10 Tips for Better Municipal Newsletters
content is rarely a problem for township editors working to fill
the usual four-page newsletter. But some publications attract
greater readership due to thoughtful writing and design. Here
are 10 tips for avoiding common mistakes in municipal newsletter
1. Competing with
the Local Weekly
If Mary Smith of Waverly Street calls to report her quilting award,
you should congratulate her and kindly direct her to the local
Remember your page count and your publishing mission. Your newsletter
is a pint-sized conduit of information between the local governing
body, its residents and the business community. Pertinent subjects
Stick to your mission
and readers will respect your publication for its specific content.
- Progress on downtown
- New road projects.
- Public health and
- Recreation programs
and recycling schedules.
- Important new ordinances.
- Town celebrations.
If you decide to do Mary Smith a favor, make sure you don't establish
a new editorial precedent.
2. Sporadic Production
There's no way around it: Publishing frequency is determined by
budget. Once you've decided to print monthly, bimonthly or quarterly,
don't deviate from your established deadlines. A haphazard publishing
schedule blows your credibility with readers.
3. Putting the Mayor
on Page One
If you MUST print a mayor's message, have a good reason. A space-eating
review of inside contents is not a good reason. Nor is gratuitous
If the mayor has hot news, don't bury it in a mayor's message.
Instead, gather the news, write a story and put a compelling headline
on it. Then use the mayor's message as a sidebar for him or her
to express a related perspective. Residents might want to know
what the town's chosen leader has to say on the subject.
No rule says a mayor's message must appear in every issue and
certainly not on page one.
4. Writing Anemic
The following were real "headlines" in municipal newsletters:
- "75 Years
of Service" - This "label" (not a headline) accompanied
the lead story for a special issue devoted to the town fire
department. A more effective rewrite might have been: "Volunteer
Firefighters Clock One Million Hours in 75 Years." The
story was the people and their devotion, not the department,
so the headline should have reflected that focus.
- "Payment Drop
Box" - What does that mean? Readers would have understood
instantly if the headline had been "Use New Drop Box to
Pay Municipal Bills." Verbs keep headlines from being mere
5. Burying the Lead
Imagine you've just interviewed a news source. A friend drops in
and you're eager to tell the story. Your verbal version starts with
the meat of the matter because you know intuitively what will grab
your friend's attention.
Do the same when you type the story into your computer. Jump in
with guns blazing. Don't avoid the lead because it seems writerly
to build up to it.
If spilled lemonade drew a swarm of bees and created havoc at the
public works depot, don't warm up to the lead by writing, "As
of July 10, residents dropping off goods at the depot must be more
careful because bees..."
6. Fear of Cutting
In a four-page municipal newsletter, a 500-word story is LONG.
Most items are 50 to 250 words.
Don't be afraid to pare down articles submitted by your sources.
Extract one or two significant quotes and paraphrase the rest
to save space.
For regular features such as police or school news, establish
a maximum length and stick to it. The writing will be more concise
if you're forced to cut.
If the newsletter writer is also the designer, it's easier for
him or her to make needed cuts in content during the design phase.
7. Reviewing the
Don't forfeit precious space to coverage of past social or cultural
events. You announced the event in the last issue. Let the local
weekly do the expansive follow-up and save your space for future
events. Your publication will be more lively if it moves forward
at all times.
(Occasional tidbits of town history are another matter).
8. Stagnant Starts
Four out of five stories on one page of a recent township newsletter
began with dates. "On April 22." "In July..."
Start with the most interesting fact in the story. The date can
Here are other stagnant starts from the same newsletter: "In
conjunction with..." "Consistent with..." "After
a series of meetings..."
Don't bore your readers from the get-go.
9. Cluttered Designs
A well-designed newsletter guides the reader; its story placement
suggests which articles are most important and which are secondary.
If that distinction is hidden by a cluttered design (too much
color, too many type styles, competing headlines) important stories
could be missed.
Your nameplate, at the top of page one, should be distinctive
and clean, but not so dynamic that it overshadows the content
Choose a column configuration that serves your style. For example,
one column would be appropriate for a simple two-page bulletin
containing two- or three-line newsbites and no art, sort of like
a newswire report. A four-column grid offers the flexibility of
doubling or even tripling column width to accommodate, say, a
calendar of events.
Many town newsletters use two colors - black and one other. (The
more ink colors, the more expensive the printing.) Don't overuse
that second color. Black type is easiest to read and a riot of
color shadings can create clutter.
10. Art with No
Use photos that assist in telling the story. If they don't pull
in the reader, they're merely distracting. Take, for example,
the bee crisis in #5. A photo of the public works depot after
the swarm won't be particularly useful. But a photo of an animated
depot user retelling his experience might humorously recall the
If photos are not available, opt for conceptual clip art. A ton
of it is available inexpensively online or in large indexed packages
at computer supply stores.
Every town is unique and so is its news. Making your news lively,
concise and attractive will earn you greater readership and guaranteed
sources of future information.