Periodical Special Issues: Pomona College - Gold Medal

Category 25: Periodical Special Issues
Pomona College, Pomona College Magazine

Contact: Mark Wood, senior director of communications, Pomona College, 550 North College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711

Objectives: In a nutshell, the purpose of Pomona College Magazine is to engage a diverse and highly literate set of readers with stories and visuals that make them stop and think, or stop and feel, or stop and wonder, care, remember, admire, identify, appreciate, laugh, cry or reconnect. By consistently inspiring strong reactions in our readers, we hope the magazine will earn their respect and active interest and thereby inform their opinion of the college and, ultimately, maintain and strengthen their commitment to its welfare.

Since people tend to attribute to an institution the qualities they see reflected in its publications, we also seek to make the magazine representative of the values of the institution itself—such values as a commitment to originality, relevance, quality and honest discourse.

Concept: To accomplish these goals, we try to craft each issue of PCM as a publication that can compete well in the crowded marketplace of communications. We believe every issue of the magazine either adds to or detracts from the readership’s expectations for future issues, and that the cumulative effect should be readers who welcome the magazine into their homes as an irreverent old friend—that is to say, who see it as familiar, trustworthy and dependably interesting, but also surprising and provocative.

By building each issue around a theme but applying the theme in unusual and creative ways, we seek to take advantage of the synergy that comes with interconnected stories while—hopefully—avoiding the pitfalls of predictability and lack of variety. Thus an issue on family started with a series of interrelated stories touching on four very different kinds of families—a woman with an international family of 38 adopted children; a parent dealing with her three-year-old’s autism; a son raised by the first same-sex couple to be married in Massachusetts; and a mother dealing with the untimely death of her only son—and goes on to such features as a story about two twins just starting college, one at Pomona and the other on the opposite side of the continent (“Branching Out”); an award-winning essay by a Pomona student about what she learned from her aging grandfather (“The God on my Grandfather’s Table”); and a piece about an alum who launched a national protest against Starbuck’s over the rights of nursing mothers.

The contents of our Food issue ranged from an article on food ethics (“Consider the Lobster”) by noted Pomona professor, David Foster Wallace, to a story about a food chemical engineer (“The Tastemaker”) to a piece about an alum whose Iowa restaurant, which carried an iconic Pomona name, failed—as most restaurants do—after only a few months. The fact that the latter story is about a failed enterprise marks one of the things that make our alumni trust this magazine—our articles aren’t always success stories in the traditional sense, but they are always about people with whom our readers will identify and from whose experience they can learn something worthwhile.

Results: Pomona College Magazine has become the “insider’s view” of Pomona College. While the magazine engages, inspires and enlightens its readers—alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, prospective students, and friends—it also serves as what our readers consider to be the college’s most authentic and reliable voice. In a focus group of first-year students, the students said they felt they were getting institution-speak with admissions pieces as prospective students but they were getting the real college when they read Pomona College Magazine.

More than 50 percent of alumni in a recent readership survey said the magazine is their main source of news and information about the college, according to a fall 2006 readership survey. They trust the magazine to cover important topics (4.2 satisfaction rate out of 5); they’re impressed with the quality of writing (4.3 out of 5); and they commend the high quality photography, artwork and design (4.4 out of 5). Then there are the hits to PCM Online: The magazine gets an average of 60,000 page views per month.

Frequently the magazine takes on something of a life of its own, generating alumni discussions that grow into whole new issues. When an alumna wrote an Alumni Voices piece about giving up her post-graduate education to raise her children, a slew of other alumni wanted to share their stories—prompting “The Many Faces of Family” issue. Whether it’s Letters to the Editor, responses to a column with a listing of twins who attended Pomona or Alumni Voices submissions, alumni are reading, reacting and responding to the magazine. When the magazine calls to discuss the possibility of a story—whether an alum has just won an Oscar or published a best-selling book—almost without exception, potential subjects respond enthusiastically, with callbacks coming minutes later and cell phone numbers shared. Being in the magazine has become a major source of pride.

“Great magazine—one of the best in its field,” scribbled one alumnus on the bottom of a magazine survey. “Keep surprising me!”

Staffing: Pomona College Magazine has only part-time staffing. The executive editor/art director/designer (also senior director of communications) spends approximately 15 percent of his time on the magazine. The managing editor (and associate director of communications for publications) spends approximately 30-40 percent of her time on the magazine. Other staff members contribute as writers, editors and proofreaders on a more occasional basis. Our Class Notes Editor works about 8-10 hours per week. All other work is done by freelance writers, photographers and illustrators.

Circulation and Budget: Pomona College Magazine is produced three times each year, with a circulation of approximately 28,500. The magazine is usually 64 pages (expanding to 72 pages for the food issue) and printed in four-color process on recycled paper. The total production cost for the three issues of PCM produced in 2006 was $166,802, for a unit cost of $1.95.