical effort.

So we continued to gauge the magazine’s success by the two- or three-dozen letters and e-mails we receive after each issue (scant few of them being negative). In other words, the publication’s primary objectives of engaging readers and fostering dialogue are met.

It is considerably more difficult to qualify verbal responses to the magazine but in general, remarks echo those of the previous year, coming along the lines that people “actually read the magazine!” Faculty, alumni, and parents alike openly praise the engaging design and thought-provoking content, and alumni note that, unlike in the past, they read so much more than just the class notes. Another measure might be that almost two dozen students applied for the two internship positions, as opposed to years past when the editor had to go out begging for students to come help. And when a regional president of the world’s largest private public relations firm offers effusive praise and mentions how he was showing an issue off to his colleagues, then we know we’re doing something right. But out favorite benchmarking feedback remains the occasional “Its so nice to see Denson producing a magazine that actually reflects the college!”