September 2001


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First Course

Thirteen years can go by in a blur and a blink, I’ve had reason to notice lately. It’s been that long since I first bounced into the Pitt Magazine offices. David Fryxell was the editor back then; Pitt Magazine was his baby. I talked him into hiring me with only graduate school and a few scant publications under my belt. So slight was my experience that when I sat down with my first feature assignment, it took me one full week and many crumpled sheets of paper just to write my lead. Ta-da! It would be yet another week of work before I had the rest of the story. Still, the writing struggle felt like a good work-out. And the assignment itself—on a Pitt geologist and grad student whose research revolved around the meteorites they hunted for in Antarctica—thrilled me. I was proud of the story I wrote; “Some Like It Cold” even went on to garner a few awards later that year. But that was icing on the cake. The work was the thing.

If Dave Fryxell’s hiring me was my first great opportunity, his being lured away to become editor of a magazine in Wisconsin was the next. After two-and-a-half years, I could dash off a lead in considerably less than a week’s time. Still, I was surprised—and somewhat daunted—when I was asked to fill in as Pitt Magazine’s interim editor. I knew how to think about stories finally. But what makes a magazine good? As it turned out, that’s a question I would ponder for the next 10-and-a-half years.

My answers have changed over the years. I’ve thought about the internal rhythms of an issue and about what mix of stories makes a magazine satisfying. I’ve thought about font size and cover design, sidebars and call-outs. I’ve thought about how to reflect the amazing work—from the iciest reaches of Antartica to the furthest edges of the cosmos—that goes on at this University. I’ve tried to communicate what a vibrant place Pitt is, how it hums with ideas and life and challenges. What makes a magazine good? I’ve asked that question long enough to know the important thing is the question. The answers will come and go. It’s the asking that gives a magazine drive.

It’s a question that I am passing on to a new editor. Robert Mendelson, the warm and witty senior editor of the medical school’s Pitt Med magazine, is now at the helm of Pitt Magazine, already busy at work on the next issue.

My decade as editor of Pitt Magazine has offered the best of challenges for me, professionally and personally. But the thrill of following a story and working the lead has never left me, and I’ve decided to return my attention to writing. My deepest thanks to Mary Ann Aug and Robert Hill for the opportunity to work under their leadership, to the bright and hard-working members of the Pitt Magazine staff—present and past—and to all of you readers over the years for your interest and support. May your work and lives be rich and rewarding.

Sally Ann Flecker, Editor in Chief

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