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25 Years of ICView: A Retrospective

Looking back at the first quarter century of ICView, the magazine of Ithaca College.  by Lorraine Berry and Mbeti Hyess

Ithaca College Quarterly. ICQ. ICView. The name has changed twice in the 26 years since Ithaca College Quarterly emerged from the blending together of two previous publications (Horizon and Outlook), but one thing has not changed:  This is more than an “alumni magazine.”

According to its mission statement, “ICView is the magazine of the Ithaca College community of employees, alumni, parents of currently enrolled students, retirees, supporters, friends, and neighbors of Ithaca College. Its mission is to offer a candid, accurate, thoughtful, and lively view of College events and people and to stimulate discussion of issues of interest to the College community and the broader readership.”

Current editor Maura Stephens is quick to set one straight about its constituents, as well: “Some other college and university editors tend to call their magazines ‘alumni magazines,’ and that’s fine. But ICView is not just an alumni magazine; it’s the whole College’s magazine. Its readers are faculty, staff, parents, people in Ithaca doctors’ and dentists’ offices, donors, neighbors, people at peer institutions, and students—although we can’t afford to print copies for all students, many of them read the magazine when they go home, or pick up a copy on campus. Alumni are a big part of the audience, of course, but we do have a broad readership. To me it’s most important to respect their diversity, intelligence, and curiosity, and to give them a magazine that entertains, informs, and challenges. All of that makes our job both easy and difficult—and certainly never boring.”

The characteristics of the publication you’re reading are the products of a combination of things, not least of which are the personality of the College itself and the vision of the editor in charge. For this article, we interviewed past and present staff members and looked at issues that have spanned the magazine’s first quarter century. A rich history of the publication, like the College it represents, emerges.

The Genesis

The editor in chief for the first issue of Ithaca College Quarterly was John Lippincott, who worked closely with editor Doug Lippincott (no relation). At that time Ithaca College had been publishing two separate publications: the semiannual Horizon, which was sent to all alumni, and the quarterly Outlook, which was described as going to “alumni, parents of current students, and Friends of the College.”

Confused? So, it turned out, were most of the two magazines’ readers—by the overlapping content and purpose of each.

John Lippincott’s job at the time was director of college relations. Beginning in 1981, he began to lobby the administration to create a new magazine. “I felt that Ithaca College was very much on the rise,” says Lippincott, who’s now president of CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. “There was a new emphasis on professionalism in our recruitment materials. IC prepares students at the undergraduate level for careers, and we were trying to project a professional image. It was important that the magazine also do that.”

Doug Lippincott points out that not only was there a problem with the earlier magazines overlapping content and audience, but also that one of them was a tabloid printed on newsprint. “We wanted a more sophisticated look for the new magazine,” he says, “but we didn’t want alumni thinking we were spending a lot of money on it.”

Sensitivity to donors’ feelings about having their donations used to finance too nice a publication is just one of the unique problems faced by college magazines’ producers. It’s not the magazine’s job to raise money for the College, but the stories run by the magazine may inspire alumni and others to donate money. When talking to each of the editors who have helmed ICView, we found a main source of tension coming up again and again: namely, how can the magazine meet the challenge of representing the College’s best face (thus making the administration happy) while at the same time being accurate and truthful about what’s going on at the campus and within the College constituencies (thus maintaining journalistic integrity)?

 “My sense is that the number one job of a college magazine is to inform,” says Doug Lippincott, who’s now executive director of communications at Keuka College. “At most institutions, it’s the one publication that goes to the most people. It goes to everybody, and generally the college controls the message. My sense has always been that if you can produce a quality publication that’s informative, tells interesting stories, is visually appealing, and is well written, then you’re fostering a lot of good will. Alumni can take pride in your publication—and will perhaps want to donate to the institution.”

Growing Pains

It’s clear from talking to different editors that not all of them have had an easy working relationship with the administration. Dan Snodderly, who spent nine years as publications director at the United States Institute of Peace and is now a publishing consultant and freelance writer, was editor of Ithaca College Quarterly from 1985 to1988, in addition to handling media relations. When asked what he thought the magazine’s purpose was, he says, “The purpose was to promote IC—to make people feel good about sending their kids there, about giving money, or about hiring grads. It was, however, a constant struggle to convince the administration that the best way to achieve those goals was to treat our readers as adults, to address IC’s problems up front rather than to sugarcoat them, and to discuss rather than ignore controversial topics in the world at large.”

Snodderly believes the Quarterly failed to meet some of its most important goals. “We did a good job of promoting IC,” he says, “but we did less well at truly informing and engaging our readers. I don’t think we were viewed as a credible source of information, and many faculty in particular were critical of our uncritical approach.”

While Snodderly was disappointed in how well the magazine handled its obligations, Stephens, the current editor, says the campus atmosphere now seems more conducive to putting out a substantive magazine of which readers can be proud. “We’re not a fluff piece; we know that people don’t want to read fluff pieces,” she says. “Running a PR magazine is not as effective as telling true stories. Besides, it’s easy to make the College look good, because it is good. We have wonderful alumni and students and staff and retirees who are doing important things with their lives; through music, arts, writing, sciences, teaching, enterprise, and volunteerism, they’re helping make the world a better place. We have so much to choose from when putting the magazine together. My story list is a mile long. That’s an editor’s dream, and a good problem to have. I’ve talked to editors at other colleges who tell me they’re always scrambling for stories. I couldn’t fit in all the stories of Ithaca College if this were a monthly and had double the number of pages per issue.”

What about when readers don’t like stories, and write to complain? Stephens sees that as a plus, too. “Even when we write something controversial that gets people upset, many people care enough to write and tell us they’re angry,” she says. “That’s another editor’s dream, really, to incite—or should I say inspire—people to write. As I’m sure everyone knows, most people don’t write letters just to say they love the magazine; usually we hear from people when they disagree with something we’ve published. Letters to the editor are a good indication that we’re making people reflect on important issues, happy memories, favorite faculty, lessons learned. We occasionally even get letters from people who’ve picked up a copy of the magazine somewhere but otherwise don’t have an Ithaca College connection. That’s a great way for us to spread the word about the College.”

Marina Bandidos Todd, who became editor of Ithaca College Quarterly in 1988 and later director of college relations, concurs with other editors that a good college magazine does not sugarcoat what’s going on at its institution. “Peter Vaughn (former director of publications, to whom she reported as editor) and I used the word ‘credibility,’ ” she says. “You gain credibility and the trust of your audience if you present a [clear] picture.”

 Todd comes back to that old editor’s dilemma: Is the magazine intended to be a fund-raising tool? “If you have alumni who are aware that the institution has problems and that it is trying to work through them,” she says, “those people feel that the institution is worth giving their dollars to. I would say that the years you spend as a student at IC should give you a better appreciation of the issues facing institutions. So [as an alumnus] you might want to give more money. On the other hand, an editor wouldn’t want to just do articles about the negative things on campus, because that wouldn’t be accurate either.”

Stephens agrees. “I operate under the assumption that what does connect everyone in our diverse, 63,000-plus readership,” she says, “is an active brain. This is, after all, an institution of higher learning, and we hope that everyone connected with it wants to be intellectually stimulated and challenged.”

No Shortage of Subjects

Some things about the magazine haven’t changed much. “Back in the early days,” says John Lippincott, “we were not scrambling to find things to fill the pages. We put a heavy emphasis on alumni profiles, in part because it was a good way to keep people engaged. It is certainly a source of pride and bragging rights to have gone to a school that has produced great people in a number of fields. We were also providing updates as to what was going on with the institution: substantive enrollment growth, significant changes in the College’s financial position, and changes and expansion of the academic program.”

In those early days, when the magazine had a large working staff, says Lippincott, laughter was the glue that held the staff together. “There was a lot of humor in the office,” he recalls. “That was a good thing. It was a hard-working group with a lot of personalities. People put in long hours and wanted to do a good job, and they enjoyed being together. There was a lot of healthy joking around—we were always on deadline for something. Those who worked here would attest to the fact that Jim Whalen [the late IC president James J. Whalen] expected you to work hard, spend many hours at work, and do everything you could to do right by the institution. It was reflective of his leadership. In a sense, humor is what allowed us to go down into the trenches every day, deal with the pressure, and leave the office as friends. We put out a professional product, but it was not a staid office.”

Lippincott credits his first-rate staff. “I’m a language snob,” he admits, “a ruthless editor. But with the team there then (among them Doug Lippincott, Marina Todd, Margaret Gibson, Doug Carrey-Beaver, and Sharon Murphy, who became Sharon Lippincott after marrying John’s brother), I still edited, but I never had to tear something apart and put it back together. We had a good crew.”

Even now, more than two decades after John Lippincott’s Ithaca College Quarterly tenure, he readily responds when asked to cite his most memorable alumni profile. “Doug Tracht [’72],” he says. “Doug was one of the early shock jocks, known as ‘the Grease Man’ in Washington, D.C.” People questioned Lippincott’s choice. “He was ‘Howard Sternesque,’ and the question was, Do we want to call attention to him as an alumnus? He hadn’t gotten into trouble yet. He was riding high, very popular. He had a huge audience, and he had an interesting story. He had been a DJ on campus and had gotten his start here, and then he made something of himself. We felt it was an interesting story.”

Lippincott does concede that if it had been years later, when Tracht was fired for making racist remarks on air, he probably would not have done the story, but at the time it had entertainment value.

Doug Lippincott also remembers interesting alumni profiles that ran during his tenure, including one of the late TV journalist Jessica Savitch ’68. Two especially stick out in his memory. “When actor Gavin McLeod [’52] came back for Commencement,” says Lippincott, “he had a real interesting story. He had battled alcoholism and turned his life around. Talking with him was particularly enjoyable. And then there was Les Brown [’29], of Les Brown and his Band of Renown. He sent me about 20 pages of hand-written material rather than doing an interview. Reading through it and taking it into a feature story was fun.”

Todd says looking through earlier issues was eye-opening for her when she took over as editor. “The magazine had basically done alumni profiles, and the administration had a lot of input. The development people, the higher administration, wanted a different focus for the magazine. We tried to make it more of a magazine with a cover story—we hadn’t really done that before. In 1990 we did a whole issue on major concerns facing campuses, including Ithaca College. Faculty and administrators of color were fairly limited [at IC], and we looked at the challenges facing the College as it tried to increase its minority representation. We tried to do something that even the really fine editors who’d come before had not been able to publish. It was not an easy issue to put together. I credit [publications director] Peter Vaughn with talking to the administration.”

Todd didn’t win every battle in her push for a more informative and journalistic magazine. “You have to make compromises,” she says. ”We did what we could. Our focus was on trying to present the issues, challenges, and successes that we thought our audience would want to know about.”

Meaty Material

Todd sees her role in the magazine’s development as having moved it beyond alumni profiles—“You’re always going to want them, of course, but not only them”—to include some more substantive feature stories as well. She remembers an especially controversial article about a subject she thought important to run. “There was a lot of racial tension on campus, and some security guards found nooses hanging in the trees,” she says. “It wasn’t easy to get the article through.”

Stephens is grateful for Todd’s support during her early years as editor, when she reported to Todd. “Besides being one of the most wonderful copyeditors I’ve ever worked with—and learned from—Marina has great editorial judgment,” says Stephens. “She knew that people don’t want to be spoon-fed, but to be engaged and informed. She did some terrific stories—about race, the environment, important academic changes on campus.”

Stephens has further developed the magazine’s balance of alumni profiles and alumni news, important campus issues, curricular innovations, substantive broader news, and the occasional controversy. A longtime journalist, Stephens spent the better part of two decades with Newsweek and Newsweek International and other news media before coming to IC, and she still writes for various international publications. “I was told I was chosen, instead of someone from a marketing or PR background,” she says, “to bring the magazine to a higher level of journalistic professionalism.”

That seems right, for a college that has the Roy H. Park School of Communications and wants to be a leader in the world of scholarship. “We’re an educational institution, and I understand IC’s mission is to educate—not just while students are here, but for the rest of their lives,” Stephens says. “I’ve heard this many times from both administrations under which I’ve served, and I take it to heart. We should not be afraid to present our readers with complicated issues; if we shied away from them, it would indicate we didn’t trust the education IC grads received here, or didn’t trust that our readers in the broader community have the intellectual capacity to take in what we present and make their own decisions. On the other hand, it’s not our purpose—nor do we have the staff—to do investigative journalism or muckraking. We’re just trying to be encompassing and accurate, and give people interesting things to think about, in the context of Ithaca College and its far-flung community. And we love to make connections with and among our readers.”

Maureen Forrest, who took on the job of ICView editorial assistant in January 2008 (she’d been with the College in various other capacities since 1993), is in frequent direct contact with the magazine’s readers and contributors, especially alumni. Among other duties, Forrest is responsible for verifying information, with the help of student workers, that runs in the “Alumni Notes” sections of the magazine, including “Pairings,” “Additions,” “Passings,” and “Aluminaries.” Forrest enjoys connecting with readers through the magazine.

“Recently,” she says, “I even got reacquainted with a family member—a second cousin, thrice removed, or something like that—through a random conversation with an alumnus. He sent in an alumni note and photo, and I e-mailed him to get further information about the photo. I noticed that he lived in Brasher Falls, New York, a small town not too far from the Canadian border. In my note I mentioned that as a kid I used to visit cousins in that area with my mother, and so on. Turns out that, growing up, he’d lived directly across the street from my cousins and used to work on their farm! Next thing I knew, he had contacted someone who contacted my ousin, and we reconnected.”

Evolution

Where once there was a staff of writers and editors working on the magazine and other publications together, now the magazine is part of a larger marketing communications office within the Division of Institutional Advancement, and Forrest, Stephens, and art director Carol Goodling are the entire staff of the magazine. A small team means more challenges, says Stephens, but it also has its rewards.

Stephens and Goodling, with the help of Ithaca marketing and design consulting firm Communiqué, changed the name from Ithaca College Quarterly to ICQ and did a complete redesign of the magazine in 2004. “I’d wanted to redesign the magazine’s look since I got here in 1997,” Stephens says. “With four-color printing becoming cheaper, it made no sense for us to continue with a stodgy two-color look. I wanted to make it livelier, more visually interesting. And then we brought design in-house, and enlisted designer Carol Goodling, who was eager to have a hand in the redesign, as art director. We had a lot of fun with that, building off a reader survey I’d done shortly before.”

Goodling and Stephens wanted to give the magazine a personality that reflected Ithaca College’s look and tone and mission—lively, friendly, conversational, passionate, service-oriented, hands-on, intellectual, fun, diverse. “It’s not easy to balance stories that will appeal to readers aged 18 to 108, from any of 100 different majors or departments, who are scattered around the country and the globe, whose interests and careers are so varied,” says Stephens. “Unlike other types of magazines that are built around a particular affinity or subject matter, we don’t have simply one niche market. Instead we need to appeal to a broad range of interests and personalities. That’s both liberating and challenging.”

“We try to find a balance via design, as well as editorial content,” adds Goodling. “Even among the three of us, we’re diverse in our likes and dislikes. We try to find a look that bridges the differences and find common ground.”

The 2004 redesign process—from concept to first issue—took nearly a year. Goodling admits that some readers, intent on reading content, might not notice all the nuances of the design, but she thinks the magazine is more readable and fun than it had been, and a magazine’s design is a constantly evolving process, in any case.

“Carol is always tweaking things, perfecting them, adding to them,” says Stephens. “There are so many elements to the design that people may not even be consciously aware of, but they work together. Readers may not have noticed, for example, that we renamed all the sections so there’s an ‘i’ in each, and the ‘i’ is treated differently (see story).There are a lot of little fun design elements now, and ‘South Hill Today,’ the newsy section up front, is much livelier and more visually and editorially interesting than its predecessor sections, ‘Chronicle’ and ‘Report from the Schools.’ We try to mix up the stories, so you can read about the School of Music, the School of Business, campus visitors, programmatic changes, student organizations, faculty research, and campus happenings, picking and choosing what you like.”

Ithaca College Quarterly was renamed ICQ at the time of that first big redesign. Says Stephens, “Later, in 2007, we renamed it again, to ICView, and turned one of the four issues per year into IC(Point of)View, the arts and literary issue. That began as a cost-saving measure—it’s a 16-page issue instead of our usual 48 pages—but it’s become incredibly popular.”

Matching the Messages

As part of the marketing communications office, the magazine certainly reflects many of the marketing “messages” of the College. Flipping through issues over the past 12 years, since Stephens became editor just a month after Peggy Ryan Williams took the helm as Ithaca College president, one can easily see certain themes emerge. Williams’s presidency was largely defined by her commitment to service—to one’s career field, to the College, to the community, the nation, and the world. The winter 1998 issue—Stephens’s second—featured a cover package of stories around the theme “Commitment to Service,” headlined “Ithaca Volunteers.” It had stories about a student cyclist raising funds for the American Lung Association, an alumna volunteering at a rape crisis center, a faculty member who helped start a community youth service program, and a staff member who volunteers as a firefighter. That theme continued, with subsequent issues running such stories as “Back from the Peace Corps” and a host of profiles and news stories about IC people committed to making their neighborhoods, communities, disciplines—and world—better.

Social responsibility, intrapersonal harmony, and sustainability are other common themes, and in fact they stem directly from the Ithaca College mission statement: “The Ithaca College community thrives on the principles that knowledge is acquired through discipline, competence is established when knowledge is tempered by experience, and character is developed when competence is exercised for the benefit of others. . . . All members . . . are encouraged to achieve excellence in their chosen fields and to share the responsibilities of citizenship and service in the global community.”

Since Tom Rochon became president in summer 2008, another theme has emerged in the marketing of Ithaca College: interdisciplinarity. Rochon had led the creation of an interdisciplinary graduate degree program at his previous institution, the College of St. Thomas. During a series of community conversations over the past year as part of a “visioning process” (See “President’s Corner,” page 2), Rochon discovered that interdisciplinary studies have in practice been a defining theme of the Ithaca College experience for some years. Now, under his leadership it is taking a more central role, as the faculty engage in a concerted effort to weave it into the very fabric of the College curriculum.

Flipping through issues of ICView in just the last year, we counted at least 29 stories that illuminate the value of an interdisciplinary approach—from a feature on the Healthy Musician Workshops, a collaboration between the School of Music and the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, to the multidisciplinary IC-Longview partnership, in which all the schools and divisions, including the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies, are engaged, to profiles of alumni such as Jim Loomis ’84, M.S. ’95, whose involvement in myriad careers and avocations seems to know no disciplinary bounds.

“Stories like these rise to the surface,” says Stephens. “There are so many of them—engaging stories about interesting people. That means the College’s marketing strategy is spot on. My colleagues in marketing communications, with the help of focus groups and surveys and people in other offices and departments, have done a great job of defining what Ithaca College is all about. The College’s culture truly encompasses these themes—it’s not just ‘marketing rhetoric.’ ”

Marketing strategy includes numerous electronic and print communications sent to the various constituencies, but ICView is the only publication that is mailed to every constituent of Ithaca College (except current students and constituents outside the United States, unless they’ve specifically requested to continue receiving it in paper form). A recent alumni survey and alumni focus groups (see story) revealed that nearly every alumnus and alumna who was asked wants to continue receiving the magazine on paper. “I’m always astonished,” says Stephens, “that so many people attest to reading it cover to cover. We know alumni love ‘Alumni Notes,’ at least from their own era, but cover to cover?

Right, cover to cover? “It may not be the latest, greatest, social-media type of immediate, interactive, bells-and-whistles connectivity,” says Forrest. “But you can hold ICView in your hands, slide it in your briefcase, stuff it in your beach bag, bend, fold—but I hope not mutilate!—it, and then reconnect at your leisure. Wherever you are, whenever you’re ready, we’ll still be here with stories to tell.”

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Read an interview with art director Carol Goodling.

 

 




Originally published in IC View: 25 Years of ICView: A Retrospective.


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