hile The Heights may be turning 100 years old, the newly-named Magazine section is nearing the age of 2.
Just two short years ago, the long-familiar features section was rebranded as “Magazine.” This would prove to be much more than just a topical change, however—the motivation behind it was to give the section a clear identity, which past editors felt it lacked.
When you think about it, this makes sense. In profiling members of the Boston College community, the features editors had to ensure that their subjects did not fall under the realm of sports or arts. A breakout basketball star or a brand-new theatre professor, plucked right off the Broadway stage, ran the risk of encroaching. And with breaking, investigative pieces, editors had to avoid stepping on news’ toes. Any columns or satirical content, and the section broached opinions territory. Given this, our ensuing identity crisis was only natural.
he board members hoped that in scrapping the name ‘Features’ in favor of ‘Magazine,’ forthcoming editors would produce profiles of BC students, faculty, and alumni in the long-form style that appears in magazines, rather than the 800-word format similar to news stories. We would still be putting out features, but would also begin to take on long-term investigative pieces.
These new responsibilities warranted the addition of a third editor, the associate magazine editor, to help with the redefined focus and increase in content. When The Heights switched back to a weekly publishing schedule in 2017, the then-features section (which had always printed weekly) assumed the same frequency of publication as the rest of the sections, elevating its presence on the board.
So, how did we get to that turning point? And how did we find that consistency? In this column, we’ll take a look back at our section’s development in the past decade: from features to magazine, from page B10 to A4—and everything in between.
When I began my time on the board as the first associate magazine editor in 2018, the section entered its first year under the new name. Our goal was two-fold: to define the magazine section by carrying out its newly-designated responsibilities, all while retaining the past aspects of features that we knew were working well. The beauty of this section has always been its ability to adapt to the changing times and the interests of our readership.
The 2010 editors kicked off the year with a retrospective: Sesquicentennial Class Examines BC History. Not only would this provide an account of academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and social life since 1863, it would also define the section’s style as it ushered in a new decade. Accompanied by vivid, eye-catching layouts, features regularly rolled out witty introspectives about life on BC’s campus—whether that be a tell-all on twins (Seeing Double) or a legacy piece about how BC is the gift that keeps on giving (And that’s the way we became the BC Bunch).
By answering the questions students were most curious about, features articles brought the BC community together while also highlighting its uniqueness. The team continued its hit True Life series, where students bravely shared their personal experiences regarding typically “taboo” subjects at the time. Topics spanned from the more lighthearted—training for the Boston Marathon, life as a male cheerleader on campus, and being addicted to the plex—all the way to the somber, such as in the groundbreaking Nov. 2008 narrative by Sarah Ottersetter, I Know Anorexia, which spoke of her personal struggles with an eating disorder while attending BC. The piece hit home for a lot of students, who saw their own struggles in her story, and respected the author’s lack of anonymity.
Other series included The World Record, which spanned the globe to chronicle Eagles’ journeys abroad, whether their travels be in London, Beijing, or Melbourne. And we can’t forget about the infamous Eagle Date, a popular sequence in which The Heights would set up two students to go on a blind date and then interview them about their experience, which included giving it a rating. “Don’t just go on a date… go on an Eagle Date! Dinner on us, and then tell us about your experience in The Heights,” a 2010 ad read.
"It’s only when we stop looking at the section as one with confining boundaries that its true power is realized."
ut beginning around 2016, the features section slowly began to shift its focus, mainly running shorter profile pieces on BC students, faculty, and alumni. Eagle Date gradually faded out, although columns remained as present as ever. Much of the section’s lighthearted subject matter would change with the team’s rebranding.
So, in our section’s first year as magazine, we strove to preserve the profiles that had largely come to define it, all while integrating new touches. It was under our jurisdiction to pursue more long-term, investigative features as well as long-form, 2000-plus word profiles. In 2018, we kept a lot of the familiar, worn-in qualities of features. We peppered our content with columns centering on our personal experiences, and started incorporating more professor profiles that had a magazine-like feel to them instead of solely focusing on BC’s students. We took this one step further by focusing on alumni specifically, and running profiles on actor Matt Del Negro, BC ’94, comedian Gary Gulman, BC ’93, and Erik Weihenmayer, BC ’91, who climbed Mount Everest blind.
The year 2009 was the first year The Heights began to roll out the year-end Momentum Awards, directed by the then-features section, and this has continued with its shift to magazine. At the end of each academic year, we put out around six profiles of the BC community’s leading changemakers. Additionally, we churn out about 10 features on students running the Boston Marathon during the week leading up to Marathon Monday. All of this has become more feasible in the digital age, which has allowed us to rely on bcheights.com, and particularly the magazine website, to publish our long-form pieces.
In our transition from features to magazine, our content has become more investigative and long-form, all while preserving the profiles that have been an integral part of the section in the past decade. The presence of the profile has steadily grown throughout it, and culminated when we made the switch to primarily publishing these types of features, rather than broad pieces on the BC community as a whole. When I joined the section, we increased the variety of our articles profiling the BC community, hoping to incorporate as many voices and backgrounds as possible.
Additionally, we’ve adopted a collaborative approach for many of our investigative stories. Rather than encroaching on news’ territory, we’ve been working in conjunction with them to complete ambitious projects. This past year, the news and magazine sections poured over the archives to profile the history of race at BC—and more specifically, the figures that instigated momentous change—during Black History Month. We profiled the first black mayor of Newton, Setti Warren, BC ’93, who was the Undergraduate Government of Boston College’s (UGBC) second black president during his time on campus, and interviewed Julius Harper, BC ’80, who spoke of his 1977 Letter to the Editor, which called for the integration of the Fenwick dorm.
It turned out that finding our own identity involved changing our outlook. It’s only when we stop looking at the section as one with confining boundaries that its true power is realized. Though the identity of features and now magazine has changed dramatically even in the past decade alone, it should always be taken in the context of its entirety. One year barely skims the surface of everything our section is capable of—so while the magazine section may be only 2 years old, its history as features will live on in the past, present, and future.
Featured Images by Julia Hopkins and Lizzy Barrett / Former Heights Editors