Capitalizing On Education: Writing For Alumni Magazines By John K. Borchardt

Capitalizing On Education: Writing For Alumni Magazines By John K. Borchardt

You don’t have to be a graduate of dear old Alma Mater U. to write articles for their alumni magazine. That’s good news for freelance writers because alumni magazines, particularly those of major universities, offer financially rewarding markets with the opportunity to write several different types of articles. There’s more good news; according to the National Directory of Magazines, in 2005 there were 971 U.S. and Canadian alumni magazines, an increase of 268 from 1995.

The primary objective of alumni magazines is to make graduates feel proud of their university. Proud graduates are more likely to make financial contributions to their university. So whatever you write should be positive in tone.

How can you get ideas for articles that alumni magazine editors will be eager to publish? Page though alumni magazines and you’ll see that they are mostly about people: alumni, faculty, students and staff. Alumni magazine staff writers can easily write about campus events such as new buildings and new education programs and about students, faculty and staff. So your best bet is to concentrate on writing about people – alumni who have made significant accomplishments in their fields.

Start by having your “writer’s antennae” up whenever you read your local newspaper and city magazine. Look for news of local business, government and education leaders. Find out what university or college they attended. Query their university’s magazine, offering to write an article on their alumna’s accomplishment. As the local writer on the scene, you can get personal interviews and photographs of the person at work, which are more interesting than standard portrait style photographs. A visit to the alumna’s workplace may net you contacts with her colleagues that result in interesting quotes and perspectives.

Other sources of article ideas include trade magazines and press releases. For example, suppose scientist John Jones has written a research paper about his field or manager Samantha Smith is making a keynote presentation at a business conference. Smith’s employer may have produced a press release that appears in a compendium of science press releases, Reading the press release, you are convinced that Professor Jones’ discovery is a significant one. Yes, you can query science magazines about writing an article on the discovery. However, you could also submit a query to the alumni magazine of the university where Professor Jones got his degree. Your focus would be as much or more on Professor Jones than on his discovery. Remember, if the professor has a Ph.D., you may have two, not one, alumni magazines to query – his graduate university and his undergraduate school. So potentially you could write three differently slanted articles: two for alumni magazines and one for a science magazine. This example and some of those that follow indicate that alumni magazines are excellent targets for reslanted articles.

Meanwhile, you might read about Smith’s conference presentation in publicity for the business conference. Smith’s employer may issue a press release on Smith’s presentation. If Smith resides in your hometown or the conference is being held there, you may be able to schedule a face-to-face interview and also get some photographs. Alternatively, you can arrange a telephone or e-mail interview. Don’t neglect the possibility of also covering Smith’s presentation in a local or regional business magazine covering Smith’s hometown or the city in which the conference is being held. While this article would focus almost completely on the content of Smith’s speech, an article for an alumni magazine could also focus on Smith’s career since her graduation.

Suppose you read a proud press release indicating that a university has acquired an expensive, state-of-the-art instrument for medical research. You could write a query proposing an article about how the instrument will eventually help physicians save lives while raising the prestige of the university, helping it recruit outstanding faculty members and students. Yes, you may be competing with an alumni magazine staffer to write this article. However, by interviewing the designers of the instrument as well as the university researchers using it, you might be able to provide a broader perspective than could an alumni magazine staff writer. This is especially true if your background includes writing for science and medical publications. Another possible competitor to write the article is a professor familiar with the new instrument. However, she may not be inclined to interview the instrument designer. Because she is not a professional writer, the editor may fear having to spend a lot of time rewriting her manuscript. So you can go into either competition with advantages.

Rather than a new medical instrument, suppose the university has built a new laboratory or acquired a new instrument that has commercial implications for local businesses. Besides the alumni magazine, local business publications may also be good targets for queries. An article written by a freelancer rather than a university staff writer would give the published article an air of impartiality.

Paying Alumni Markets

Brown University
Brown Alumni Magazine
Writers’ Guidelines:
E-mail: alumni_magazine – at –
Comments: buys 50 manuscripts per year

University of Chicago Magazine
Editor: Mary Ruth Yoe
E-mail: uchicago-magazine – at –

Indiana Alumni Magazine
Writer’s Guidelines:
E-mail: miwright – at –
Comments: pays $0.10 per word

University of Nebraska
Nebraska Magazine
Chief Communications Officer: Andrea Cranford
E-mail: acranford1 – at –

University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame Magazine
Writer’s Guidelines:
Editor: Kerry Temple
E-mail: temple1 – at –
Comments: pays $250 – $1,000+

University of Oregon
Oregon Quarterly
Writer’s Guidelines:
Editor: Matt Cooper
E-mail: mattc – at –
Comments – pays $100 – $250 for departments stories, significantly more for features

Pennsylvania State University
The Penn Stater
Editor: Ryan Jones
E-mail: ryanjones – at –

University of Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Gazette
Editor: John Prendergast
Email: jprender – at –

Purdue University
The Purdue Alumnus
E-mail: alumnus – at –
Rates: Rates for feature stories range from $250 to $500. Will pay some expenses.

Queen’s University
Queen’s Alumni Review
Website: Web site:
Editor: Andrea Gunn
E-mail: review – at –

Harvard University
Harvard Magazine
E-mail: your turn – at –
Rates: $300-$2000

John Borchardt is a full-time writer specializing in science, technology, careers and the workplace. He has more than 1,100 articles published in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and online. He is also author of the book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers, a Library of Science monthly selection.