Pandemic publishing: A view from WVU Magazine

Diana Mazzella, one of many publishing professionals at our university who works for units other than WVU Press, is editor at West Virginia University Magazine. In this guest post, she describes the impact of the global health emergency on her work.

In 2014 when I became managing editor of West Virginia University Magazine, I didn’t really know what we’d achieve. I just knew we needed to make goals, meet targets, and advance, advance, advance.

When the pandemic struck, the magazine was as ready as it was going to be to meet this challenge after years of our staff making plans for an online future.

We hadn’t prepared for all of this, of course, and it affected us like everyone else: cuts and losses and uncertainty. We had been preparing for years to meet our digital-native audience where they were. And now we were all-digital much sooner than we had imagined.

With new financial realities and a scattered workforce, the magazine has transformed to online-only for two consecutive seasons, delivering content through a newsletter and on social media, channels we’ve been developing for the last few years. At the start of this year, we had a goal of offering website advertising, which became a top priority, and is now a reality.

An alumni magazine is direct mail for good reason, and it’s likely to continue to be for years to come; well, as far as we know, which these days is around dinner time. When the 60-page issue gets inside a home, it can be passed to children and grandparents. They press down corners and save for potential students, saying, “Look at what MY alma mater is doing.” We know from survey data that our magazine is passed along by more than 60 percent of readers.

We know that we are not drawing that same number of eyes online and that the readers don’t share links as frequently as the paper copy, but we have still greatly benefitted from years of work of developing concurrent infrastructure online.

We have come far, and still have far to go. In 2012, we had a website that had PDFs of our magazines that visitors could flip through, page by page. This strategy led to maybe a few thousand views a year. Because social media relies on link sharing, you can’t share much when you only have one link. By 2013, we posted a few major features on one main front page. And then the following year, we had a website that had every department featured, quadrupling our digital readership. But this was still not a strategy for digital natives, so we kept on.

We made the site more visual to capture interest whether readers are on a desktop or mobile. Making the mobile experience more accessible is critical as nearly 70 percent of our readership this year accessed the site via mobile. Now we have a site that has categories and content organized based on subjects such as art and science that readers are likely to search. The Internet is for people to arrange content the way they like. That’s why we they can choose to follow you on Twitter, or subscribe to your newsletter. It’s at their pace, in their way.

We know from surveys that nearly 70 percent of our approximately 200,000 readers prefer print, though a growing number, about 25 percent, say they like print and digital content. This is true across age groups, though the younger demographics have slightly more openness to digital-only content: 20 percent.

We also know from surveys, above all, that our audience wants us to continue to stay us. They have a limited bandwidth for hard news with the twists and turns of COVID-19, but they want to know our history and what alumni are doing, whether they’re helping others or putting their degree to use at a new job.

So again, this is not a golden situation for anyone. But we wouldn’t be able to talk to our audience if we weren’t already trying to meet them where they are.

Contact Diana Mazzella at

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