The Campbell Report

The following article was published in The Chess Journalist, the magazine of the Chess Journalists of America.
The author has been a member of the CJA for many years.

My Experiences with Team Newsletters

By J. Franklin Campbell

When I first started playing in the APCT Regional Team Championship (a postal chess tournament) I was faced with the following question: what could I do to lift this event above the rather lifeless feel of my previous postal team experiences? The answer that occurred to me was to establish a team newsletter. After publishing a monthly team newsletter for three consecutive tournaments covering over six years I am convinced that this was the correct answer. And it is a project well within the capabilities of every CJA member.

I started out as a complete novice at the newsletter business. This project provided many valuable lessons in team leadership and chess journalism. So the prospective first-time newsletter publisher can expect two major benefits from the effort: (1) personal growth as a chess journalist and (2) positive team results. The following comments reflect the lessons I have learned through producing over 75 newsletters and, hopefully, will inspire others to tackle this rewarding field of publication. Note that the investment in time and money is small and the audience is basically a small, friendly (non-critical) group.

First Experiences

My first timid efforts started with a letter to the team captain of the Dixie regional chess team Stan Vaughan, who was recruiting a team to represent my region in the APCT Regional Team Championship. I volunteered to try my hand at a team newsletter. Past experiences in CCLA and ICCF team events had been rather disappointing. Unlike the rather exciting over-the-board (OTB) events, where you can walk around between moves and check on your teammates' progress, discuss team strategy with the team captain and socialize with your teammates, postal team events are normally held in a kind of vacuum where you don't really know how your team is doing (or indeed even know anything about your teammates). A team newsletter sounded like a perfect remedy for this situation.

Note that a team newsletter is a learning situation for everyone, not just you the writer/editor/publisher. The audience for your newsletter must be educated in what they can expect from you and what you need from them. Thus my first newsletters were little more than a list of team standings with a collection of mostly OTB chess news I compiled from a number of sources (I have always wished an experienced chess journalist would publish an article in The Chess Journalist on sources for chess news). Using a very simple word-processor I just printed out three 8½x11-inch sheets and stapled them together. The tournament organizer Helen Warren provided me with addresses for the team. For each team member I printed out an original and mailed it off once a month. This first newsletter was primarily supported (financially) out of my own pocket but was a great experience for a future chess journalist.

The Next Step

The first newsletter provided me with experience and also acquainted the team members with the concept. Now it was time to step up to a more professional appearance and to make it more of a true "team" publication. I sent questionnaires to team members requesting biographical information and viewpoints on a team newsletter. A few contributions had helped out with expenses before but now the team newsletter was put on a subscription basis. Part of the questionnaire required the recipient to check off whether or not he/she wanted to received the team newsletter (the price was also specified). There will always be a few who only want to play some chess and would rather skip the team element, so not everyone subscribed. But this was an important step. Not only did the team newsletter become self-supporting but the editor/publisher (me) received a confidence-building vote of approval (an event not to be underestimated in value). Most of the team members apparently saw the team newsletter as a positive part of the team play and were willing to help finance it. This certainly provided a much-appreciated indicator that the newsletter was a worthwhile endeavor. When you pour yourself into a project there's nothing like recognition of its value from others to keep you invigorated.

The newsletter took on an improved appearance. Now it was 4 pages printed on 11x17-inch 70-pound paper. When folded in half, this size of paper neatly formed a 4-page 8½x11-inch newsletter. I just printed out the four pages, pasted them to an 11x17 sheet (checking carefully that the pages fell in the right places when the sheet was folded) and took them to a local copy shop which had copiers capable of printing double-sided material on the 70-pound 11x17 colored paper stock I had purchased at a paper supply company. I found it was esthetically pleasing to use several different colors so each issue was a distinct color easily separated from other issues. Of course after a few months I would repeat the same colors again. The heavier paper gave a weightier feel to the newsletter and prevented print on one side from showing through to the other side. Being the publisher allowed me to try ideas that appealed to me. If they didn't work out I'd just discard them and try something else. The 4-page folded newsletter was just one of the experiments that met with approval and was retained.

The questionnaire provided some much-needed material that was specifically team-oriented. I continued the general type of chess news but appealed to members to send me their comments and report on their team games and opponents. This provided a real breakthrough since this kind of information made this newsletter a true team publication. An increasing number of teammates sent information about their progress. This team event was really coming to life. It also provided some of the team members with opportunities to try their own wings with commentary and annotations to their games. This was my own personal introduction to publishing analysis. The audience was small and friendly, just the place for the fledgling analyst to test the waters. The monthly appearance of the team newsletter was a constant reminder that this was indeed a team event and I believe a real bonding occurred between teammates. And there was a dedication to the welfare of the team I hadn't seen in other competitions.

Another Step Forward

For the next team championship I was determined to improve the appearance and effectiveness of the team newsletter. After some experimentation I switched to a smaller 5½x8½-inch format. This is the size you get when you fold a standard 8½x11-inch sheet of paper in half. With the smaller size came several advantages: (1) greater flexibility in amount of material to be published (see below), (2) the newsletter fit into a 6x9-inch catalog envelope for mailing without the need for folding (this size can be mailed regular First Class without a USPS surcharge) and (3) the column width made reading easier (if you use wide paper you really should print multiple columns to avoid extremely wide columns, which are hard to read without loosing your place).

With smaller pages only about half as much material is printed in the four pages obtained by folding one sheet of paper. So you can print a smaller or larger newsletter depending on the amount of material you have available. It's relatively easy to print 4-, 8- or 12-page (or even larger) newsletters. I printed a 28-page newsletter this way for the NTC-1 competiton. Just be careful that the pages fall where you want them when you fold the sheets and interleave them together. Some word processors may provide help in this area. You can obtain a stapler at many office supply stores which will allow you to staple multiple sheets together at the fold for a finished-looking newsletter (normal staplers aren't big enough but with some patience you can open up the base of the stapler and drive the staples into the newsletter placed on cardboard and then bend the backs of the staples over --- I used this technique for a while but it does get tiresome!).

One element demonstrating the success of the team newsletter is the elimination of non-team news. Team members were submitting enough material to fill out the newsletter without the need to drag in extraneous material. Of course comments by the editor along with crosstables and statistics for the event were an important part of every issue. If there was any space left over it gave me room (as team captain) to write "inspirational messages" to the team or to insert other material, such as reviews of books or other chess products. These little space fillers give the imaginative editor the opportunity to be truly creative and to try out new ideas.

A Few Suggestions

If you decide to try a newsletter for a team event here are a few suggestions based on my experiences producing the Dixie Team Newsletter for over six years and the quarterly APCT Team Newsletter (ten issues) for the First USA National Team Championship (NTC-1).

Some Final Comments

Producing these newsletters has been tremendously rewarding. I have personally benefited directly from the experience by improving my writing and editing skills. My newsletter experience led directly to the opportunity to start my column "The Campbell Report" in the APCT News Bulletin. Many of my teammates have become good friends corresponding and even telephoning from time to time. My teammates have told me many times how much they appreciated the newsletter and how the newsletter had made the event(s) really special for them (who doesn't love receiving that kind of comment?). So I seriously recommend that you consider publishing a newsletter for any appropriate event or organization. How many chess clubs have no newsletter to keep members informed of schedules and results? How many club championships go undocumented? How many postal team tournaments finish with the players totally isolated, uninformed and uninvolved?

One last observation: do regularly published newsletters really provide a measurable benefit? Well, I can point out that the Dixie team won all three championships covered by the Dixie Team Newsletter, even though ratings didn't always favor the team. And the APCT Team won the NTC-1 event in style showing great enthusiasm and pride. I like to think that the team newsletters contributed to the success of these teams. Undeniably the team newsletters made the events come to life for the team members and made the events much more enjoyable for many, including me.

copyright © 1998 by J. Franklin Campbell
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