Before you start writing or turn on your computer, you will want to plan your publication. Here are some notes on how to do that. Attached is a shorter version of these notes as a single-A4 PDF.
PLANNING YOUR PUBLICATION
There are several important questions to work through before you even start putting together your publication. Take time to think about these and discuss them with other union activists; or with fellow Workers’ Liberty members; or with like-minded people who will work on the publication with you. Time spent planning it well will make for a more effective publication; and will save time in the production of each issue.
Regular Newsletter or One-Off Publication?
90% of the time, a regular newsletter will be more effective than a one-off publication. With a regular newsletter, you will build up familiarity, interest and trust from workers – with a one-off publication, you will have to earn that from scratch.
Many socialist groups will produce a leaflet to give out on picket lines outlining their views on how a strike should progress. But strikers will take much more notice of the strategies outlined in a socialist bulletin that they are used to seeing at work – not just because of ‘brand recognition’, but because they will respect the views of people who take an interest in their issues all the time rather than parachuting in when things heat up. Marxists must be consistent participants in working-class struggle, not parasites on it.
Similarly, the union should produce regular printed publications for members (and prospective members). This applies both to head offices and to the branch and workplace reps. Workers easily become cynical if the union ignores them all year, then plies them with leaflets when there is an election or referendum coming up. You probably have little influence on your union’s national publications, but as a workplace rep or branch officer, you can improve union communication at a rank-and-file level.
A regular publication with a regular style will make it easy for workers to find the information they want; and will increase its chances of being read rather than binned. It will also make it possible for workers to become involved with the publication itself.
There are some occasions when a one-off publication is needed – perhaps advertising an event; or election campaign material; or a ‘welcome to the union’ pamphlet for new members. Even these will be more effective if they have some elements of a familiar style.
What is the Purpose of Your Publication?
For a union publication ... Encouraging union members to get more actively involved? Making yourself accountable as the union rep by reporting back? Encouraging non-union members to join? Telling workers their rights so they are better able to stand up for themselves? Giving union members something in return for their subs? Explaining union policies to members? Providing a platform for workers to express their grievances, views and demands? Several of these things? All of them? Other purposes too?
For a socialist newsletter ... Offering ideas and strategies for workers’ struggles? Drawing out lessons from both victories and defeats? Criticising the union leaders and their failings? Exposing the bosses and the bureaucrats? Telling workers things that no-one else will? Encouraging confidence, class-consciousness and self-activity? Promoting socialist candidates in union and public elections? Offering a socialist commentary on current political issues? Promoting socialist events and publications? Offering a Marxist explanation of workplace issues? Several of these things? All of them? Other purposes too?
There are some purposes that both union newsletters and socialist newsletters will share, others that will differ. In both cases, the newsletter can have an organising function as well as an information function.
Form follows function. Thinking through the purpose(s) of your publication in some detail will help you decide what format will work best.
Who Is It For?
Workers in a particular industry or company which has lots of workplaces around the country? Workers in one particular workplace or department? Members of one particular union? Union reps? Strikers? Delegates to a union conference? Women, black, LGBT workers? Migrant workers? Activists? Workers who are already interested in politics?
Knowing who your target readership is will help you to work out the best format and presentation for your publication. How much can you assume they already know about the union, or about politics, or about their rights? Is English their first language? What jargon are they familiar with, and what jargon are they not? What issues are relevant and important to them?
How And Where Will Workers Read Your Publication?
How can you distribute it most effectively? In the staff room? At the workplace gates? Handing it out at shift changeover time? In individual workers’ pigeonholes? Mailing it out to subscribers? Posting it on workplace noticeboards? By email? Could it get you in trouble – so do you need socialists from outside the workplace to help?
Do you expect workers to read it during their meal break, or take it home? Keep it for future reference or throw it away?
These questions are not just a matter of maximising readership, but may also affect your decisions about format. If you as a union branch secretary produce an invite to branch meetings with a list of dates for the year, you might produce it as a card that members can insert in their union diary. If your publication will go up on noticeboards, then it needs to attract attention from some distance, often in competition with other items on the noticeboard. If you hand out a newsletter or leaflet to people while they work, you will want it to grab their interest within seconds, so they hold onto it to read when they have more time later. If you are going to hand out a leaflet advertising a meeting or film show, then an A5 leaflet or a postcard may be a format that people will take more readily.
Plan a strictly regular publication schedule. If you tell readers that your newsletter is monthly, then it doesn’t appear for three months, you lose credibility and momentum. Be prepared to produce the bulletin more frequently, or to produce special issues, during times of heightened activity eg. strikes.
Improve your regularity by limiting size! A single-page, two-sided newsletter that appears every month is usually preferable to eight-page newsletter that appears quarterly.
Make sure you appreciate the time it will take to produce a decent newsletter. It’s time well spent, so make sure you make the time. It’s not an add-on to your duties as a union rep or to your political activity as a Marxist; it is a central part of that activity. Whatever contribution each individual is expected to make, ensure that they have the time to make it. A newsletter must be sustainable. Be realistic about the amount of content you can consistently produce.
How Will You Put It Together?
Who will write for it? Where will you get stories and information? Do you need to provide training or guidelines for contributors?
What is the deadline for each issue? Who will lay it out? How and where will you get it printed?
Do you need funding? Can you get it from your union branch? Or print it for free at the union’s regional office? Or is it an independent newsletter that you will need to fund through donations, collections and subscriptions?
What To Call It?
Choose an effective name.
Don’t call it ‘Newsletter’, or ‘Update’. Avoid using words like that in the title at all.
Think up a name that grabs attention. The name should preferably be one or two words - not only is this snappier, it also allows you to use a bigger typeface. Electricians on London Underground’s Jubilee Line Extension produced a rank-and-file newsletter called ‘Flying Sparks’. That’s a much better title than ‘Rank-and-File Electricians’ Newsletter’. You could even try a title that mocks the title of your employer’s newsletter or naff company slogan – perhaps you work for a communications company with an in-house magazine called ‘On Message’; you might call your workplace union newsletter ‘Off Message’!
Avoid focusing the name of the newsletter on the name of the organisation producing it. You can use the organisation’s logo, or use its name in a subtitle: the actual name should focus on the readership not the publisher. Bad title: Workers’ Liberty News For Acme Call Centre Workers. Better: [title] Your Call – [subtitle] a socialist newsletter for Acme call centre workers, [alongside] WL logo.
Use a subtitle to explain what the publication is and who it is for. For example, ‘Off The Rails’ is subtitled ‘a platform for rank-and-file railworkers’. The union newsletter ‘RMT Platform’ is subtitled ‘news for station and revenue staff’.
The name, subtitle and logo will form part of a ‘nameplate’ that should also include the publication date.
What To Include Every Time?
Decide what particular pieces of information or features to include in every issue. This should/could include:
- Contact details: phone, postal, and e-mail/website details.
- If you want workers to subscribe to your publication, details of how to do so.
- In a union newsletter, how to join.
- In a socialist bulletin, a ‘who we are’ box.
- For a multi-page newsletter, a ‘contents’ box.
- A humorous column.
- A ‘know your rights’ guide.
- Details of the next meeting.
How Will You Get Feedback?
You will want to continually review how effective your publication is. So look for reader feedback.
Watch to see how people scan your publication. Ask a few people what they think – not just how impressed they are, but how they responded to the content! Has anyone come and told you that they agree or disagree with what you wrote (in either case, you could ask them to write a letter to the next issue). Check whether and how workers act on your publication – has anyone put it on their noticeboard? Taken out a subscription? Voted or even canvassed for the candidate you recommended? Refused to work on the grounds of safety after your newsletter explained to them how and why to do it?
You need to decide on a system for reviewing this feedback. For instance, if you have a regular meeting to put together your publication, you may want to include ‘feedback from last issue’ on the agenda.
Once you have answered all these questions, you are ready to sketch out your design and to plan the content of your leaflet or newsletter!
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