Setting up a local newsletter#
We've talked about alternative media - now the action - setting up a local newsletter/dodgy rant mag in your area. Firstly, have you got what it takes - a few sorted bods who can: dig some dirt/ write coherently/lay it out/print it/distribute it/make the tea/keep a focus on the bigger picture. It needn't take long, or take over your life, the actual compiling can be done in a few hours, the distribution likewise. However, you need to keep an eye and ear on whats happening around you. Networking with the local activists and campaigns is essential if everyone is going to put their bit into the newsletter.
Get sorted with an address and bank account - use your local action centre as an address point, or get a PO box (cost around £50 p.a.). A building society or Girobank 'clubs and societies account' is the easiest to obtain. The Name - get caned and have a namestorming session - try to keep a local link - Oxyacetylene (Oxford); South London Stress (Brixton); Loombreaker (Manchester) and so on. Its also a good idea to keep the name fairly neutral politically - after all, you're trying to reach and enlighten the masses, not put them off reading the 'Fulminster Car Burner' or the 'Townsville Tory Trasher'.
Okay, so you've got a name and a team, now what do you fill your pages with? You will reach and enlighten a far wider audience by keeping the articles slightly fluffy (not too much yogurt, though) and including positive alternatives and sustainable solutions - don't worry if some of the self-appointed guardians of the direct action movement’s ideological purity accuse you of selling out now and then, whats important is the local news for your area and your local readership - after all, that's what it's there for.
Start with the obvious
Contact all your local groups and campaigns and get their news, events etc, trawl the local papers for all those irrelevant looking fillers that need some research. Attend council meetings and get angry/happy at what they're doing (or read the minutes at the library or council offices). Get friendly with sorted local councillors if there are any. Look up the local MP's news and have a go at that as well. Look at national stories that can have a local slant - where's your nearest GM trial site? Which town is next for CCTV? Who's sticking up for asylum seekers? Global capitalism maybe destroying the rainforests, but make it relevant by talking about what's happening with the local playing fields or conservation areas that are being concreted over by McShellBury's and then people will begin to understand the relevance of these issues to their lives. They will see that you are the voice of common sense and that politicians and corporations are the outsiders, reversing the way your views are portrayed by the establishment. Use 'we' and 'our' a lot when writing. If you still have room, stick in anything national or international that's: relevant to your area, interesting, newsworthy and ignored by the mainstream media.
Do a diary
You can plug loads of events in a small space and your loyal readership will grab the latest issue for the listings and hopefully get enlightened at the same time. Get groups to send you their dates and keep your ear to the ground for planned protests, meetings etc. Include national stuff if it's big enough, e.g. May Day, and definitely include fun stuff - gigs by sound local bands, community fairs, and anything positive.
Check your facts
Post-McLibel you're unlikely to get sued, but you can look pretty silly and/or malicious if you get stuff wrong. Also, going back to sources may reveal more dirt than you expected. If you can't check the facts, the best way around libel is the use of humour and loads of satire and sarcasm (you all read Private Eye don't you…).
Get photos and cartoons (preferably relevant to the articles)
This improves the visual effect enormously and should help you shift copies. Use a scanner and photo-editing software to sort your images - digitised images print/copy far better than analogue, and you can change the size to fit in with the text.
Get other people to write stuff they know about
Ask local housing/peace campaigners for regular short articles on what they're doing and what the local issues are. Don't worry if they can't write for toffee, you can re-do it, but keep their facts in and plug their events. Take every chance to get reader feedback - its often hard to know what works, so ask people what there is about your mag that makes their spirits rise/blood boil/stomach turn/brain switch off.
Yes, the boring details - how big, how often, how many and so on. A weekly issue can be too much work - unless you've got loads of news and loads of bods - monthly is okay but some stories can lose their impact totally if for example you're writing about an action that happened 3 weeks ago. Fortnightly can give a balance between the two in terms of workload and immediacy of articles, leaving enough time to relax between issues, without forgetting about its existence. By far the easiest format is a single A4 sheet in terms of production -it can be copied anywhere (mates with office jobs or the local resource centre) and holds a lot of info. A3 is a bit less common but gives you scope for longer, illustrated articles in the centre spread (you could do A4 with A3 special issues every so often). Try to find a local small printer/resource centre, student union or college print shop - they are a lot cheaper that high street copy shops - NEVER use companies with glossy high street premises such as ProntaPrint/Kall Kwik etc - they usually charge at least twice, sometimes 5 times as much as your small printers. Put an appeal in the next issue - you may have a sympathetic printer reading it!
Get a sorted bod with a half decent PC or Mac to design it if you can. Use a proper Desktop Publishing package if there's one available - it may sound poncy, but it's much easier to get all the text and pictures to fit together and you will attract a lot more straight readers with a sorted looking publication. However, many people still rely on 'cut and paste', and produce a good looking newsletter with a minimum of skills. Do try to use recycled paper (post consumer waste is best) - it's a lot more sustainable than dead trees.
Yes, sadly you're going to need cash at some point - for printing, stamps etc at the very least. Initially this may come out of your pockets, but issuing subscriptions (eg £10 per year and £25 for organisations ) is a good way of keeping it sustainable - hassle your local FOE/student union etc for subs. Stalls at local events and in the High Street are a good way of raising cash and your profile at the same time - have leaflets from other local groups, postcards, stuff to sell and, most importantly, a donation tin!
This can be the hardest part of the whole thing. It's the least sexy job and you will need to do a bit of legwork to start with, but it's surprising the positive reaction you will get to a lively local newsletter. Try local pubs/small shops/community centres/colleges. Get someone to organise the distribution and divide the list up between a few people who can spare an hour to deliver it. The distribution of alternative media is always the hardest bit. All those glossy mags in the newsagents have a massive distribution network - the WH Smith monopoly - to send their message of endless consumption far and wide. The most direct way to distribute is to stand in the street sticking them in people's hands. You may end up with Joe Redneck chucking it on the floor, but don't let him put you off - look people straight in the eye and smile. It always seems that women are far more receptive of alternative literature than men and will at least give your subversive publication a second glance.
You may find it a grind. You may all fall out. Some of you will leave and new ones will arrive. You may find yourself in a 4 hour debate over the angle a really hot article should take. But believe us it's worth it. You may not get much feedback. from anyone but remember that you are slowly radicalising the whole of your local community - it must be worth it. Written by Oxyacetylene. Thanks to The Pork-Bolter and Schnews for input to this article.