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Blackwater Valley Environmental Justice

Briefing 7 July 2000


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How to Set Up a Local Newsletter

Getting started

We all know the feeling. The Earth's getting fucked up beyond all recognition, we get bloody annoyed at the coverage in the local press, and to piss us off even more, our letters don't get published. What are we going to do about it, besides moaning to our mates? Easy, we set up our own newsletter and get it widely distributed. In our case we went even further, we set up a campaigning group with our own web site.

Think of a good name

We focused on the name of the group, rather than a name for the newsletter as such, but how you go about it is up to you. A brainstorming session always helps.

The nitty-gritty

The next stage is thinking what to put in it, print runs, format, frequency of issues. The reason for getting started will be a start for what goes in it, but you may wish to give it some thought so as to have some guidelines for the future. The reasons for getting started will help shape the guidelines. Our own reasons were varied: a local authority that was out of touch and unaccountable (or to put it bluntly shat all over the local community), a local campaigning group that was ineffectual and had lost its way, the desire for a broader philosophy than that of typical campaign groups that focus on narrow issues, tend to get lost in the details, end up attacking the symptoms rather than seeing the broader picture and dealing with the causes, the need to link local issues with wider global concerns, added to which we had the real problem of a major airport on our doorstep that was to be a key component of globalisation. We were greatly influenced by Sch-you-know-who in our inception and had no qualms about blatantly copying their format. It's amazing how much you can squeeze onto a double-sided sheet of A4 before it becomes unreadable. As far as frequency is concerned, once a month seemed about right. Quantity is obviously limited by funds, and by how many you can get rid off, sorry, distribute. Try a couple of hundred for starters, then try bumping it up to it to 500, then 1,000, if your funds and distribution can handle it. Another advantage of double-sided A4 format is that it is easy to photocopy and you may be able to supplement your print run with the help of office-worker volunteers (and various people will be busy copying and distributing them round their mates and colleagues who you won't even know about ...). Our copy is always available on the net, in fact that is what we get out first, and by making it available in PDF format others can print and distribute.

Printing

Cheap photocopying/printing is hard to come by, but very useful. Don't just rush out to the nearest High Street print shop. Ask around for ideas about cheaper options. Try your local student union or college print department or local resource centre. If all else fails, why not bring out the newsletter at whatever cost and appeal to readers for leads on cheaper printing. You never know who may come forward. Copies on the net in PDF format help to encourage local printing and distribution centres. Encourage your readers to print off their own copies and distribute.

Paying for it

Ouch! This is the painful part. You'll probably find yourselves fulfilling this role. But spread between the group members it doesn't come to much. If you meet at someone's home instead of in the pub, you'll have probably paid for the next issue from what would have been spent at the bar. Other costs may well be covered by donations/subscriptions once you've got going.

Getting it out

Distribution is a piece of piss when it's free. It's just a question of getting copies out into the hands of the local population. You can do that most directly by standing in the town centre and thrusting them rudely into people's hands (with a smile on your face). And you can leave them in public places like the library and town hall (small amounts but frequently - they tend to get removed). Ask in shops if you can leave a pile on the counter. And in pubs. You'll be surprised at the positive reaction to a lively local newsletter. Keen people should also be able to subscribe for a small charge to cover postage (though since they're local you could drop them in by hand and save the stamp). If the contents are good and relevant you will soon find people demanding copies. Electronic distribution is marvellous, especially if you can set up automated mailing lists. Once on the net: text for e-mail distribution, html for web browsers, and pdf for local printing and distribution.

Contents

You'd forgotten about that small detail, hadn't you? What do you put in the bloody thing? This should not really be a problem for anyone who's got as far as even thinking about doing a newsletter. First of all you read all the mainstream local papers. And then you get very angry with all the stuff the council's up to and the MP is spouting on about. And then you don't just forget about it and resolve not to read annoying local papers any more, but instead you cut out the relevant bits and bring them along to the next newsletter meeting. And everyone else says how crap the council is and takes the piss a bit and someone else has cut a bit out of The Big Issue which sort of fits in. Meanwhile, a person with biro-manipulating skills writes down the best bits. And lo, the contents start to emerge. Add in your own little campaigns (anti-GM, anti-CCTV, anti-negative attitudes etc), plus titbits about worthy local groups (Friends of the Earth, animal welfare, etc, etc) and you've got a newsletter.

Campaigns

Gives a positive focus amidst all the sniping from the sidelines. But obviously depends on what's happening locally. And what you're into. Don't forget this is partly what you are about, otherwise you merely become a news rag, albeit with the news the other rags don't reach. A little bit of campaigning never goes amiss else how are we to change the world. We issue briefings and urgent actions to help the process along.

Keep it local

Well not quite. Concentrate on local issues, but use these to highlight and draw readers into wider global issues. That unwanted airport has global implications, for starters the local community is learning first hand how big business corrupts local authorities and rides roughshod over local communities. Unless you stand up and be counted you will not count. Forget the recommendation to act locally and think globally. Global issues are abstract unless people can relate to them. You have to start thinking locally as well. Only then can you go on to draw your political conclusions. For instance, trying to persuade people that global capitalism is a bad thing because it is destroying the Amazon rainforests is a waste of time. But talk to them about the way that money-grubbing property developers are allowed to build all over green spaces on the edge of town and the local council falls over backwards to help them, then your readers will understand why you make a call to put people before profit. In your newsletter your views will be seen as good old fashioned common sense. You are normal/decent, it is the council/property developers/government/big business who are the bad guys - reversing the way radical views are usually perceived. Use words like 'we' and 'our' a lot to make people feel they belong, that we are all working together on a common cause, against a common enemy.

Have a laugh

Have a good laugh at the bastards' expense. There is nothing better than satire at their expense to cut the local corrupt politicians and their officials down to size. A humorous approach makes people want to read your newsletter, though don't trivialise and dumb down important issues. Humour also explodes certain ill-founded stereotypes about types involved in radical political initiatives. Could be a problem, though, if your group does in fact happen to be entirely composed of humourless boring left-wing arseholes.

Be law-abiding

Remember that you can get done for libel if you make certain claims about individuals. Get around this with humorous digs and heavy use of satire and sarcasm (think Private Eye, Have I Got News For You, etc). It is worth knowing that you cannot libel a council - so go for it! You can also be done for direct action and civil disobedience. Think carefully before you act and ask yourselves what are you trying to achieve. Having a few friendly lawyers on your side can be a great help.

Media

You are the media for the town, so you don't need to worry about publicity or keep griping at lack of coverage. It's now up to you to get your message across, but if the other media want to give you a bit of free publicity or a plug, that's just fine by us.

Volunteers

Be wary of volunteers who make themselves indispensable and do all the work. It sounds like a Godsend but it's not. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Like it or not, and no one likes to think about it, they are probably infiltrators doing their best to damage your cause and discredit your group. Like the private dicks who infiltrated the anti-McDonald's group, or the guy from MoD who ran and sabotaged the campaigns of an environmental group.

Real estate address

This has good points and bad points. If you need an income then you need some physical location where money can be dropped off. It also enables the drop off of plain brown-paper envelopes with the latest leaked reports. The downside is it can encourage the wrong people to come knocking at your door. A PO Box is one answer, especially if it can be via some seedy no questions asked third party. If you are based in cyberspace then we suggest hosting abroad, and remote access for e-mail, routed through several e-mail addresses, ideally anonymous e-mailers, then ending up at a web based account. Accounts should never be in the name of individual members as this is open to abuse, as we have seen with a local group. Accounts should be in the name of the group, though obviously individual members will have to operate the accounts. Access should be restricted to a few, but more than one person. Passwords to be changed at least once a year.

Carry on publishing!

There will be ups and downs. New people will join your circle. Others will drift away. It might seem like nobody's taking any notice of you at all. But in fact your subversive message will be permeating the very fabric of your community. It's got to be worth it.

Rip-off

We have unashamedly ripped this advice off from The Pork-Bolter and added our own two pennies worth. We recommend that you take a look at The Pork-Bolter and SchNEWS from which we have taken many of our ideas and the occasional bit of news. We also of course recommend you take a look at our very own BVEJ newsletters (and don't forget to take out a subscription).


Briefing index
BVEJ Briefing 7 July 2000
Published by Blackwater Valley Environmental Justice
www.bvej.org bvej@bigfoot.com bvej@hotmail.com

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