This week’s post is about something that the Chapters and Affiliate Handbook says is the chapter’s “single largest expense.” While that may have been true before the paperless revolution, in 2016, the hard copy chapter newsletter has gone the way of the printed chapter directory, or at least it should have by now. The handbook goes on to say that the newsletter may be short or long. When it comes to the newsletter in the 21st century, brevity is key. I get newsletters all the time from my two almae matres, and—between the two of them—I read maybe one article or story a year and check the alumni updates to see if any classmates have died, gotten married or had a kid. Most ATA Chapter Boards are volunteer organizations. A volunteer, board member or not, should not be spending hours upon hours laying out a monthly or quarterly newsletter. If it’s longer than three or four pages, no one is reading the whole thing. The newsletter is not worth that much of the volunteer’s time and the format should be optimized to take advantage of technology.At ATA56 in Miami, two things happened in regards to newsletters. Firstly, I was shown the immaculate 15-paged glossy newsletter from another chapter. I was wowed by it, still my first reaction upon browsing through was, “How much does this cost them‽” I learned that it was about 20% of their annual operating costs. This then begs the question, how many people are reading it? And whether or not people are reading the newsletter is important. If no one is reading it, then all the effort expended in getting sponsors (yes, there are advertisements in the newsletter from margin ads to full-page ads), the money sponsors paid for the ads, the time spent gathering and laying out the content, printing costs, etc. are all for nothing. All of that becomes wasted time if no one is reading the whole thing. And I guarantee you that no one is reading all 15+ pages of the thing if they’re reading it at all. Secondly, in the Chapters and Divisions leaders meeting, I got into a heated exchange with a division leader who was adamant about the importance of her division newsletter that was tens of pages long, which she spent hours upon hours putting together. My questions regarding who was actually reading it were dismissed over claims that it was distributed to hundreds of people. But my question remains the same, it could be distributed to every person in the entire world but why spend all that time on it if less than 1% of recipients read the whole thing? This all boils down to perception and efficiency.
If we understand how readers approach the newsletter, then we can plan out how to efficiently lay it out without wasting our readers and our own time. In our busy lives, the length of the document itself plays a role in how we approach reading a publication. A hard-copy publication that is 15+ pages, or 30 like the ATA Chronicle, is received and many translators take it and file it away next to the toilet with the intent of reading it during extended sits. When it comes to electronic copies, you have about two seconds to get your audience’s attention. The first thing readers do is check the page count to see how long it is. If there are more pages than readers can count on one hand, they’ll go directly to the table of contents to see if there are any articles that pique their interest. If the publication is five pages or fewer, they’ll skim the titles looking for the same information. So if all our readers are looking for are interesting titles why waste our own time presenting them with the full articles? Why spend volunteer hours planning out the article layout in conjunction with advertisements and updates when our readers are only looking for articles that interest them and not necessarily wanting to scroll through pages and pages of content that means nothing to them?
On the headlines page, there are titles for each of the five featured articles, and a short excerpt to whet readers’ appetites for the topic. If the reader wants more, they can click on the title and read the full article. It has every aspect of what I’ve described as aesthetically pleasing: a simple color scheme and one simple font without serifs. Additionally, it allows readers to check out the author and see what other work they’ve done.
Now, let’s look at the MATI newsletter.
Now, considering the history of MATI newsletters, they started out as publications with more than ten pages of full articles and were very text heavy. In comparison, today the newsletters are no more than five pages and have no full articles.
Their best feature is that they are interactive PDFs with hyperlinks to other content, and the full articles on the blog. The MATI Newsletter does a great job at getting just the right amount of information to the reader while keeping the presentation short and sweet. The Communications Committee (Meghan McCallum and Alaina Brantner) do a great job of understanding how readers approach a newsletter and how to efficiently manage their time putting it together.
So if you manage your Chapter or Division’s newsletter, maybe you should reevaluate how much time you spend putting your newsletter together and how much of it your intended audience is actually reading.
Now that we’ve addressed layout and volunteer hours, let’s talk about your approach to content. The newsletter should be another outlet to feature content you have published on your blog and on social media, in addition to notices about Chapter/Division events, important reminders, and past event recaps (in essence, the latter [events, reminders, and recaps] should be the only new content in the newsletter). The article teaser can be as short as the teaser paragraph for the blog, and as long as a paragraph or two.
Switching to a shorter, electronic format and using interactive PDF elements will increase the time someone spends reading a newsletter relative to the size and will also increase traffic to your website, as readers are redirected there for any articles they want to read in full. Think of it like Netflix. Some people often say they don’t have the patience to watch a movie, but those same people will sit and binge watch a television show for longer than the length of a regular movie because the stories or story segments change frequently and it seems like a more efficient use of time devoted to entertainment.
In next week’s ninth and final installment in this series, we’ll end it with a discussion on the conference: different approaches to the chapter conference and various things to keep in mind.