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Why we switched to a web-only newsletter
Published
2002, Q1 (July 05, 2007)
by G. David Heath, Managing Editor, Carolina Communiqué

Newsletter
As all of our chapter members know, we used to distribute the Carolina Communiqué by mailing a printed version and posting a PDF version on the chapter Web site. Eventually, we found that budget and scheduling issues were making the printed version impractical, so we sat down in July 2001 to reconsider the newsletter. What should its focus be? There was a lot of overlap between the information in the newsletter and that on the chapter Web site. Could we develop a more eye-catching design? To keep down printing costs, we maintained a plain, black-and-white look. If we distributed it entirely online, should the newsletter be in PDF or HTML format? There were a lot of issues to consider before making such a big move.

Where we were

We had been mailing the printed newsletter because we assumed that not all members of the chapter had access to the Internet. We also felt that a printed newsletter that arrived in members’ mailboxes was a tangible benefit of chapter membership, unlike a Web-based newsletter that would be available to members and nonmembers alike. We provided current and past PDF versions on the Web site both as an archive and as a way to promote the benefits of STC membership to nonmembers.


Michael Harvey, President of the Carolina chapter, supported the idea of an exclusively online newsletter because it would let us “reduce costs and be more creative at the same time. Going [entirely] online would let us publish longer, more thoughtful articles and use color more generously without worrying about rising printing costs.”
The newsletter contained a mix of informative articles and news of upcoming meetings and events — information that was also posted on the chapter Web site. Because this information was time-sensitive, it was essential to get the newsletter into members’ mailboxes on time, but the busy volunteer staff was having a hard time meeting the rigid schedule. In addition, the bimonthly schedule, introduced in 2000 to hold down printing and mailing costs, made it difficult to include information on meetings and events late in the two-month period. And there was some duplicated effort and cost, because we also mailed a monthly postcard to all members announcing upcoming meetings and events.

Our most important concern, however, was that printing and mailing costs were a significant item in a tight budget, despite the simple design and the bimonthly schedule. Reducing or eliminating those costs would make a considerable amount of money available for other, much-needed member services. Michael Harvey, President of the Carolina chapter, supported the idea of an exclusively online newsletter because it would let us “reduce costs and be more creative at the same time. Going [entirely] online would let us publish longer, more thoughtful articles and use color more generously without worrying about rising printing costs.” And the Web version would be especially useful because we could link from the newsletter directly to references.

Some research showed that several other professional societies were switching from printed newsletters to Web-based ones, mainly for costcontainment reasons. So we knew that others had been successful. We decided that if we discontinued the printed newsletter, but included more information in the monthly postcard, we could provide the required news of upcoming events to members who had no access to the Internet (a situation that seemed improbable in 2001).

We held an open meeting in August 2001 to debate the pros and cons of Web-only delivery, and ultimately voted to eliminate the printed newsletter and fully explore the opportunities offered by Web delivery, beginning with the November-December 2001 issue.

Focus and design

Now that the chapter had decided to go ahead with the Web-only newsletter, the newsletter staff took the opportunity to rethink the focus and design of the publication. Because information on upcoming meetings and events was already on the Web site, we chose not to duplicate this information. This decision made us think carefully about the purpose of the newsletter. What material would be most useful to our members?

We decided the newsletter should focus on thought-provoking articles of interest to Carolina chapter technical communication professionals. We wanted these articles to be the kind that members would want to take time reading, thinking about, and possibly responding to.

The switch to Web delivery meant that we no longer had to restrict the newsletter to black and white, and we were no longer limited to four pages (a folio) or a multiple of four pages. An end to the cost constraints imposed by printing also allowed more creative formatting and the use of color.

Ann Roberson, the Carolina Communiqué graphic designer, expressed her objectives this way: “Through the newsletter redesign, I was trying to create a professional yet innovative look and feel. The field of technical communication is advancing rapidly, and we would like to portray our technical society in the same forward-thinking manner. Having the newsletter distributed online gives us the opportunity to take advantage of bright, bold color and photography. We want to engage the readers visually, enticing them into the substantial and informative material. The design will continue to evolve in upcoming issues. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work with [an STC chapter] newsletter.”

Delivery

We examined the advantages and disadvantages of various file formats, in particular PDF, which we had always used, and HTML. We rejected HTML because we thought more HTML pages would get lost on the Web site. We considered it essential for the newsletter to remain a discrete, downloadable, and printable publication, distinctly separate from the Web site.

Removing the news of upcoming meetings and events enabled us to change from a bimonthly schedule to a quarterly one, which we felt was more appropriate to the new, more thought-inspiring focus of the newsletter. It takes time to develop the sort of articles we wanted for our newsletter.

In the end, it all comes down to priorities. As chapter leaders, we must provide the maximum benefit to members within the limits of our budget and our volunteers’ time. End of article.


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