editor's essay

Is Anyone Out There?

The year was 1926, and Irving Templeton, a UB law school graduate and editor of The Alumni News—the first alumni publication in UB’s then-80-year history—was making his pitch for reader input. 

“It is hoped every alumnus and alumna everywhere will lend a hand by sending in suggestions, articles of interest, alumni notes, notices of gatherings and activities. We believe The Alumni News completely fulfills its function only when it is of service to all alumni everywhere.” 

While the language might be different (words like “input” and “feedback” weren’t yet part of popular parlance), Templeton’s quest for reader response could have been written by any member of the At Buffalo staff today. Then and now, interaction with readers is the lifeblood of magazines. 

And as an editor, ensconced in one’s office, it is hard not to sometimes wonder whether anyone is really out there, especially when a piece one has slaved over has failed to provoke much reaction, whether positive or negative.

Ninety years after Templeton’s pitch, our alumni publication has evolved through a series of successor pieces into today’s full-color magazine, in which design and editorial are honed for maximum appeal, and quizzes, contests, service journalism and other types of features fairly guarantee at least some interaction with readers. And yet still we wonder about all those who don’t write letters or respond to quizzes. Have they read the issue? Do they like it? 

Since debuting At Buffalo two years ago, we’ve done limited surveying, including mailing a questionnaire after each issue to a sampling of readers and polling informally at alumni events. With this issue, we’re ratcheting it up by participating in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Member Magazine Readership Survey. 

In the next few weeks, a cross-section of randomly selected readers will receive an email asking for participation. The survey takes 10-15 minutes to complete and will go a long way toward helping us match our story planning with your preferences. 

Did Templeton ever survey his readers to find out what they wanted in his new publication? My guess is he didn’t feel obliged to do so formally. Unlike our media-saturated society, where alumni magazines compete intensely for reader attention, Templeton could reasonably expect 1926 readers to read his product; there just wasn’t that much competition. Yet he still felt the need to reach out for reaction. 

And that’s because, unless we hear from you, we magazine editors operate much like a comedian whose laugh lines fall short, but who has no mechanism to find out why—or guidance to improve his material. Templeton told his readers the opening issue was “merely a start.” The future, he said, “should see aid from many.” 

We hope he got that aid, and we hope we do, too.

Ann Whitcher Gentzke, Editor