In the age of 140-character tweets and image heavy sites such as Instagram and Tik Tok, why should a campus recreation department even consider the idea of publishing a departmental magazine?
Websites have been a necessity for years now. Maintaining multiple social media platforms is a must as departments strive to engage Gen Z students. Newsletters, usually distributed in a digital format, are still a popular tool for disseminating information out to a campus. Delivery to thousands of people is just a click of the “send” icon away.
So why then should a campus rec department even consider publishing its own magazine?
Magazines require a coherent editorial process, strong design elements and a blend of content ranging from columns to long-form stories and engaging features. In short, it sounds like a lot of work at a time when an Instagram Story or YouTube video seems more appealing to our target demographic.
Despite the time commitment required to conceptualize, design and publish a magazine, the positives do outweigh the negatives. Planning and preparation will be most intensive for the first issue, but after you determine the design and general content, that format will become the template for future editions.
Here is a look at the benefits of publishing a departmental magazine and some of the key elements to consider:
“Why Not Us?”
Magazines have long been a staple of the collegiate world. Alumni magazines are the most common, but trade and publications still land on office desks and in email inboxes each day.
The bottom-line is people still enjoy reading magazines. That being considered, rec departments should then ask the question, “Why not us?” Our field is loaded with interesting information. A well-rounded rec department can cover everything from sports to well-being and student development. A magazine offers a proven and expansive format in which to creatively promote the great work being done, as well as highlight the programs and services offered.
Creating a Buzz
Enewsletters are effective and can certainly use links to jump off to longer, web-based stories and videos.
However, there is simply something intangible about the packaging of a magazine that excites readers. A well-designed magazine elevates the quality of your content. Being able to scroll through the pages — whether that is digitally or in hard copy — creates an engaging experience for the reader. As your rec community develops enthusiasm for the magazine, the publication date will become a buzz-worthy event in your department. Ultimately, a magazine will raise the bar in terms of the quality of the communications you produce.
Showcase the Talents of your Students and Pro Staff
Publishing a magazine is challenging but also fun. Bringing together the right group of energetic students and professional staff to collaborate on this type of project gets the creative juices flowing and allows for talented individuals to shine. Engaging highly skilled students — graphic designers, photographers, writers — is essential to producing a high-quality magazine. Of course, the professional staff plays a vital role in the process. Soliciting content across all areas of the rec department is essential to developing a magazine that has the broadest appeal. The teamwork required between students and staff makes for a terrific, collaborative, team-building experience.
Other Considerations for a Departmental Magazine
Once the commitment has been made to publish a departmental magazine, a number of big questions arise:
- What should it look like inside and out?
- Who is the target audience(s)?
- When and how frequently to publish?
- What will you call it?
The answers will vary from school to school, but here are some tips on how to address them:
1. Be realistic about how many issues to publish each year.
Producing a quality magazine requires hard work. Since professional and student staff who already have plenty of responsibilities are doing this work, it is better to not be overly ambitious. You don’t want to see the quality of the publication suffer. Twice per semester is certainly an attainable goal that allows for timely stories that build enthusiasm at the beginning of the semester, while also showcasing end of the semester highlights.
2. Determine your target audience(s) before you start to develop content.
It is vital to understand if your publication is for students, the full rec community or the entire campus. Once you establish your audience, you will have better understanding of what type of content will be most appealing to the reader.
3. Design and content should help build the appeal of the publication, while staying true to your department’s brand and mission.
Whereas a newsletter tends to be dominated by facts and upcoming events, a magazine allows for much greater content latitude. Focus on developing a blend of news, features, visuals and fun stuff such as original cartoons, brain teaser puzzles and contests for the reader to enter.
Allow your professional staff to expound on their areas of expertise or share a personal interest through their writing. “Recipe of the Month” features are always a hit. Profiles of students, pro staff and even alumni are another great feature that add a strong human element to each issue and help build community in your department.
And never underestimate the importance of great photography. Considering the magazine is likely going to be both digital and hard copy, the quality and variety of the images matter. Vibrant, inclusive photography that is representative of the people, spaces and programs that define your rec program are essential. Also, drawing from the archives and including departmental “flashback photos” is a fun way to highlight your history.
And what’s in a name? Usually a lot, so don’t take that for granted when choosing a name. You can play it straight or be creative. Either way, be comfortable with your choice because you may be using it for many years.
Wrapping it Up
At Montclair State University, we revived our campus rec department magazine after a hiatus of several years. Our primary distribution was digital, but we also printed copies to be placed at strategic locations throughout our Student Recreation Center.
We chose to retain many of the features of the previous “SRC Magazine” but updated our publication with a new look and content. The entire design and layout was created by our student marketing team.
We rolled out the first edition of “On The RECord: The MSU Department of Campus Recreation Magazine” in February 2022. Check it out here.
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