Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Evolving communication technology

Wading through in-boxes for some of my e-mail accounts, some of the mass-distribution lists to which I am a subscriber remind me of clubs’ print newsletters grafted to a new technology.

Book cover: People's Movement, People's Press by Bob Ostertag
I recently read an interesting book by Bob Ostertag: People’s Movements, People’s Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements (Beacon Press, www.beacon.org/).

The book originally appealed to me because of my background with both newsletter production and with newspaper editing. Thanks to the tri-county catalog system of our Lake County Library, I was able to request the book from a neighboring county’s collection.

This book offers an invaluable look at the history of social movements and their media. These early newspapers and magazines were the principle means of transmission in isolated communities and served to mobilize people around movements for civil rights.

At the same time, this book charts the history of communication technology, which placed the power of publishing into the hands of more and more people. The number of publications is astonishing!

I began to publish newsletters during the early 1990s. I first produced a club newsletter for the Sonoma County chapter of a medieval reenactment group and was later asked to produce a newsletter for the regional “principality.”

Desktop publishing put the same professional tools at my disposal as a metropolitan newspaper: text-editing and layout software. I learned this first-hand when I began doing layouts for the Lake County Record-Bee. The only difference from a layout perspective was in the publication’s scale —broadsheet and tabloid instead of letter-size.

Certain needs remain universal, like soliciting material. As chronicler for the Shire of Wolfscairn or Principality of the Mists, I might invite a bard to submit his or her poem. As the editor of a weekly newspaper, the Clear Lake Observer American, I encourage individuals who express passionate arguments, to please write a letter to the editor.

I’ve found newsletters do a great job of organizing local activities. E-mail blasts and RSS feeds are the logical next progression among people who have mobilized around a common bond or interest.

From time to time, people need to interact with the public at large. One way of doing this — a very appreciated way — is to include the local newspaper in your newsletter distribution list.

I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it is to be on the distribution lists for some of our local newsletters. It really helps me be informed and, in turn, to inform the paper’s readers by reprinting a newsletter item with noted attribution.

Newsletters have an advantage over faster-paced e-mail feeds because newsletters often compile a month or two of activities ahead of time. I don’t have to worry about people doling out press releases one event at a time and missing the newspaper’s deadlines.

E-mail blasts, in comparison, frequently arrive too close to an event for me to get it into print.

But sending a newsletter doesn’t let you off the hook for composing a press release. I may not have time to compose and typeset a notice from what I read in your newsletter. I may also wrongly conclude that something in your newsletter was intended for “members only.”

So please keep the newsletters coming as well as the e-mail blasts — they do a lot of good for keeping me better informed and for giving me an idea of what matters to local readers. But if your club consciously intends to reach a larger public, please also send letters and press releases that are mindful of newsroom deadlines.

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