Periodical Special Issues: University of Portland - Gold Medal

25: College and University General Interest Magazines
University of Portland, Portland Magazine

Contact: Brian Doyle, editor, Marketing and Communications, 5000 N. Willamette Blvd., Portland, OR 97203, Phone: (503) 943-8225, e-mail:

Objectives: In short – to inform, educate, enlighten, startle, challenge, stimulate, move, touch, cause occasionally to weep, cause occasionally to laugh, cause occasionally to snort in anger, provoke, remember, recall, revisit, gape, consider, muse, ruminate, contemplate, cheer, snarl, ponder.

The point of Portland Magazine is to persuade readers to think – to draw them into thinking about the ideas in the magazine – the ideas that are close to the University of Portland’s heart and mission and people.

The reader who digests the magazine in a substantive way – reads the articles and essays, savors the art and accessible layout, ponders his or her own thoughts about the issues at hand – is a reader to whom the University of Portland matters, and connecting the reader to the university, in any number of ways thick and thin, is what Portland seeks to do. Even readers who don’t read the magazine carefully should connect at some level – to the look and feel of the magazine, which is calculatedly graceful, dignified, understated, personal, familiar, and direct (like the university itself, I believe); or to the magazine’s peculiar humor; or to its “vulnerability to emotion,” as one reader wrote, memorably; or to the simple gift of its quiet arrival in the mail an elegant and challenging gift from the university.

We have a remarkable varied readership: 18,000 alumni of all ages, 3000 students, 500 faculty and staff and regents, and some 6,000 “friends” in every conceivable category, from donors to legislators to bishops to prospective students. To connect to them all we try like hell to make a magazine of ideas, all tied with cables thick or thin to the university’s work, people, and concerns.

Those ideas and concerns and people and works usually swirl around teaching, spiritual faith, and service to others, the three central tenets of the university’s mission; and they are often set in Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest, those being the homes in which the university lives and works. In general the magazine’s contents will be about spiritual search, setting off from its home in Catholicism; the unique character and possibility of the Northwest, setting off from its home in Oregon; and educational epiphany of all sorts, setting off from its home as a village of ideas.

To wit these issues of 2006, which carry all sorts of pieces along those missionesque lines: on the university’s remarkable creative alumni, like one of the nation’s great medical inventors, whose workbench tinkering led to a heart valve that has saved many thousands of lives, or a chemist and entrepreneur who was shouting about the primacy of clean water in the 1930!; and the national champion women’s soccer team, whose accomplishment was so much more than wins and trophy, having everything to do with humor and intensity and camaraderie and zest and the sheer verve of sport as message to many thousands of children; and terrific artists absorbed with grace and hope who are hardly ever cast in a Catholic light, like Bruce Springsteen; and the way wars and vengeance and torture are forms of bloody madness even as astounding young people like Paul Staheli do their best in the belly of the beast; and the way science is really pursuit of miracle and not at all the opponent of religion; and the way the university’s chapel is a prism of light and hope, and grief, and joy; and the way America is still the most remarkable country that ever might be, if we can learn to speak and act honestly and bravely and mercifully, if we can learn, in a manner of speaking, to speak American…and there’s a vast sea of other university-angled work, campus stories and voices, money and history, the nervewreck of room picks and the novels of the faces of the old faculty, the chaos of faculty doors and the organic obsession of the food czar, notes on the confusing craft of teaching and the Arabic novels everyone should read, herons and goalkeepers and horror and fear and joy and prayer and pain and hilarity and the odd lovely community that starts here and stitches together people all over the world in the nutty belief that somehow this place and these people are different and matter, and at their best point toward grace and holiness and peace…

I believe it is especially important for this university, which is relatively small and not especially well know outside the Northwest (other than for women’s soccer, yesss!), to have a magazine that stimulates and challenges every and any reader, whether connected already to the university or not. Thus its ambitious range, its itch to have all sorts of places in it for readers to find a foothold, its openness to humor (a great hook), its openness to strong emotion and tears, its affinity for photographs of faces (which can be so simply moving), its urge toward work from very fine writers like Pico Iyer and Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney and Martin Flanagan and Eduardo Galeano and Thomas lynch and writers from all over the world, and what I yearn for in our covers, single simple powerful images that force your hand to open the magazine, and that are so striking that they keep the issue on coffee tables and desk and bed tables and couches and bathroom counters long past its publication date. The 2006 covers are representative: the bright green welcoming horror of the nation’s graveyard, a wonderfully warm cheerful simple humble man of the Holy Cross order that for so long has infused this place with its grace and bone, an all to ruefully true moist cover that defines city and state and region in spring, and a start lean image of this extraordinary nation.

Staffing: Officially 3/4 of a person – 1/2 of the editor’s job, and 1/8 each of the associate editors’ jobs. One associate does the class notes, the other does the magazine’s Web site…

Use of Resources: Well, I am biased, but I think we ought to get some sort of cool bang for the buck award. Everyone has other duties, I never get any more money for the budget, we didn’t even get to keep the proceeds from our first voluntary gift letter (it went to a scholarship, which is sort of cool), and much of the daily dynamic of the magazine is me wheedling and begging and reading like a maniac for nuggets and snippets, and then groveling to great photographers to do it my way for half their price. But hey, I get to run a magazine that matters, which is very cool.

Audience: 18,000 alumni, about 4,000 student, faculty members, regents, and university staff, and 6,000 “others” – the parents of students, Catholic bishops, prospective students, high school counselors, public libraries, priests and nuns, legislators, media folk, teachers in the West, foundations, etc. I would guess that we circulate as high or higher a percentage of magazines to people who are not alumni as any magazine in the nation – deliberately, given the magazine’s objectives. Every year when my director says “What is your primary goal for the magazine?” I say, “Get one to every human being on this sweet wild bruised earth” and then there’s this most exquisite silence.

Frequency: Quarterly with the seasons: March, June, September, December

Average pages per issue: 48.

Circulation: 28,000, in 50 states and 40 countries – 18,000 alumni, about 4,000 students, faculty members, regents, and university staff, and 6,000 “others” – a deliberately high non-alumni number, so as to bring the university to their door, as it were.

Annual budget: $230,000

Average cost per issue: Approximately $57,000 (paper, printing, design, art, writing, labeling, zip-s0rting, and by golly stitching and binding); unit cost approximately $1.90 per magazine

Response and results: Some (delightful) results from our 2006 national survey of 1,000 randomly selected readers:

  • “Magazine was informative”: 91 percent
  • “Interesting and focused”: 90 percent
  • “Elicits interest in the University of Portland”: 92 percent
  • “Entertaining”: 87 percent
  • “Read at least three articles?”: 86 percent
  • “High-quality editorial content”: 89 percent
  • “Information relevant?” 91 percent
  • Level of satisfaction (10 being highest): 8.4
  • “Magazine more interesting than others in its field?” 79 percent

Other measures of effectiveness:

  • More than 90 percent of the readers surveyed in our quarterly surveys of Portland readers say they read half or more of the issue; of those, more than 30 percent say they read the issue from cover to cover. Average time spent with the magazine: 41 minutes!!!!
  • Annual hits to the university Web site Portland Magazine pages (which show selected features in the current issue, history, and mission of magazine, selected greatest hits from the past, gift opportunities, and response vehicles): more than 300,000 monthly.
  • 2006 articles from Portland reprinted in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, books, and online journals with collective circulation of more than a million. Among the journals reprinting our pieces: Eureka Street (Australia), The Best Spiritual Writing, The Time of London, The Best Catholic Writing, various parishes and schools.

The University of Portland’s 2006 freshman class is the most academically talented (3.7 high school PGA) for the 10th straight year, and one of the largest ever (740); the magazine was mailed to prospective students and their parents in spring 2006 (part of the reason I put Springsteen, a genius alumnus, and our cheerful dominant soccer in that issue all together). I cannot claim that the magazine is directly responsible for the quality and size of the class that entered in 2006, but I can claim, cheerfully, that the magazine is a key aspect of admission success, the flagship of the university’s communication with its many constituencies, and the absolutely critical “continuing case statement” for our eternal and crucial fundraising efforts.

One of the quiet compliments and outcome assessments I enjoy most for the magazine is that our fundraising staff takes it with them when they make calls on potential donors. As one of them told me, “the magazine is the University of Portland in your hand.” Bingo!

We also now overprint each issue deliberately, as more than 1000 issues are “borrowed” from the admissions office annually; and I counted more than 1000 issues “borrowed” from the campus athletic center, which gives them to curious high school students who attend basketball and soccer games; and we cheerfully fork over issues to schools, hospitals, jails, hospices, clinics, conferences, etc.

All good outcome assessment, I figure. He or she who nabs an issue of Portland Magazine will very probably open it and start flicking through, and then – we got ‘em. They will be slightly or greatly interested in the university. Its our job to do just that.

My all-time favorite response to the magazine’s vast yearning to connect is a postcard I had a while ago from the great American writer Annie Dillard, who said, succinctly, the “Portland Magazine was the finest spiritual magazine in the United States.”

A woman of taste and discernment, is Annie Dillard.