From the Nominator
SF State Magazine is a showcase for the life-changing work of San Francisco State University. Each issue—sent to more than 80,000 SF State alumni, supporters, and community leaders—highlights the positive impact of the university on its students and the world. The goal is to nurture the ongoing bond that alumni feel with SF State, while demonstrating the many ways the university is worthy of support.
From the Judges
We recognized at the start of our discussion the era in which these magazines were created, and the limitations the past year imposed on editors and their teams. Reporting in person, on location, and capturing people and place through fresh photography were all but impossible. We had faced these obstacles ourselves in our own work, and viewed each entry through an empathetic lens.
Still, we were on the lookout for magazines that met their highest standard: Did the book immediately set itself and institution apart through unmistakable character jumping off the pages? Did it pass the flip test, where values and voice were palpable as one leafed through, compelling readers to stop and take a closer look? This, we concluded, amounts to a magazine serving both audience and institution.
These qualities were evident in some but not all entries. The Sibley winner had them, and something more that we especially appreciated: a first-person sensibility. San Francisco State Magazine did an excellent job representing its community through the intimate reflections of its people. “A magazine as open mic,” is how we put it, heralding the platform it provided, and asking whether there was anything more important for an institutional magazine to accomplish than to represent and speak to its community. We have such a sense of who San Francisco State is in these pages, and that’s a rare achievement.
Other insights about our 2021 Sibley winner: The staff did well to find good and often ambitious stories to tell. The writing has bounce and attention to craft. The treatment is smart. And this: A reader can get emotionally attached to the place through this magazine. It has an authenticity, and shows the values of the school without lecturing. There is often great attention to photo and illustration choices, and nearly every square inch seems to have been developed with care. And finally, this: The connection to a sense of place makes this magazine a cut above.
We laud the ambition and the risk-taking evident in many of the finalists. We found nuggets at times—an unexpected approach to storytelling, a delightful and surprising “cold open” of a cover, a narrative that took a reader to a deep second level about the world we live in. But those qualities were distributed here and there across many of the finalists, while we were hoping to see them consistently throughout each periodical.
Admirable and unmistakable in each entry, however, was passion for the genre. There are editorial teams here that love the magazine form. The highest aspirations in publishing were all over these magazines, even if the execution sometimes couldn’t quite match them. We had only (collegial!) praise and respect for each finalist—and their professional efforts over a most disruptive and complicated year.