And the winner is…

In case you didn’t know — hello, Oscars! — it’s award season.

As the rich and famous celebrated their noteworthy accomplishments, I was reminded of an accomplishment just as noteworthy to a team neither rich nor famous but who won big for Outstanding Achievement in a Labor of Love. OK, that may not be a real award category, but it speaks to how those of us who work on Tennessee Alumnus feel about the magazine recently winning two top prizes in the 2018 Council for the Advancement and Support of Education District III Advancement Awards.

The Alumnus is published three times a year for graduates of all University of Tennessee campuses. Not just Knoxville. Not just Chattanooga. Not just Martin. Not just Memphis–each of those campuses has its own campus-centric alumni publications. The Alumnus’  challenge is to speak with relevance to all UT graduates, from the system-wide UT perspective. That’s not always easy, but we’ve committed to doing that by organizing the features in each issue around a central theme and seeking stories from each campus that speak to that theme.

CASEIn recognition of the redesign of the magazine’s appearance and our intentional focus on cohesive, compelling content in each of its 2017 issues, the magazine won the Grand Award–top prize–for improvement in a category that included submissions from the University of Florida, University of Alabama and Georgia State University.

That’s pretty good company. The Alumnus also won the Award of Excellence–highest honors–for overall quality in a category that included Auburn University, Virginia Tech, Troy University and UAB. Also very good company.

It takes a village to produce a magazine, and I get to work with exceptionally talented people on the Alumnus. In 2018, I officially became executive editor after serving as interim managing editor for a couple of years upon the departure of Elizabeth Davis, in whose care the magazine rested from 2012 to 2015. Once Jennifer Sicking joined our team and had time to get the magazine’s rhythms down, I was proud to have her assume the managing editor role officially this year. Like Elizabeth and me, Jennifer is a former journalist. I’m not saying that’s a requirement to do the job, but it does give you a highly compatible skill set.

These awards were the icing on a whole cake of incredible for the magazine in 2017. The Alumnus also marked its centennial last year–100 years of continuous publication since 1917. That long history is why I always think of any of us who oversee the magazine as only short-term caretakers. It preceded us and, hopefully, it will survive long past us and for another hundred years. The only other person I’ve known to serve as editor is Diane Ballard, who had the job from 1986 until her retirement in 2012, and just people three had served as editor before her.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 11.25.58 AMWe commemorated the Alumnus‘ 100th birthday with profiles–a third more content than usual–in each of 2017’s three issues of the most accomplished alumni of any UT campus over the last 100 years. We worked with the University’s own UT Press to compile those Centennial Alumni profiles into a hard cover book.

Tennessee Alumnus Centennial CelebrationThen, we finished off the festivities with a centennial celebration that saw more than 150 of our Centennial Alumni and University leaders past and present come together to mark the 100th anniversary milestone.

Growing up on a Middle Tennessee farm, that night was heady stuff for this gal. I never imagined I would one day stand in a room with elected officials, judges, former athletes, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs and get to share with them UT alumni status. Not to mention working on a magazine that serves as something of a “family album” for them and all of us.

Jennifer is maintaining the magazine with great care as it begins its second century in 2018, Elizabeth made the Alumnus even better than she found it, and Diane capably steered the publication for 27  years and patiently and kindly passed along her considerable institutional memory before retiring in 2013.


I’m grateful to the magazine’s art director and graphic designer, Laura Barroso–herself a (University of) Georgia bulldog–who is talented and exceptionally creative, and demonstrates that with every layout. And big props go to Adam Brimer, our former director of photography who has gone on to a new job in 2018, for ensuring photos and video that didn’t just present the same story in a different format. Adam was a real partner in our storytelling and he brought new facets through his photography and videography.

Finally, while the magazine’s website could be just a place to archive it electronically, our web designer Nick Simson makes sure it’s more than that. Nick brings both skill and great ideas that have made the magazine even better online.

Tennessee Alumnus Centennial Celebration
More of the whole, Hee-Haw gang…

According to, magazine readership, generally, is growing even as time spent–from 18 minutes in 2010 down to 15 minutes by 2018–reading magazines is slipping somewhat. That’s why it’s important to deliver in a magazine something the reader wants to spend time with.

There’s another reason we want to make the magazine special.

If you subscribe to one or more magazines, you know how much you look forward to the latest issue arriving. You paid for the subscription because you chose the magazine.

No one has to choose to receive the Alumnus, so we have to make the reader choose to believe he or she must read the magazine.

Fortunately, we villagers working on Tennessee Alumnus share a commitment to making sure readers can’t put it down, at least not quickly.

Here’s to Grand Award recognition of that. Cheers!

Tennessee Alumnus Centennial Celebration
With Laura Barroso.

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