College and University General Interest Magazines: University of Pennsylvania - Bronze Medal

Category 17: College and University General Interest Magazines
University of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Gazette

Contact: John Prendergast, editor, 3910 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-3111, Phone: (215) 898-9437, e-mail:

Goals/objectives of the magazine: The Gazette exists to help alumni keep themselves informed about and connected with the University of Pennsylvania and each other—by providing evenhanded, lively, and insightful coverage of what’s happening at Penn now, of the university’s history, and of the activities of alumni in the great world beyond campus.

Penn itself is a large, complex, urban research university of about 20,000 students (about evenly divided between undergraduate and graduate/professional) enrolled in 12 different schools on one campus in West Philadelphia. Our circulation of 170,000 is about two-thirds undergraduate alumni, but Penn’s graduate and professional schools are a big part of its culture, and we make every effort to spread our coverage around. We are also very interested in Penn’s relationship with its surrounding neighborhood and how the University interacts with the City of Philadelphia, where Penn is the largest private employer.

As this plays out in the magazine, each issue will typically have a mix of feature articles focused on the campus and surroundings—research advances, faculty profiles, departmental programs, service-learning and other neighborhood initiatives, etc.—balanced with profiles of noteworthy Penn graduates in a variety of fields.

University news—from administrative appointments to construction and renovation projects to more research to student honors and campus controversies—is reported in “Gazetteer,” our front-of-book news section. Reader surveys have consistently shown that alumni get most of their information about Penn from the Gazette, so we make an effort to be comprehensive in our coverage, something close to a publication of record for campus news without getting bogged down in too much detail (a fine balance to achieve).

We also have an extensive essay section, “First Person,” which includes a student column and another general column for alumni writers (“Alumni Voices”), along with two more narrowly focused columns: “Elsewhere,” which deals in a broad way with the experience of place, and “Expert Opinion,” where the topics addressed have ranged from picking clothes to the future of social security. The essays are designed to expand the range of voices in the magazine—particularly those of alumni, who are frequent contributors. It’s been quite successful with readers, judging by survey results and the letters we get in response to the columns.

Our arts section, “All Things Ornamental,” casts a wide net, including reports and reviews on art shows, musical and theatrical performances, film and CDs, as well as book reviews. Work by both alumni and faculty appear in this section, and members of both groups also serve as reviewers. This section has expanded the ways we are able to engage with constituencies on campus and among the alumni and enrich the portrait we can draw of the Penn community.

The alumni get their own news section, “Alumni Profiles,” in the pages before class notes. This includes 4-6 profiles of 1,000 words or so, with an eye toward variety in background, age, and seriousness.

Rather than concentrating primarily on the present life of the university or the doings of alumni, our editorial approach is based on a belief that the real richness is to be found in the mixture of the two. While there are variations in the balance from issue to issue, this editorial package is designed to give readers a sense of the whole Penn community, from current students to the oldest graduates and from here on campus to the furthest reaches of the globe (not to be too grandiose about it).

Staffing and use of resources: Editor, senior editor, associate editor, editorial assistant, art director, administrative/advertising coordinator—six full-time employees in all. The editor is responsible for overall planning and management, editing, and occasional writing; the senior and associate editors do the bulk of staff-writing, some editing of freelance pieces, and manage selected departments; the editorial assistant is primarily responsible for alumni notes and obituaries; the administrative/ad coordinator handles billing and receipts, and manages office.

Audience(s): Primarily alumni, but faculty and staff, and parents of current undergraduate students also receive the magazine.

Frequency of magazine: bimonthly

Average pages per issue: 96

Circulation: 170,000

Total annual budget: $625,000

Average cost per issue and unit cost: $104,000; 61 cents.

Results (Did you meet your goals? How?): The submitted issues are representative of our success in carrying through our editorial goals regarding the types of stories we cover and our attention to the highest standards of writing, editing, and visual presentation.

Our best information indicates that readers greatly value the magazine. In a recent survey, 83 percent of respondents had read all four of the last four issues and 80 percent agreed that they get most of their information about Penn from the Gazette.

This is consistent with earlier survey results in which 86 percent of alumni said they consider the Gazette a reliable, trustworthy news source, 83 percent said that it strengthens their sense of connection with Penn and 82 percent said that receiving it is important to them as alumni. In the same survey, 75 percent rated the writing quality as excellent or very good.

One survey respondent wrote:

“Great university, superb alumni magazine, great memories of Penn …”

Besides including a nice compliment, that comment neatly sums up what we think of as the Gazette’s position in the University community—to serve as the link between Penn’s ongoing story and the individual experiences of generations of alumni here on campus.

The university administration recognizes the trust alumni have in the magazine and the value they place on receiving it. A few years ago, the university began providing supplemental funding to send one issue of the Gazette annually to all Penn alumni (about 240,000 total). This year that rose to two issue per year, and plans are under way to expand the circulation on a continuing basis in the coming fiscal year, based in part on recommendations from a focus group of alumni leaders looking at ways to strengthen engagement with alumni.