START THE PRESSES
Creating an Atari Newsletter
by Gregg Anderson
Gregg Anderson, a captain in the USAF with a background in electronics repair, has been an avid Atari user since 1982 and upgraded to an ST about a year ago. He is president of the Rushmore Atari Computer Enthusiasts (RACE) and editor of the club's newsletter. Gregg's roommate, a cat, often leaves messages on DELPHI II under his username. "One of these days," Gregg insists, "I'll catch him at it."
One of the advantages of being in an Atari users' group is getting a newsletter filled with tidbits of information, news, reviews and upcoming local events. But have any of you ever wondered what goes into putting your local newsletter together? I used to—that is, until I started doing a newsletter for a new users' group last year. For those who are interested in starting a newsletter for their own club, I thought I'd give you an outline on putting one together and some of the options available to you.
Doing a newsletter can be a lot of fun, but it can also be something of a headache. It all depends on what you want to do and how much help you get from your club members. The software/hardware combination you use for creating a newsletter can be almost anything. When RACE (Rushmore Atari Computer Enthusiasts) first started, I was using an Atari 800 with LJK's Letter Perfect. Since then I've moved to a 1-meg 520ST with Neocept's new WordUp graphics-based word processor, with a whole lot of experimentation in between. Since I'm currently using an ST, I'll be basing this article on that system.
There are a lot of programs available for simple DTP (desktop publishing), and the selection grows every day. It's quite feasible to do a simple newsletter with the more popular ST word processors, such as 1st Word and WordWriter ST. These offer ease of use in a familiar environment, but limit you to straight ASCII text in a single size, without special fonts, columns or graphics. To add graphics you have to "cut and paste," which adds complexity and tends to look pretty rough.
Also, your print quality will depend entirely on your printer's built-in Letter Quality (LQ) mode. Never, never try to produce a newsletter in draft mode—not unless you enjoy having rocks thrown at you, that is. Word processors usually limit you to "pamphlet" format, since reducing it to "booklet" form often makes the text too small for easy reading (more on this later).
A step from word processors is Easy Draw (EZD) from Migraph. This cost-effective drafting/DTP package allows dual (or more) columns, custom GDOS fonts, and the ability to add .IMG graphics anywhere on your page, as well as create your own picture images using EZD's extensive built-in drawing functions. Unfortunately, EZD really isn't set up for extensive DTP. Your text is created in a "graphics box," and you're limited to only 1 font per box. You're also limited to editing one page at a time and having to save page 1 before loading page 2 to edit. This can be a problem because it interrupts your train of thought, making it difficult to pick up on page 2 what you've left half-finished on page 1.
Also, its text buffer limits you to less than five pages or so of imported ASCII text. Because of this, loading in large articles can be a problem. Like most GDOS applications, however, the print quality tends to be very good, if a trifle slow I've produced a lot of newsletters with EZD and found it to be flexible and very powerful. I especially like EZD's built-in drawing functions, and feel it's a good compromise between drafting and DTP. The customer support from Migraph is also outstanding, with printer drivers available for most 9- and 24-pin printers, the Hewlet Packard (HP) laser and its various third-party clones, and the new HP DeskJet.
One of the most popular DTP programs available for the ST is SoftLogic's Publishing Partner (PP). Though complex and still a bit bomb-prone, it has to be one of the best dedicated DTP systems currently available. PP offers variable columns, imported graphics, multiple fonts and the widest selection of fonts available for the ST today. Unfortunately, the print quality on PP's smaller (18-point and below) fonts isn't quite up to GDOS's level, and PP has to have the slowest print speed in the industry, even with the new laser printers. Word is that PP Professional corrects most of these shortcomings, and shows that SoftLogic's support is second to none. I've not used PP very much, preferring EZD's more powerful drawing tools.
One of the new kids on the block is Timework's Desktop Publisher. I haven't seen this one yet, but comments on the BBSs all seem very positive. Watch ST-Log for a review of this one soon. Also recently released is Fleet Street Publisher from MirrorSoft-Spectrum Holobyte. This package has received mixed reviews and is not one I've used.
The newest kids are Atari's Microsoft Write and Neocept's WordUp. I can't really talk about Write, but I'm quite familiar with WordUp. This GDOS-based program offers the multiple font capability of PP, importation of .PI3 (in high res), NEO (pretty useless since it's limited to low-res images), .IMG graphics and multiple-page editing. Though set up more for word processing than as a DTP (its multiple-column output is less than ideal), WordUp is a capable program for this purpose (especially if you intend to do a booklet format). It's faster than PP and very easy to use. I've done my last four newsletters with this package.
As a rule, I don't recommend using a daisy-wheel printer for newsletters. Though they produce a high-quality text, they limit you to simple ASCII. Otherwise, your choice of printers is almost limitless, especially given the almost universal acceptance of the Epson command set. The better 9-pin printers can produce a very acceptable LQ print, and their GDOS output must be seen to be believed. Text produced by a 24-pin printer can match a daisy wheel's and, better yet, do so at up to a page a minute. Most (though not all) 24-pin units respond to Epson 9-pin commands for ASCII text, and there are several companies that offer GDOS drivers and fonts for 24-pin Epson-compatible units.
Finally getting close to affordable levels are the new generation of laser printers. Though expensive ($1500 and up), these offer the highest quality print (and speed) available to the small PC user. The main contenders here are Atari's own SLM804 and the wide range of HP clones. As usual, there are GDOS drivers available, and most HP clones offer Epson or Diablo emulation for your software. Just now entering the market is the new HP DeskJet inkjet printer. Word is that the unit produces near laser-quality print, though compatibility with existing software is still a question. By the way, for the past year my newsletter has been done with a Panasonic 1092.
There are two basic formats for most small newsletters: pamphlet and booklet. Pamphlet is by far the easiest to produce, being little more than stapling your pages together as they print out. Though simple to produce and easy to read, it's the least cost-effective and most expensive to mail, since it's fairly wasteful. You can save some mailing costs by printing on both sides of the page during your copying process.
Booklet is far and away the most professional and cost-effective method. To produce a booklet format requires that you reduce your printed text (on an enlargment/reducing copier) to 65% of its original size. By doing this you can fit two pages of text on each 8.5 × 11 sheet (four if you're doing front and back printing). Because of this reduction, it helps to print your original in 12-point (or larger) text, limiting you to Publishing Partner or a GDOS-based program. Booklet is also the most time-consuming and difficult method, however, as you must insure your pages are in the correct order for reading once everything is stapled together. I've been using the booklet format for three months now, fitting 16 pages of newsletter onto only four sheets of paper. All in all, it takes about three hours to reduce, print and staple 50 copies.
Unless you're producing more than 75 copies of a fairly large newsletter, a copy shop is the easiest way to produce your copies. Look for one that will print your copies for five cents or less each. Costs for my newsletter run from $20 to $25 a month, with postage extra. If you're doing a larger newsletter, you might want to consider a typesetter or print shop. These will cost you more initially, but with large numbers the costs come down to a more reasonable level fast.
It's always a good idea to have a noticeable mailer for your newsletter, something with your club's name and address printed in large and highly visible letters. The mailer sheet should be designed so that the stamp is located on the opposite side of your staple; this way the post office can process your newsletter by machine and reduce the chances of it getting trashed in the process. Using the booklet format allows me to place all address, club information and the stamp on half a page, leaving the other half to hold text or what-have-you.
Columns, fonts and graphics
So how fancy do you want to be? Unless you're willing to do a lot of cutting and pasting, you can't use a basic word processor if you want multiple columns, special fonts and pictures. For those, you will have to get one of the programs I mentioned above.
Multiple columns are nice and almost necessary for a pamphlet-style newsletter since it breaks up the monotony of a solid page of text. However, if you're using the booklet format, they are un-needed and often undesirable.
Variable font sizes and styles can work wonders for a newsletter. They can emphasize words, start new sections, attract special attention and more. A word of caution, though: Never overuse fonts. Keep to a single font size/style for your text, and break it up with different sizes/styles when starting a new topic or when special importance is noted. Nothing can confuse a reader faster than trying to make sense of a page of jumbled fonts and styles. When planning on using the booklet format, be sure to use 12-point or larger text, since anything smaller is likely to be unreadable once reduced.
Justified text almost always looks better than unjustified text, though if your program justifies by simply adding spaces, you may want to keep the right side ragged rather than risk spacey text that not only looks poor, but can be difficult to read as well.
Graphics are nice, but rarely necessary. After all, we're trying to create a newsletter, not the next copy of ST-Log. Don't throw in a graphic just for the sake of having a graphic. A picture to help explain an article is fine, and something for a holiday is good, but don't clutter your page with pictures just because you have the ability to do so.
Putting it together
Well, so much for the basics. So how do you put your newsletter together? First off, you should divide your planning into at least five areas: minutes of the last meeting, plans for the next meeting, an editorial (if desired), news and developments (local and Atari related) and reviews. Try to make your writing interesting and fairly entertaining; don't be too dry, or you'll lose your audience. Don't be too wordy either (my problem), or you'll end up boring them to death.
Try and keep the minutes and editorial sections limited to one page or less. If a detailed description of the past meeting is desired, it's best to do it as a separate article. The outline for the next meeting should be just that, an outline. When possible, list specific demos and plans, but don't go into too much detail. Your news and developments section can be as large as needed. Always try to include any club- or Atari-related events that might interest your members. Other items can be included if of special interest. A good source of news items are the CompuServe, GEnie and (of course) DELPHI BBSs. If you happen to repeat a news item from a magazine or BBS, be sure to give credit where credit is due, and remember to not simply duplicate or copy the item; most people look on that as theft.
Perhaps the hardest part is in gathering your general articles and reviews. The easiest way is to just download them from a BBS (giving credit, of course), and plug them into your newsletter. The best way is to combine one or two BBS articles with material from your own membership. This is often the most frustrating part of all: getting talented and perfectly capable individuals to produce something for their newsletter.
Unless you're lucky, you'll find that most members don't think they're qualified to write articles. They feel inadequate and may be afraid of being laughed at if they make a mistake. Getting them past this point may be your greatest challenge. Your best strategy is to convince them of two things: First is that writing articles isn't all that difficult (after all, if I can do it, anyone can). Explain that they have important information and thoughts they should share with others. Second is to point out that everyone starts out somewhere, even the most prolific of today's writers started out as beginners. Once started, you'll find that many of these reluctant types soon become your most reliable and proficient writers.
When selecting articles and reviews, try to tailor them to your membership. Suppose you have no members with hard drives; printing a review of a hard drive is fine, but don't bother with an article explaining how to cross-wire one to add in a second since no one is likely to be interested. You'll have to decide what your membership is interested in by asking them and listening to their comments on the newsletter in general.
Like everything else, the size of your newsletter should be determined by the interests of your membership, your own patience and the size of your club's bankroll. Usually six to eight pages is enough for a small club. While WAACE's Current Notes is over 80 pages, RACE Tracks (my newsletter) usually runs 12 to 16 pages. By the way, if you're producing more than a few pages worth, you might want to consider adding a small table of contents on the first page. It gives a professional appearance and helps your readers locate specific articles more quickly.
Newsletters cost money to produce, and the club must be willing to pay for it out of club funds. Sometimes, you'll get lucky and get a local business (or Atari dealer) to advertise in the newsletter. This can often offset the cost of printing down to where it won't drain the club's savings. Otherwise, you have some hard choices to make.
And thus ends yet another episode in the never-ending saga of Atari computing. I hope I've given you some help in putting a newsletter together for your own club, along with a few tips and some free advice. (You know what they say about free advice, don't you?) Editing a newsletter can be a lot of work and sometimes it's a royal pain, but it can also be a lot of fun and very satisfying. Thinking of starting your own newsletter? Take my advice, and have some fun. Go for it!