Successful newsletter articles, whether published as hard copy from a photocopier or printing press or as electronic documents on the Web, share several characteristics. The best articles have great content, effective organization, standard written Canadian English, and an appearance that invites reading.
Creating the Content of News Articles
To write effective news articles, remember that readers expect news. They want to learn something new, something they don't know already. This is a challenging task, especially when you are publishing not daily—probably not even weekly—but bi-weekly or monthly.
You'll more easily create news article content if you put yourself in the place of your readers: What is the organization doing that would most interest its members? The answers you make to this question will be the content for the hard news or feature articles you write.
Downtown Windsor flooded, old firehall burns down, Prime Minister's husband runs off with rock star—these are hard news stories. If your political candidate has just won a debate during a leadership campaign—as in the example presented in this section—that's hard news. It's "an event or issue undergoing urgent development right now" (Beals 34). Hard news always makes great content. If you can be the first to announce an event important to the members of your group, they'll be eager to read your report.
Newsletters can also present feature writing that captivates its members. For example, members are usually interested in biographical sketches of people in the organization. A photo and brief history of the new fundraiser always captures interest. Members will read a brief account of a trip to Thailand, even if the traveller got back a month ago. Is someone undertaking an interesting project? Tell about it in the newsletter.
Journalists follow a formula to write articles. They write to answer the questions Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Take notes as you gather information to answer these questions. Who? Leadership candidate Peter Kormos. What? He got the warmest and loudest applause in the debate. Where? In Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario. When? Moments ago on June 21. Why? His message—that the party must embrace labour and assure them that they need never fear again that the party would overrule collective agreements—resonated with convention delegates. How? He gave delegates the feeling that their political actions made them an important, progressive force in creating a caring society.
Good news articles give readers news right from the source. When you are gathering your information, carefully record the exact words of the news-makers. Readers want to read precisely what was said. Be careful to note the exact titles of publications, legislation, organizations. Get the details that make the story interesting. Your readers want this specific information. Don't write, "MP Kim Knowles wants to change laws affecting young people" when you mean "Knowles wants to abolish the Young Offenders Act." Detail enlivens news writing just as it does essay writing.
Creating the Organization of News Articles
Keep in mind that most potential readers of your newsletter are inundated with printed documents; they cannot possibly read all the newspapers, magazines, advertising circulars, and pamphlets aimed at them. This fact explains a common behaviour of most newsletter readers: Readers will often quit before the end of an article. They've read as much as time and interest permit. That's why you must write news articles with the most important content right at the beginning. If you don't, you risk losing your readers, as one poor editor did.
The editor had been writing about a member earning a doctoral degree and couldn't remember the discipline. He wrote "a Ph.D. in basket weaving" as a temporary placeholder until he could determine the specific field the degree had been earned in. To his horror, he discovered the newsletter had been printed with the words "basket weaving." His horror turned to dismay as time went by and not one reader drew the error to his attention. Had he lost his entire audience?
To keep readers reading, and to ensure that even readers who quit before the end of the article learn the essential information, journalists organize news articles and feature writing to present the most important information right at the beginning of the story. Sometimes they tell the whole story in a sentence or two. Later sentences flesh out the story with additional details, always the most important near the beginning; sentences near the end of the article present details of less and less significance. Editors can cut the story at any point, confident that the most important information occurs early in the article.
Hard news stories are almost always organized from most to less important information. Feature articles can't entice readers with fast-breaking developments, and so feature writers try a different approach. They try to hook readers with leads that pique curiosity. "Star Trek's Spock Was Inspiration," says a hook for a story about why a new staff member studied philosophy, particularly logic.
Newsletter articles are usually organized into brief paragraphs. The need to be brief demands each paragraph to do little more than convey its point of information. Then, another part of the story is presented in the next paragraph. There's no time for transition sentences or concluding sentences that restate or summarize points. In newsletters, when you see longer paragraphs, they will usually be in feature writing, and these parts of the article will often be analysis and reflection rather than simple reporting.
Creating News Articles With Effective Appearance
When you write for a newsletter, ask the editor how to format your article. Most of the time, editors of small circulation newsletters will ask you to submit your article on a floppy (computer) disk or to e-mail it. Modern word processing programs have excellent document conversion capabilities, so the newsletter editors probably won't care which program you use to create your article, but it's still a good idea to ask if you should use a particular program. When you submit a printed copy of your article, the newsletter staff may scan your document into a word processing program and edit it, but this will certainly take longer than converting a file from one word processing program format to another.
Although the details of how to produce a newsletter are beyond the scope of this introductory text, it has never been easier to do because of the power of modern word processing programs. Most provide templates or outlines of newsletters, including text boxes and banners (headlines), and these make it easy to type or transfer text into. If you scan photos or graphics into graphics files, the programs allow you to arrange text and art into a newsletter format. Linda Rogers used Microsoft Word to write this sample newsletter by over-writing an existing newsletter, printing, copying, and distributing it at the end of the two-hour debate between leadership candidates. Debate attendees were astonished by the appearance of a newsletter about the debate they had finished listening to only moments earlier.
Activity 1: Analyzing a Hard News Article
As a way to learn more about newsletter writing, read the following newsletter (figure 1) and answer these questions.
Answers to Activity 1: Analyzing a Hard News Article
The use of large-font subheadings also suggests to the readers that they can quickly read this assessment of the debate. The writer is hoping to move some readers to support Kormos, but knows that this is neither the time nor place for a lengthy appeal.
Activity 2: Writing a Hard News Article
Read through the following notes made by a reporter at a news conference called to announce the funding of a new community college campus. Then write a hard news article about the event.
Answer to Activity 2: Writing a Hard News Article
College Builds New Campus
The provincial government will provide Riverside College with $27 million to build a new campus.
field of dreams is becoming a reality," said College President Dan Matterson.
Building will begin in October, 2002. The first students should begin to study there in September 2004. The campus will provide training in environmental, horticultural, agri-business, and other high-tech skills programs for 1400 full-time and thousands of continuing education students.
College administrators had waited more than a year to learn if the new Progressive Conservative government would honour the previous NDP government's commitment to build the campus. It will replace an aging campus, housed in a converted factory building, and several leased facilities around Riverside.
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