With over twenty five years slugging away as a technical writer I have worked on newsletters more than a few times. They are useful in some ways and usually a royal pain in others. If you are unfortunate enough to be the editor of one of these organizational standards you will have found out most people think they are a good idea but would rather die than write for one. The hunt for content is never-ending and often you as the editor write the whole darn thing. Skipping article bylines to conceal the singularity of the publication. There is also a moment that comes to all organizations and their newsletter editors: the combination plead/threat speech at a meeting, pleading for anyone to write about anything for the newsletter reinforced by the threat to cease publication. The executive of volunteer organizations always seem to believe that a newsletter is an important perk to atttact members, so the threat usually does not take place. Most often another brave soul becomes editor and starts down the familiar trail to disillusionment and another plead/threat.
Recently I was approached by a board member of an Ontario organization and asked to volunteer as a copy editor. I dodged this for a couple of months and then got another email asking me to step up. So I blew the dust off my resume, added a few recent tidbits to it and fired it off to the email address of the editor. Two days later I got a reply thanking me for contacting him but pointing out that there was no copy editor position available. However, they were looking for someone to do final camera ready copy prep using both Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign.
For those not in the desktop publising swim of things these are two pretty standard software packs for DTP that have been adjusted recently to be used also for epub work and other online publicationosity. By chance my experience was more with Framemaker, another DTP pack. One more point, these two packs are, in my opinion pricey, together bought new they will set you back just short of two grand.
Back to the newsletter, this is a text and photos mix sent out quarterly as a printed product of about 10-12 pages and it is pretty straightforward in layout and design. It is also terminally dull, tedious and in its favour offers some useful information. It also has a habitual problem getting some kinds of information correct and up to date. Given its simple design I am sure I could produce the newsletter easily just using good old MS Word.
So without the products they use in my tool box, I passed on the print prep slot.
It seems to me they are using sophisticated and expensive software that is unnecessary. It is a little like sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing 767 to drive to the grocery store to get milk . My advice to them would be to simplify, simplify, simplify and concentrate on their content and getting it accurate.
Broadening the question a little…..
why is anyone still sending out paper printed newsletters? Why not stop killing trees and save on postage and envelopes and send it out electronically or better still set up a blog? A quarterly printed newsletter is locked into a schedule and information has to fall in the right time and place to get into an issue and information does not always cooperate.
Blogs force you into a one column design for posts but you can still add photos or even video clips.
Another group puts a lot of energy into formatting a newsletter for just 30 members. I am trying to persuade them to put that energy into the group’s blog and the effort will reach many, many more people via the internet.
I have heard the counter argument that it is nice to have a printed copy. The other jibe is that older folk don’t want to read online, they want to read on paper. That you can’t force them to change. There is truth in those points. Still I see the transition taking place and see it even with the older citizens. I haven’t seen it yet but I would not be surprised to find an iPad app designed to let you whip up your newsletter into a tablet readable newsletter in seconds. Although come to think of it, isn’t that what a blog does right now.