Society Newsletters Gear Up to Deliver the Scoop in a Timely Fashion
MY NOMINEE FOR THE HARDEST working member of any successful orchid society is not the show chair, or the program chair or even the president. I would suggest that the society’s newsletter editor carries a burden that not only can seem never-ending (when you are the one doing it), but also is one that all too frequently goes unappreciated. The pressure and deadlines never end; almost as soon as the newsletter editor starts to enjoy the satisfaction of successfully producing an issue on time, he or she must start concentrating on the next one.
And yet a good newsletter is invaluable to a society. An organized, attractive and informative publication makes an invaluable public relations and recruitment tool for prospective members who visit your meetings or happen across the publication at a local greenhouse, nursery, library, public garden or member’s home.
Personal computers and the age of desktop publishing have made the newsletter editor’s job considerably simpler than it was just a few years ago, but at the same time technology has raised the bar on the expectations for such documents. It is important that the document does not become more important than its message, and even more critical that the newsletter editor does not become a slave to the technology.
Despite all that is available technologically, orchid-society newsletters run the gamut from rather simple epistles of a page or two to glossy, full-color publications. Yet the basic purpose of every one is to announce the upcoming meeting and encourage members’ attendance. There are, arguably, other purposes that a good newsletter can serve, such as providing a historical record for the society or educating and entertaining the members, but it is the function as cheerleader for the society’s meetings and activities that is its driving force.
GETTING STARTED To get some-one interested enough to pick it up and read the newsletter or pull it out of a stack of mail, it must be an inviting publication with some eye appeal. It should have a standard appearance and format from month to month. Within reason, I believe that the newsletter editor should have artistic as well as editorial control of the document. If it is time to give the physical appearance of the newsletter a makeover, here are some guidelines you can follow.
Take some time to study similar publications from other organizations and consider their formats. Determine for yourself which are most useful to the reader as well as which are most attractive to the eye. It is hard to do better than the rather typical 8.5 × 11-inch (22 × 28-cm) size. A more professional look is achieved when a tabloid-style fold is employed for multiple pages so that stapling is not necessary. Readability is easier when columns are used; it seems that a popular option is two columns per page.
One of the pitfalls of many newsletter preparers is the temptation to use every type style or font that the computer has available. The result is invariably a document with a messy and confused appearance. It is best to choose one style of type for all of the text and perhaps one or two others for the headlines and titles. When choosing a font for the main body of type, keep in mind that type with serifs (those little “wings” on the letters), such as Times New Roman, are easier to read than those without them, such as Helvetica.
CONTENT The biggest challenge for the newsletter’s editor, month after month, is filling the pages. One technique that I found helpful during my stint as an editor was to keep a “diary” listing each month about six months into the future. After each month I would put notes about major subjects and articles I wanted to be sure to include in the newsletter that month. Sometimes looking through past issues will help jog your memory for such ideas.
The diary was always a work in progress and helped me to keep the newsletter pages filled. Some of the features were monthly items while others might come up only occasionally, seasonally or just once a year. Sometimes an item I hoped to include would get bumped to the following month for lack of space. Believe me, that’s a newsletter editor’s dream come true.
Regular features may include articles and announcements for the next meeting and an article about its program, a president’s message, listings of new members, review of the previous month’s meeting, reminder or thank you for the meeting’s refreshment providers, schedule of the nearest AOS judging center, etc. Some orchid society newsletters find a calendar of regional orchid events a useful regular feature too.
Other subjects may be important on a periodic basis. These might include announcements and schedule for a summer picnic, upcoming orchid show, holiday party or orchid auction announcements and even orchid-show results. Profiles or stories about individual members and orchid book reviews are popular features in some publications.
If you are fortunate enough to have knowledgeable members who can write informative, short articles for the newsletter, count your blessings. Such articles are particularly useful when they can address regional growing techniques and problems. Newsletter stories should be relatively short, perhaps 600 to 800 words maximum. Leave the bigger articles for bigger publications. It is a mistake to fall into the trap of trying to turn your newsletter into the definitive source of orchid information, because there are already plenty of books and periodicals written on the subject.
No newsletter should be printed that does not include information on how to contact the organization, details of when and where it meets, and who to contact to apply to become a member. Some newsletters list every society officer in every issue, and that is fine. Those lists do not need to be particularly prominent; it’s not front-page news for every issue.
Generally, I would advise the newsletter editor to keep a very light hand when it comes to actual editing of their contributors’ work. Amateur (and certainly some professional) writers are often surprisingly sensitive to having their work altered. When in doubt, ask the authors how they feel about having their work edited before you make major changes.
FILLING SPACE No matter how much copy the editor solicits or writes for the publication, there usually remain some bits of space to fill. It can be useful to have ideas for some announcements and space fillers that can be employed, when necessary, to help fill the gaps. Some of those might include reminders to return books to the society’s library, requests to bring flowering orchids to the judging or show-and-tell table at the next meeting, where and when the next nearby AOS judging will take place, encouragement to bring potential members to the society, contact information on how to join AOS or other national orchid organizations, etc.
Another good way to fill the pages is to occasionally reprint good articles from past issues of the newsletter from years ago. (Hopefully your society has them archived.) Also, if your society does not have a written history, you may want to find an appropriate member or members to write one, and publish it in the newsletter — in installments, if necessary.
Whether your newsletter accepts and publishes advertising, either from members or non-members, is likely to depend on society policies and perhaps whether the organization has sought and received not-for-profit status.
ILLUSTRATIONS The ability to include digital photographs in orchid-society newsletters with comparative ease has created both blessings and problems. Not every newsletter editor has the ability, time or inclination to become the society photographer as well. Those who do sometimes produce a publication that no one else in the society is willing or able to continue to produce at the same level when the newsletter editor wants to pass the torch.
Perhaps the best advice is to try to use photography in moderation. Try to include flattering images of members enjoying the activities of the society. Many orchid-society photographers fall into the trap of filling the newsletter pages with orchid portraits. While we all enjoy good images of show and ribbon winners, there are plenty of books, magazines, orchid catalogs and websites that include nearly the same images. Nobody else has illustrations of the individuals in your society. In years to come, it will be the pictures of people that are sentimentally enjoyed, not duplicate images of the day’s popular mericlones. When possible, try to identify the individuals in the photographs with a caption.
Before you print your newsletter, have it proofread by someone else. Proofreading our own work is nearly impossible and you will find that you miss simple errors no matter how many times you reread your document.
Try to set a high standard regarding the application and use of orchid names in your newsletter. If you do not understand the orchid-naming system, try to find someone who can explain it to you or ask some knowledgeable person to check the accuracy of any orchid names you use in the publication.
The emergence of the information highway now enables us to send and receive our newsletters electronically, and there are orchid societies that partially or exclusively do so. Many individuals, however, still prefer the tangible version to the electronic, but the trend is there.
If you have never tried your hand with the society newsletter, perhaps you should consider volunteering for the job. If, like the majority, that happens to be among the last tasks on earth that you would ever take on, then consider how you could make the job easier for those in your society who are willing. Just one short article, idea or tip submitted to a society’s editor from a dozen different members would lighten his or her load considerably.