Welcome to our first edition of “Extreme Makeover: Newsletter Edition.”
We’d like to thank CWA Local 2202 for offering to be our first participant in what we hope will be a series of “Makeover” features that will help everyone produce the best newsletters possible.
Local 2202, based in Virginia Beach, Va., produces a letter-size newsletter (8 ½ x 11) every two months called CWA Voice. Click here to see front page (Adobe PDF file 384k). They do an exceptional job over all. This is an enormously “newsy” newsletter with a good balance of information and lighter items that draw in readers. There is little or nothing frivolous.
Polls tell us that a large percentage of CWA members read their local newsletter, even if they don’t read publications or mailings from the district and headquarters. But it doesn’t hurt to give them a little encouragement. Here are two great ideas from CWA Voice for drawing members to the newsletter:
- Each issue, the editors “hide” a member’s name (or other identifying information) in the text of the newsletter. If the member spots it and calls the union office, he or she wins $10.
- Each issue, the newsletter publishes a list of names of new members, welcoming them to the union. This is a terrific way to hook readers from the moment they join the union. The list can be long for a big local such as 2202, but it’s a good investment. In the May-June issue from 2008, the list took up almost half of one page.
Now we called this a makeover, so let’s make a few suggestions.
First, for visual impact, let’s talk about layout and photos.
CWA Voice runs black & white photos on many of its pages, and some of them appear to be very good shots. We say “appear” because the printing process is not reproducing the photos well. If your newsletter’s black & white photos, like those in CWA Voice, look grainy in print, it may be because they are not being properly screened in the production process. We encourage the editors to talk to their printer about improving the photo quality in the finished publication.
An additional problem may be that the photos, if they are digital, are not being shot at high resolution. (Or, if they are hard copies, they may not be scanned at high-res.) A low-resolution photo may look perfect online, but in print it will be grainy unless it’s run very small (sometimes the size of postage stamp).
At the CWA News, our rule of thumb is that photos that are going to appear in a printed publication need to be 300 dpi (dots per inch) at 4x6 inches. You need to refer to your camera’s guide to set the resolution.
What about layout?
Though smaller than a tabloid, the 8 ½ x 11 size of CWA Voice is perfect for newsletters and relatively economical to produce. But it can make variety in layout and design tough.
The May/June 2008 issue of CWA Voice has three stories, each one of them starting a column at the top of the page. Two stories are hard news – an important Verizon settlement and the election of a local officer as a delegate to the CWA convention. One story is a feature on the annual Local 2202 picnic.
The Verizon story seems like the most important story and it could have been played with a banner head across the three columns. This would give the page a little more visual impact and give more prominence to a big story (the lead - - or lede, as it’s spelled in the newspaper business - - calls it an “enormous victory”). The two other stories could fit below, with perhaps the picnic feature in a box.
The “Inside This Issue” element, which is a great tool to have on the front page, could be smaller if space became an issue.
The one other element on the page is a stand-alone photograph of three members doing informational picketing against Verizon 100 days before the contract expired. Above the photo there are three lines that aren’t quite a headline. If you look at the CWA News and at many community newspapers, when you see stand-alone photos, you’ll often see a short, sometimes witty, headline above the picture, usually flush left. Then there’s an expanded caption.
Here’s one idea:
A headline that reads “100 Days to Go.” Then below the photo, a slight longer caption: “Verizon technicians take part in information picketing in front of the First Colonial Road shop on May 1, which marked 100 days until the current contract expires.”
One other suggestion: Because there are only three technicians in the picture, if you know who they are (or can find out), name them. Just like running the list of names of new members, running photos and names is another great way to help people get to know each other and make the involved members proud.
First, a couple of suggestions for headlines inside the paper. “The President’s Corner,” which cleverly wraps around the top of the president’s column, should be a little bigger and bolder. This will draw more attention to the column. Other inside headlines should also be bold-faced. Even though the headline type is bigger, of course, than the text type, bold face makes the stories pop.
Putting a topical headline on the president’s column is also a good idea. So in addition to “The President’s Corner,” a small headline in the May-June 2008 issue could say, “Solidarity as Verizon and VCSI Contracts Expire.”
One other minor detail and it involves the tricky business of what words get capitalized in headlines. Articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for), and prepositions are lowercase, unless they are the first word of any line of a headline. This was one headline in the May-June issue:
CWA Local 2202 Stands Ready
to Help Our Members
If that had been a one-line headline, it would have been perfect. But split into two lines, the “to” needed to be “To.”
Looking at the front page, for a banner head on the Verizon settlement story, we’d suggest something stronger than the headline on the story now, which is “Retail Members Made Whole in Verizon Settlement.”
How about: Verizon Settlement Huge Victory for Retail Members.
That’s just a suggestion. There are as many headline possibilities as there are editors out there to think them up.
Active-voice headlines, and sentences in general, are preferable to passive-voice writing.
What does that mean? Well, here’s an excellent example of active voice from another story on Page 1 of the CWA Voice: Local Elects 4th Delegate to 70th CWA Convention
The action – electing the delegate – is expressed as an active verb. If it were a passive sentence, it would have said, “4th Delegate Elected to 70th CWA Convention.”
It’s not as smooth that way, and it leaves at who took the action – the local.
So good headline, CWA Voice!
Unfortunately, the other headline on the page has a glaring typo in it. Do you see it?
565 CWA Familys & Friends Gather for Union Picnic
Yup, that should have been “Families” not “Familys.”
And that brings us to the nitty-gritty. CWA Voice is a very good paper but like many of the newsletters we see (not just CWA), it has a quite a few typos, along with some grammatical errors and some style issues.
Here are a couple that many of you may recognize from your own publications:
The misuse of “its” and “it’s.” Its, with no apostrophe, is the possessive verb:
The Executive Board made its decision on Tuesday.
It’s means “it is”: It’s going to be a beautiful day.
We follow the Associated Press style guide at the CWA News, but that doesn’t mean you have to, too. For instance, it’s not newspaper style to capitalize titles after names or the word “local,” when it’s not used formally, as in Local 2202. So, “The picnic was the largest in the local’s history,” is correct, and so is, “The picnic was the largest ever for Local 2202.” It’s fine to continue to capitalize “local” without the number, but sometimes the word is used so frequently that all those capital “L’s” jump off the page.
As for titles, it’s correct to write, “Local 5555 President Joe Hill helped bargain a new contract” and “Joe Hill, president of Local 5555, helped bargain a new contract” is also correct.
You might be surprised to know that even the title of U.S. president isn’t capitalized when it’s not in front of the name, like our soon to be President Barack Obama. On second reference without his name, it’s simply, “The president said….”
Those are style issues that are really your call. If you want to learn more about style and be consistent with it, we encourage you to order a copy of the Associated Press Style Guide, which you can find at online booksellers.
CWA Voices takes capitalization a bit further, though. “Business Office” and “Pension Plan” were among many words and phrases capitalized in mid-sentence. In those two cases, they were preceded the company’s name, but that doesn’t make it a formal title or building name worthy of being uppercase. (Example: Verizon Center, the Washington D.C. sports complex is always uppercase. But Verizon business office is lowercase.”
The general rule is that if it’s not a proper name (of a person, building, event or other) and it’s not a title that goes in front of name, very few words need to be capitalized. Too many capitals are distracting.
As for the typos and grammar errors, there’s only one solution: Proofreading, and lots of it. Read it and re-read it and read it again. More importantly, don’t let yourself be the only proofreader. A second and third person will virtually always find little things you’ve missed. Trust us, we know. (And yes, we know from experience that it’s virtually unheard of to print a newspaper or newsletter free of all errors, no matter how diligent your proofreading is. But the vast majority can be easily eliminated.)
Find a wordsmith in your local to volunteer to read the newsletter before it goes to press. Or perhaps you know a retired English teacher or journalist who’d be willing to help. Little mistakes can blemish an otherwise excellent publication, so work hard to eliminate them.
Lastly, a word about writing itself. Stories that are tightly written are easy on the reader and can give you more space for other stories. (We know that sometimes the problem is that you have too much space and too little to fill it, but we hope when that happens you’ll use materials on the CWA Source website to fill in those holes.)
Click here to find a story from CWA Voice that we’ve edited, with explanations for changes in each paragraph. Give it a read and see if it gives you some ideas.
Again, applause all around to Local 2202 for being the first local to undergo what we hope was, in fact, a not-quite-extreme makeover. Overall, they are doing a great job. A little polish here and there and they’ll have a truly outstanding publication.