For most of the last ten years, this spot has been home to my 500-plus-word personal essays—somewhat eccentric attempts to lure readers into the magazine by riffing on the current theme. Themes that have included, among the 43 issues, global warming, electioneering, music, war, food, and power.
Writing this one is a bit harder than usual. For one, the theme is Town and Gown, and I neither went to Cal nor lived in the city, though a decade on campus covering cutting-edge research and eavesdropping on the chatter of some of the world’s smartest people over lunch at The Musical Offering Café, has made me a Berkeley denizen, albeit more gown than town.
But, no, I’m not an alumna.
What makes writing this even more difficult is the fact that it’s my last editor’s note: In the month this issue lands, my esteemed colleague, Pat Joseph, will have taken over as Editor in Chief. I will have retired after a 35-year career in journalism, one that started at a daily newspaper and now ends at this alumni magazine.
Which means I spent 25 years covering breaking news, big and small—from earthquakes, mass murders, and medical breakthroughs to surfing contests and food festivals—and a decade trying to understand what it all meant and why we should care.
Covering news is exciting. Excavating and extracting the ideas that explain and shape that news and help readers assess its value is vital. For me, it’s meant taking journalism to another level.
I speak of journalism because that is what we do here. And it’s consistent with what California magazine editors have been doing for the last 120 years. It is part of a long legacy that began in 1872 when the first graduates of the University founded what is now the Cal Alumni Association; 15 years later the association produced the first edition of what was then the University of California Magazine.
Throughout its history, California has been the lone general-interest magazine published by what is now the only independent alumni association in the University of California system. This has placed editors in a unique position: We have, thanks to CAA, been allowed to push the boundaries of the traditional alumni magazine in ways that haven’t necessarily endeared us to all administrators or every reader. We have eschewed promotional storytelling and embraced compelling, multi-sourced, idea-driven features and essays. While we have observed and celebrated tradition and highlighted the University’s accomplishments, we have also reported on missteps and contextualized conflicts.
California is award-winning. It has been informing readers about one of the great public universities since 1897. Plenty of deep-pocketed alumni prefer well-reported stories, on, say, the fate of alternative energy, to gushing profiles of donors. Most important, California has a loyal following, one that has expressed its appreciation for the magazine in alumni surveys, year after year.
These alumni expect a particular kind of magazine, one that reflects the University’s Fiat Lux motto and its ethos of intellectual freedom and rigorous and challenging debate about the nature of absolutely everything, all in the context of a citizens’ university. They deserve to keep getting just such a magazine.
After all, they did go to Berkeley.