College and University General Interest Magazines

Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year

Circulations of 29,999 or Fewer

41 Entries

Category General Observations

As judges for the 2017 CASE Circle of Excellence Awards in the category of General Interest Magazines with 29,999 or fewer circulation, we commend all the entrants for sharing their publications. The panelists ranged in age from 23 to 60, holding degrees from bachelors to doctoral level in strategic communications, graphic design, photography, journalism, public relations, advertising, sociology and engineering. Panel members included a national award-winning photographer, university marketing graphic artist, alumni membership coordinator, development writers and designers, higher education communications specialists, magazine editors and newspaper reporters. It was a valuable exercise for all us to view trends and capture ideas for our own work.

Reading your magazines allowed us to get to know you - and we want to come visit and send our children or grandchildren to your campuses. The category showed a strong sense of place - and what wonderful places! During the judging session, several panel members would pick up a magazine and say, "I want to move, there!" One judge said, "I want to go back to school at the College of the Atlantic."

The judges preferred magazines incorporating a storytelling approach. Pages with larger and more engaging photos helped publications stand out, too. The use of clever illustrations proved to set a magazine apart from the broader group. Several entry statements said they "strived to publish a magazine that will even engage readers with no affiliation to the university." Mission accomplished. The ultimate compliment of all is many judges downloaded and saved pages for future reference. The quality of the magazines provides evidence of hard work despite staffing constraints, limited budgets and administrative or development priorities.

A question for this category is some entries only had one issue to judge. Perhaps these entries should consider the "annual" category next year. Some judges had a concern about lumping specific college department magazines such as business and engineering in the same category as liberal arts university magazines, saying "it was comparing apples to oranges."

Items considered in judging included the entry statements for each magazine publishing program; content; writing; editing; layout and design; print quality; creative story ideas and serving the specified audience. Many times, a terrific graphic design throughout did not measure up in the writing. The opposite was true for others with great writing, but the presentation was lots of grey matter with concerns for older readers who might strain their eyes on very small font sizes.

Paper choices made some judges gush as the online digital submissions just didn't give the same impressions as holding the magazines in your hands. Judges commented they loved the "feel of the paper" in the California State University Channel Islands magazine. With Lyon College's "The Piper" and Norfolk State University's "Behold," judges said they "loved the feel of the covers." Printing and paper selection turned many magazines into works of art.

The "conversations" feature in Hobart and William Smith Colleges "HWS Pultney Street Survey" was a format noted by several judges as a creative storytelling approach. It was interesting to see how HWS handled class notes, too. Well done!

All of us could relate to Bellarmine's on-deadline issue as we have had to face similar situations. Judges enjoyed reading pieces from Clark University, Pomona College, Scripps College, Amherst, University of Kentucky College of Design, Colorado College and Northwestern Medill. The tremendous talent represented throughout the category was a pleasure to review.

Comments on Winning Entries

Gold Award

Rhode Island School of Design - RISD XYZ

  • As a leading college of art and design, the school publication "RISD XYZ" hits its mark exemplifying "the many ways artists and designers both contribute to their local communities and fuel global innovation." The visually enticing and content-rich magazine is beautiful with one judge saying "I could brew a cup of tea and curl up with this magazine even though I've never even been to Rhode Island." The involvement of alumni in the magazine production is outstanding. Class notes are a feast for the eyes highlighting alumni work with a baby or two thrown in now and then. Pages pop with extraordinary contributions.

Silver Award

Stanford University (California) - Stanford Business Magazine

  • The Stanford Graduate School of Business targets its audience with a publication informing and inspiring through knowledge. The magazine is true to itself reflecting "the same spirit of innovation and optimism that is at the core of its home: Silicon Valley." The judges commented that "stories are well-written within the chosen themes." We agree the professional portraits are a great addition. The use of illustrations with the photographs provides more interest for the reader. The lede in one story, "Storytelling is a great tool for businesses seeking to connect with their customers and employees...," is a lesson for all magazines in creating compelling content.

Bronze Award

Kenyon College (Ohio) - Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin

  • The larger size format of the "Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin" allows for a focus on enticing photography. Students are depicted as described with "curiosity, creativity, intellectual ambition and an openness to new ideas." The articles are captivating and informative with a good representation of campus life. The robust class notes demonstrate the magazine's readers' commitment to the institution and the publication.

Montana State University - Montana State University Mountains and Minds Magazine

  • "Mountains and Minds" goal of rising "to the top of the stack on the coffee tables of our readers" is met with arresting photography and reflects the area, providing a real sense of place. The portrayals of the people stand out. Strong titles and pull-out quotes make the reader keep turning the pages. In one issue, it was fun to see the adult coloring page contest incorporated to engage readers with this recent trend. The thoughtful presentations throughout are a prime example of using resources wisely.

Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania) - Swarthmore College Bulletin

  • The "Swarthmore College Bulletin" covers grab attention, screaming "Open me." Creative page designs invite the reader into the stories. The article "Infinite Jest. Send in the clowns to show us who we are" is cleverly presented. The character of the college is expounded in a photo caption with "no matter how upside down the world may seem, clowns push through fear to find truth. ‘So do Swatties'..." The college has a great connection to alumni with the behemoth of class notes employing various art elements to make the section palatable

Circulations of 30,000 to 74,999

39 Entries

Category General Observations

It was a pleasure to sit down and read such a wide variety of magazines produced by our peers. This was a strong category, especially among our top 10 choices. The quality of writing, design, and art selection was high among the top finishers. And, among all entries, we were impressed by the production quality and artwork, most notably photographs. In the end we selected a gold, two silver and a bronze winner. The winners stand out for all the reasons stated above. But additionally, they present a distinct personality, knowing what content fits their alumni, while approaching the topics so they appeal to a broader audience. And, they do so in a compelling, creative and visually pleasing way. We did have one quibble. Many of the magazines have confusing beginnings, and risk losing readers in the early pages. It would serve them well to provide guideposts that help readers get their bearings from the start.

Comments on Winning Entries

Silver Award

Carleton College (Minnesota) - Carleton College Voice

  • Our judges called this magazine an example of "innovative quirk." Its wise editorial choices, strong writing style and clever selection of features combines to make this publication a page- turner filled with pleasant surprises. The art has movement and brings readers both on and off campus. Clearly, the editors are not afraid to invest in a risky, creative project such as the alumni photography portfolio "Field Guide." As the editors point out, for a school that does not offer a photography major, "Carleton has produced many stellar photographers." This was a beautiful choice that told alumni stories which transcend the college community. The covers draw the reader in, along with the table of contents with quotes that focus on voices, echoing the name of the magazine.

Harvard University (Massachusetts) - Harvard Ed.

  • It is not easy to educate educators, but this magazine does it well, teaching their readers with well-written stories of interest to alumni as well as a mainstream audience. Its high production values make the publication a pleasure to hold, and its compelling cover art is powerful in its starkness. The strong images continue throughout the magazine. "On My Bookshelf" is a good idea that is well-executed, and the editors are fearless in their story choices, taking on cover stories on topics including ethical dilemmas, and the paucity of minority teachers in America. Well-done.

Bronze Awards

Loyola Marymount University (California) - LMU Magazine

  • This is a courageous publication that explores controversial topics, and prints the letters of dissenters that sometimes follow such pieces. "To Be Muslim at LMU" is one example of a thoughtfully written and beautifully photographed and designed piece that drew strong mixed reactions from readers. The editors also know their audience, and balance the serious with lighter topics that feel very LA: Food and body language. Inside, the magazine is well paced, mixing short bites of content with longer narratives. And on the outside, the wraparound covers provide a strong beginning and there is nice use of illustrations throughout. As one judge noted: "This magazine is beautiful and timely. "


Circulations of 75,000 and Greater

48 Entries

Category General Observations

Our group of six judges, representing the lower and middle circulation categories of general interest magazines, met to judge our colleagues' work in the highest circulation category. Like our colleagues, we understand the pressures of producing magazines in often less-than-optimal conditions, with budgetary constraints, administrative pressures, and an ever-changing world that can render any current-events story hopelessly outdated by the time the issues hit mailboxes.

With the advantage of several careers' worth of relentless self-criticism, we were able to whittle the 48 entries quickly to a pool of 12 titles worthy of further consideration. While it's tempting to dwell on what we didn't like about the titles we eliminated, we do want to talk about what's good. On that overflowing table, with more magazines than we ever wanted to read in a single day, there was plenty to like. It's clear that editors and staffs are obsessing over details, doing their best to put out smart, engaging magazines that advance their institutions while being creatively daring and maintaining as much editorial integrity as possible. We have smart, able, talented colleagues. The industry is in good hands.

That said, we didn't love everything we saw. Magazines were ruled out for the usual reasons: inattention to detail, unimaginative design, an editorial focus that was overly institutional and did not engage readers. Many titles paid little attention to headlines, not straying from the expected or formulaic. Many magazines contained lovely moments but were, on the whole, uneven.

Many magazines looked good but did not match their design with quality editorial content. One judge noted that one entrant's articles contained too many different points of entry, which seemed to make the articles appear to lack substance. Another title masked fairly weak editorial content with rich design that bordered on overdesign, threatening the cohesiveness of the magazine as a whole. While individual pieces were beautiful on their own, the result was more confusing than anything.

Of the pool of top contenders, magazines fell into three broad but distinct categories: the magazines that could easily complete with consumer titles on the newsstand, with efficient design and story selections speaking to research and news-you-can-use; high-minded art books placing a premium on design and presentation, asking readers to slow down and savor each page; and cerebral, thoughtful magazines, with deeper, contemplative features. All types had their place. Most were done very well.

Comments on Winning Entries

Gold Award

Santa Clara University (California) - Santa Clara Magazine

  • Santa Clara Magazine pulls together all of these approaches: a smart, deep publication with beautiful design, quality photo selection, and rich printing on uncoated stock. Santa Clara invites readers in with a gorgeous, full-bleed cover photo that wraps to the back cover and dissolves into black. Accompanying the cover image is a short thematic statement--"Stars" on one, accompanied by an arresting image from the Hubble space telescope, and "Come Together" on another, with a close-up, monochromatic photo of the wizened hands of Mother Teresa holding a rosary. Judges' reports frequently criticize even the winners for poor cover choices, but Santa Clara does covers very well.
  • The entire magazine is well considered and constructed, holding together without weak points or pieces that feel ill-considered or forced. The magazine is filled, in the words of one judge, with "nice surprises"--simple but effective typographic elements, appropriately used photographs, some shorter pieces that say just enough to convey meaning without overstaying their welcome. Each issue opens with a full-bleed, two-page image and caption setting the stage for what comes later. Although this is not a particularly original feature (several other titles do some form of this), it's done quite well here with photos that are worthy of this placement.
  • In a short piece at the beginning of the summer 2016 issue, the editors bragged of the awards Santa Clara has received since its redesign and wrote of their mission to make the magazine "a place of greater breadth and depth, for stories big and small." A year into this new focus, Santa Clara continues to uphold that promise. Shorter hits at the beginning--stories of a few paragraphs, feature photos, infographics--cover a wide range of information and don't overwhelm, and they keep readers moving into the features. The magazine then moves into greater depth as it presents features that are both movingly written and married expertly with art. A journal by an alumna writing about her experiences with the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece is presented with the alumna's own photos, including a two-page opening photo that is at once beautiful (a sunburst over the sea) and heartbreaking (wrecked ships and abandoned life jackets littering the foreground). There's so much to take in.
  • Santa Clara Magazine represents its university well and is deserving of highest honors.

Silver Award

Harvard Business School (Massachusetts) - HBS Alumni Bulletin

  • Truthfully, HBS Alumni Bulletin feels like two magazines in one: A proper business magazine at the front, and an alumni publication in the back. The editors make no effort to hide or apologize for this. After reaching the end of the first, glossy, full-color publication, the reader turns the page and sees the pagination start over--this time on thin newsprint, with everything presented in just one color.
  • This bifurcated approach, unexpectedly, works. At the front, Harvard Business School shows that it's at the forefront of business education. In the back, it shows that alumni remain loyally engaged with the university. One hundred forty-four pages of class notes? That's incredible.
  • Judges admired how well the magazine could compete with other business publications. Its educational mission is evident on its contents page, as a headline promises "8 things you'll learn in this issue" and summarizes key takeaways in an intriguing manner: "How to spot a liar," "What federal agency helped invent Cheetos," "The price per gallon of satellite refueling." Rather than wasting this valuable up-front real estate, the contents page sets the tone for the rest of the magazine in an engaging and visually compelling way.

Bronze Award

University of Alberta (Canada) - New Trail Magazine

  • New Trail combines energetic design, creative photography, in-depth stories, and some fun features. The result of a recent redesign, this package is the editors' response to shortened attention spans in an age of fragmented media consumption. Responding to this new reality seemed to be a common theme among entries. New Trail tackled the challenge well.
  • One issue was devoted to climate change, introducing the topic with a handsome, all-blue cover with a lonely polar bear and the headline, "Move, adapt or die." That grabbed the judges' attention. What followed was a package of stories that used the university's location and strengths but was not weighed down by being overly institutional. "I give them props for being edgy and brave and inspiring," noted one judge.
  • The other issue lightened the mood. A profile of the noted writer and emeritus Alberta professor Rudy Wiebe was marked up with annotations from the professor himself. (Judges lamented that the handwriting in the layout was not in fact Wiebe's, although the words were his; we did, however, understand the technical constraints preventing the designers from using Wiebe's actual handwritten annotations.) The editors took a creative risk by including a pull-out "Choose Your Own Adventure" booklet to highlight the services of the university's career center. The booklet was was well executed but, according to one judge, bordered on the gimmicky. The editors kept the mood light even in the books section, using a photo of an alumnus standing at a urinal to accompany a Q&A about his humorous book on men's health.
  • We give demerits, however, for a long section of alumni award winners. We know this is one of those features that can be difficult if not impossible for editors to avoid, but it was a complete break in mood from the rest of the magazine, and the treatment--a lackluster series of headshots and short profiles--could have been executed in a more interesting way. Nevertheless, we forgave it in awarding New Trail a bronze.

Columbia University (New York) - Columbia Magazine

  • With a wide-ranging story selection and a convenient size, Columbia Magazine could easily compete with consumer magazines for a reader's attention. This is intentional: the latest iteration of Columbia Magazine is the result of a recent redesign in which the editors sought to place less emphasis on administrative news and present a magazine that could be enjoyed by all readers.
  • The editors pulled it off, with stories that one judge described as "maddeningly good." The strength in writing and story selection is seen in such diverse topics as the effect of reopened relationships with Cuba on that country, alumni disrupting the food industry, and the "secret life of volcanoes." The magazine's design is a weaker point than its story selection, although it does not detract from the overall package.

University of California, Berkeley - California Magazine

  • How bold of a university to name its magazine with the singular name of the most populous state in the United States! Yet, UC Berkeley did just that. And from the cover illustrations to the choice of themes to its sometimes unconventional takes on conventional topics, the magazine is as bold as its title promises.
  • California's two submitted issues were quite different thematically: its war stories issue presented stories of alumni throughout history who served in the military, and its election issue examined the 2016 race. These themed issues pull the reader in with compelling cover artwork--especially the election issue, which treats the election with appropriate irreverence with a banner proclaiming "the greatest show on earth" and a circus poster touting such wonders as "the incredible Teflon Don" and "Congress of human oddities." This illustration set the tone for a fresh and original--and thorough--election wrap-up. One judge compared this illustration favorably to another entrant's cover, which also touted an election story but in a more more predictable and formulaic way.
  • Ever bold and self-assured, California covers these topics with a strong voice. "It's hard hitting and not namby-pamby," noted one judge. "I like the things they tackle."