Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Harvard Magazine vs. The Yard

Interesting discussion in the Wall Street Journal about Harvard's decision to publish a new alumni magazine called The Yard -- apparently to get a better grip, as PR folks would say, on "managing the message." The article notes that Harvard Magazine, which gets financial support from the University, but is somewhat independent editorially, is not being nice enough when it comes to University affairs, and is impacting fundraising. Here's what the Wall Street Journal has to say:
Though financed in part by the university, Harvard Magazine has covered Mr. Summers's downfall as aggressively as any media outlet, opening its letters section to furious alumni and offering frank news reports on the campus row. But now university administrators, worried that the bimonthly magazine has gone over the line, have launched a new glossy publication to refocus their message to alumni. The new magazine's second issue was distributed last month, and it contains scant mention of Mr. Summers's troubles, his resignation or the crisis that has enveloped the university.

The move to supplement Harvard Magazine with an even more loyal, in-house organ reflects growing concern among many colleges and universities that editorially independent alumni magazines are damaging fund-raising efforts. The percentage of alumni contributing to their schools has been declining since 2001, according to surveys by the Council for Aid to Education, and Harvard hit a 16-year low in alumni participation in the last fiscal year.

I haven't read The Yard, but I was a regular reader of Harvard Magazine when I worked at Harvard, and really liked it. It was (and I assume, still is) intellectual, covered many obscure areas of research being conducted at Harvard, and was very text-heavy, old-fashioned and even comforting, in a New Yorker kind of way. I hope The Yard and the independent 02138 magazine don't put Harvard Magazine out of business; but I fear that the Alumni Affairs and Development Office's decision to fund The Yard may be a precursor to the administration pulling the plug on funding Harvard Magazine.

Disclosure: I worked in the Harvard University Alumni Affairs and Development Office Communications Department from 2002 to 2005.

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