407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director

10 Tips for Better Municipal Newsletters


              Robin Patrick

Finding 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 production.

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 weekly.

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 typically include:

  • Progress on downtown development.
  • New road projects.
  • Public health and safety initiatives.
  • Recreation programs and recycling schedules.
  • Important new ordinances.
  • Town celebrations.
Stick to your mission and readers will respect your publication for its specific content.
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 town cheerleading.

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 Headlines
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 titles.

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 Recent Past
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 follow.

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 below.

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 Grab
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 scene.

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.



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< NJLM - Skills Update - 10 Tips for Avoiding Common Mistakes in Municipal Newsletter Production

407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director

10 Tips for Better Municipal Newsletters


              Robin Patrick

Finding 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 production.

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 weekly.

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 typically include:

  • Progress on downtown development.
  • New road projects.
  • Public health and safety initiatives.
  • Recreation programs and recycling schedules.
  • Important new ordinances.
  • Town celebrations.
Stick to your mission and readers will respect your publication for its specific content.
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 town cheerleading.

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 Headlines
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 titles.

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 Recent Past
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 follow.

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 below.

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 Grab
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 scene.

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.



Click Here to return to the League's Home Page