From 2007 to 2016 when part of my job as a newspaper editor involved hiring college students as reporting interns I was often surprised by how many expressed an interest in writing for magazines. When I was a college student back during the dark ages magazine writing never once crossed my mind as a career option. I have no idea why. Perhaps I was thinking too small.
Because I grew up reading Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, magazine writing always seemed larger than life, endlessly creative and rich in detail. I was always more attracted to getting a story first, producing it quickly and then moving on to the next thing. Thirty years ago I was much more interested in telling readers something they didn’t know as opposed to presenting something in way that offers a new way of looking at something.
When I left the newspaper business in November of 2016 the reasons were multi-fold but one was certainly high on the list. I wanted to explore different kinds of writing. Working at Elon University over the past year has given me that opportunity. I write gift proposals and impact reports for University Advancement and on a couple of occasions I have produced longer pieces for University Communications and its Magazine of Elon. All have provided challenges and in the best of ways.
Writing for the alumni magazine made me a little nervous at first, and still does a little. My spouse works in University Communications, the people there are my friends and the Magazine of Elon editor is my longtime friend and one-time newspaper colleague Keren Rivas. I don’t want to let any of them down, especially Keren. She worked for me as a reporter at the Burlington Times-News and excelled. She is also excelling at Elon and has turned into one damned fine editor. She gently guided me through any angst I had about the first long magazine story written last year for the spring issue. I was pleased with how “The Odyssey Family” turned out. But I was unsure throughout the research, interview and writing process. The story is about Elon’s Odyssey Scholarship Program, which helps high-achieving students with financial need attend the university. It’s an outstanding program populated with engaging and bright students. It’s one of my favorite things about Elon.
My second long magazine story was just published last week in the winter issue. It was an overview of the historic 2017 season for Elon’s football team, which came off a seven-game losing streak to end 2016 but put together an eight-game winning streak in 2017 en route to earning a playoff berth. In “A New Blueprint” I take a detailed look at the arrival of new football coach Curt Cignetti and the impact he had on the program and where it’s heading.
This one made me a little nervous, too. Strange because the subject was far more familiar. I began my career in newspapers as a sports writer and never expected to veer from that path. That I did leave sports writing in 1988 was testament to the need for change — and more money — by moving into news and ultimately an editor’s role.
I got probably too much detail for this story, all things considered and ultimately wrapped up a monster feature in terms of length. My final version checked in at 4,906 words. Before turning it in to Keren, I whittled it down to about 4,300 — still longer than she needed. She made a few more well-rendered cuts that I believe improved the story. Overall I’m again happy with how it turned out. I hope readers are, too.
While still daunting, the long-form magazine pieces are a welcome challenge. And who knows, perhaps it could lead to some freelance work down the road.
Never thought I would say that until now.