by Christopher Danzig
Within hours of the Northwestern lacrosse team's fourth national championship victory last May, North by Northwestern had posted the news at the top of its home page, complete with a reporter's video of the team screaming in celebration. By posting the news not long after the final whistle, North by Northwestern, the new kid on the newsstand, showed one of its strengths — providing up-to-the-minute multimedia campus news coverage.
Several times a week during the academic year the all-student staff (numbering approximately 200) updates the site with new, Slate.com-style articles about life at Northwestern and beyond. From student government to Dillo Day — not to mention sex and partying — it all seems to fall within the scope of Northwestern's most successful web magazine.
And this spring North by Northwestern made its print debut in full, glossy color, an addition to the wide variety of undergraduate-published alternative news sources at Northwestern.
In the past students often viewed the Daily Northwestern as their only source of student media. But today undergraduates produce about 15 other publications throughout the academic year. Coverage runs the gamut, from fashion to politics to literature to feminism.
"Publications in some ways mirror how communities see themselves," says Abe Peck, who retired in June from his position as professor and chair of journalism and cross-media storytelling at the Medill School. "They give a voice to all the diversity of ideas and culture and opinion that can exist on a campus. If you lined up all the student publications on a table, you'd get a decent cut of who's at Northwestern today."
The list of alternative news outlets at the University is constantly changing. While some magazines have been around for decades, new publications pop up often.
Starting a publication at Northwestern is no small feat, though, and keeping it alive is even tougher. "The time commitment ranges from a full-time job to much more than a full-time job," says Tom Giratikanon, the Medill senior from Edmonds, Wash., who co-founded North by Northwestern.
Beyond the workload, publishing is expensive. Magazines affiliated with Associated Student Government groups can receive more than $1,000 in University funding per issue, but ASG does not fund publications until they have proven viable. So to launch a startup like The Cold Side of the Pillow, a new literary magazine that released its first issue in May, staff members had to donate their own money, ask friends and family for support, hold a fundraiser party and sell advertisements to cover their costs.
At Stitch, a snazzy biannual fashion magazine that released its third issue last May, the sole responsibility for about a third of the staff of 30 is to sell advertisements to boutiques, salons and other stores — a testament to the necessity of advertising.
Northwestern's two-year-old Jewish lifestyle magazine, schmooze, is largely funded by the Fiedler Hillel Center, the University's Jewish student organization. The editors of the magazine, which includes student profiles, health features and interviews with Jewish celebrities (such as comedian Sarah Silverman and Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg), planned to distribute 15,000 copies of the fall issue to 100 universities in August. That will give schmooze one of the largest circulations of any student magazine produced at Northwestern.
Jake Laub, schmooze editor in chief, says his publication, like most college organizations, faces the challenge of recruiting to replace recent graduates and maintain a full staff. schmooze has a staff of 40. Laub, a Medill senior from Monterey, Calif., hopes going national will help perpetuate the magazine's successful recruiting efforts.
Despite editors' best efforts, some magazines fizzle out with turnover. "My fear is that the magazine will live and die with our core group," says Stitch editor in chief Joyce Lee, a Medill junior from Toronto. She continually tries to "foster a love of the magazine and what it stands for" in new staff members.
Editors at BlackBoard, a publication affiliated with the University's African American student group For Members Only and one of the University's longest-running alternative publications, still find the transition to new leadership difficult. Medill senior Candace Wells, of Montclair, N.J., is editor in chief of the magazine. She posts staff opportunities on the FMO listserv and sends occasional e-mails to the Medill community in the search for new writers.
Publishing The Protest magazine is the biggest undertaking for Northwestern's Peace Project, a student umbrella organization that also includes Students for Economic Justice and Northwestern Opposing War and Racism. The magazine employs a unique staffing system, avoiding official titles and hierarchies as much as possible.
The staff of Northwestern Business Review, founded by Rishi Shah, a School of Education and Social Policy senior, and Shradha Agarwal (J08), organized the magazine by combining their knowledge of business principles with journalism experience. "The mission of NBR is to present a platform showing that business can do good," Agarwal says.
By selling advertising packages to companies such as Goldman Sachs, the Boston Consulting Group and Target, the magazine, which is affiliated with the Northwestern Institute for Student Business Education, became financially self-sufficient after the first issue. NBR has a distribution of 10,000 copies on campuses across the country.
The variety of alternative news on campus also shows a cross section of the University's diversity. Voice and Vision Literary Magazine is African American centered, and it showcases creative writing and art focused on changing themes. NuAsian and be Magazine focus on Asian American life. The Latino-interest magazine ¡Ahora! released its first issue in spring 2007, but it took a year to produce the second issue because the magazine's two founders, Blanca Mendez and Susan Staine, both Medill seniors, spent quarters away from Evanston on their journalism residency internships.
The alternative publications scene also includes religious titles. Christian students publish mustardseed, written mostly by members of Northwestern's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The Muslim-cultural Students Association internal newsletter became al bayan, which strives to present a "more obscure Muslim voice" and not just rehash the issues people hear about on a daily basis, according to McSA co-president Dana Shabeeb, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences junior from Chicago.
Obviously not all publications last. "Students sometimes underestimate how much magazines cost," Peck says. "The local ad base is limited, and, plus, at Medill we don't give the same business training to undergraduates as we give to our graduate students."
Despite such difficulties, the alternative press scene is as strong as ever because students are increasingly using 21st-century technology. For example, The Cold Side of the Pillow had a working web site before the first issue went to press.
When Tom Giratikanon and Patrick St. Michel founded North by Northwestern two years ago, they felt the University needed an online publication. So Giratikanon bought a domain name, paid for hosting the site and worked with Paul Schrodt, a Medill junior from Miami, to design the site. By the end of summer 2006, North by Northwestern was born.
"We wanted to explore all the technological outlets at our disposal and tell a story in a different way," says St. Michel, a Medill senior from Acton, Calif., "It's not stifling, and we feel free to do what we want."
It's an edgy endeavor, sometimes pushing the envelope on subjects such as drag shows and sexual behavior on both the web site and in the new print edition. And it's winning awards. The North by Northwestern site, which has been picked up on blogs across the country, has received 16 Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists over the last two years.
Now some of the print-only publications are migrating to the web. Even Helicon, the University's 28-year-old fiction, poetry and visual art magazine, has made the transition. When the magazine ran into funding difficulties last year, the editors decided to put out a web magazine instead, says Helicon editor in chief Maura Cullen, a Weinberg senior from Delmar, N.Y. The web version includes everything — short stories, photography, poetry and sketches — that would have appeared in the print version.
Along with Helicon, a few other publications have stood the test of time. The Northwestern Chronicle has embodied the conservative voice on campus since 1992.
Even if some individual magazines eventually disappear, their ideas tend to carry on in new generations of publications. In the 1970s the Women's Center produced a feminist journal called Mountain Moving, but for the last decade the College Feminists have published Juice!.
Former editor in chief Kim Weisensee (J08) says working at the magazine gave her a sense of accomplishment that couldn't come from a classroom. "You're dealing with real-world situations on a smaller scale," Weisensee says. "I've seen how some of the stories we have written have really impacted people."
She mentions one of her writers who did a story about how African American women are judged by the shade of their skin. She was able to write about "her feelings, her memories and her experiences she'd been carrying around for years," Weisensee says. Putting the story down on paper was cathartic for the reporter.
The alternative press scene makes such meaningful experiences possible. And for the people who work the long hours making sure each issue arrives at newsstands — or on the web — on time, it's a labor of love.
"It wasn't just something that I wanted to put on my résumé," Agarwal says of founding Northwestern Business Review. "It's something I really believe in and want to see sustained through the years."
Christopher Danzig (J08), of Chicago, is an assistant editor at InsideCounsel, a monthly magazine that serves general counsel and other in-house legal professionals.
Zeninjor Enwemeka (J07), of Silver Spring, Md., contributed to this story.
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