Isis (isiscolo) wrote in news_editors,

some thoughts on fandom newsletters

This is a compilation of things I have learned through my involvement with two HP fandom newsletters, quickquote, which was the first formal LJ fandom newsletter, as far as I know, and daily_snitch, which is the most widely-read with nearly 2000 readers as of now. I hope this is useful to those of you contemplating beginning a newsletter (or in the middle of coaxing one into popularity).

It's not who knows you, it's who you know. You don't have to be a BNF to do a newsletter - you just need to know who they are, so you can track down interesting and relevant links. Being well-known in the fandom helps you and thus your newsletter to be taken seriously, of course, and the word gets spread more quickly if more people know who you are and what you're doing. But to some extent, quality tells - if you're creating something people want to read, they will tell their friends. And it does not work the other way, either: creating a newsletter won't make you a BNF or increase your personal friends-of list (unless your newsletter is within your personal lj!) If you're doing it for the personal attention, you're in it for the wrong reason.

A corollary to this is that newsletters should be public, not personal. In other words, you can't ignore the ljs of people you dislike, because if you don't report their contributions you are doing your readers a disservice. There are a number of people I won't friend and don't care for, but I do check their journals for interesting posts and pointers, because they're part of the fandom, and reporting on the fandom is my job.

Another corollary is that you should be prepared to defend or apologize for your public statements in public. If someone takes issue by commenting on a post, you should solve the problem publicly. For example, recently morgan_d objected to my description of her linked rant. I explained in a comment why I had chosen those words, and then edited the post to reflect her preferred description. This may sound obvious, but when I was at quickquote the policy was to screen all comments, and the other editor frequently did not unscreen critical comments, and asked people to use email instead, which I think is not an appropriate strategy for a public newsletter. It's possible that things have changed there although I do know that their comments are screened by default.

I also strongly believe that you can't go it alone. Part of the attraction of a fandom newsletter is its reliability. People get sick, go on vacation, get burned out on fandom - you need to put something in place such that the newsletter will go on. Personally, I'm really happy with the total-power-sharing structure we have at daily_snitch - I started it up as a joint project with people who I respected and trusted. We all feel invested in the project, and we all consult with each other on changes and policies and problems. And we can guarantee that the Snitch is posted every day. We find the structure of a closed community that we all have posting and maintenance access to works well.

Somewhat related is that you (ideally, your group of editors) should have a clear vision of what "news" is. The daily_snitch, for example, focuses on essays, interesting questions, official canon-related news and fan reaction to it, fests and challenges, and announcements of resources such as new archives or communities. We don't make fic recs or announce new chapters in WIPs (such as silver_and_gold does) - in our opinion there's way too much fic in HP to announce new stories, and there exist other comms and newsletters where that's done anyway, and while we personally rec stories in our own ljs we don't want to give the Snitch's imprimateur to our own opinions. That said, the editors obviously do need to exercise judgment in selecting what will appear - we get the occasional submission from a reader that is just not interesting enough for us to feel it worthy to point to. But you also need to decide: will you point to things outside of lj? Will you include het, slash, gen? Will you include, say, RPF about the actors in your show?

Ideally, everyone will friend your newsletter. :-) But for those checking it out for the first time, or looking up information in back issues, it's important to have a usable and readable layout. Links should be obvious; text should be clear. Make it a resource people will want to turn to! A corollary of this is link style. When I ran a poll on making links open in a new window vs the same window, an interesting split emerged: most people would rather open links in a new window, but those who don't like that are very vocal about hating it, while those who do like it are perfectly willing to right-click and force a new window (or tab) themselves. And of course, you should double-check all links, usernames, and use proper spelling and punctuation - but we all knew that, right?

All right, you've got your newsletter? Now, how do you get it read? That I can't help you with, other than to say: tell all your friends (and ask them to tell their friends), encourage people to identify your newsletter when they post a comment to a linked post, and most of all, post interesting, high-quality links that people will want to read.

Obviously this doesn't cover everything, and your mileage may vary. But I hope it's a decent starting point.
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