Sunday, July 23, 2017

7 ways to improve your club's newsletter

Writing has long been a big part of my professional life, as a technical writer and currently as a software product manager. While in high school I served as the newsletter editor for IPMS Ocala, composing The Leading Edge on a manual typewriter on the family dining room table. In the mid-Nineties I wrote The Turret Bustle for a very informal club of Ohio armor modelers. It was just a matter of time until I returned to the hobby publishing "industry" to create Scale Model Soup, which will be five years old later this week.


I’m fortunate that a friend forwards at least a dozen IPMS club newsletters to me every month, which I'm always excited to read. Some of them are really good, so I’d like to share a few of the things that can make a newsletter stand above others.

Put your club meeting date and location on the front page

The primary goal of your newsletter is to drive attendance of your club meetings. Make it easy for new readers to find out when and where you meet by putting that information on the front page.

Include contact information for club officers

New and existing members might have questions about the club. Make sure each officer’s email address is readily available. Better yet, follow the example set by IPMS Butch O’Hare (Chicago) and include a photo of each person, which is particularly helpful when new members attend their first meeting.

Promote upcoming contests

I’ve talked ad naseum about why you should enter contests, so always include a list of upcoming local contests. I'd also suggest you indicate the city and state so readers can quickly assess the distance from their homes.

Use large photographs

Many of the newsletters I see include small photographs of models. If your distribution is primarily online and printing and postage costs are not driving factors in the length of your newsletter, use large photos so readers can better view the models, reviews, and articles you share with them.

Ask someone to proofread your text

Misspellings and bad grammar in your newsletter are like glue marks and seams on your models. Take the time to proofread what you and your contributors write. Don’t let readers suspect that a 10 year-old wrote your newsletter.

Don’t fiddle with your fonts

Keep it simple. Use no more than two or three fonts — such as Helvetica for article titles and Times New Roman for the text. Avoid using ALL CAPS. While you’re at it, there’s no reason to use red, blue, or green text.

Consider unrelated content

IPMS Livonia (Michigan) includes enticing recipes in their monthly newsletter, BullSheet. Steak and BBQ are just two examples of topics that are likely to be of interest to your readers, so explore opportunities to entertain your club's members in new ways.


P.S. Observant readers will notice that The Turret Bustle pictured above didn't feature our club meeting information on the front page. If I recall correctly, we didn't meet on a regular basis...or I was simply young and naive.

Monday, July 3, 2017

When your favorite web site goes down

“Is Britmodeller down for everybody?”
“Anyone else having problems accessing Trumpeter’s web site?”
“Is the Aviation Maniac site down?”

Most of you have seen posts like these on the forums, or maybe you’ve asked the question yourself. Either way, it can be alarming when a favorite web site is unavailable, and it’s easy to fear the worse...that the site is gone for good. Witness the demise of Fencecheck earlier this year. We've come to rely on the internet for a great deal of the information that feeds into our modeling, so I understand the panic that sets in when something goes wrong.


Fear not, my friends. I’ve worked in the software industry for 20 years, so the harsh reality of technology is that sometimes things break and web sites are inaccessible. Similarly, web sites are intentionally brought offline for upgrades and enhancements.

So what do you do when you can’t seem to access a favorite web site?

First, don’t panic. Click your browser’s Refresh button and see what happens. If the site doesn’t load, take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is going to be okay. I know it’s difficult, but it’s times like these that test a man’s character. Remind yourself that you can handle whatever happens.

The best and easiest thing you can do is simply wait a few hours, or even 24 hours, and more often than not you’ll find that the web site is magically back online.

But, if you’re impatient and want to troubleshoot right away, here are some suggestions.

Clear your web browser’s cache. Browsers do weird things depending on how they “save” web data on your computer, so clearing the cache will sometimes help.

Try a different browser. Most laptops have two or more browsers installed, so if you can’t access a web site on Chrome, try Internet Explorer instead. Or Firefox. Or for you old timers, AOL.

Try accessing the site on a mobile device. It’s not unusual for there to be two different “paths" to the data that’s used to render a web site, so occasionally a mobile device will offer an alternative.

Check the web site’s Facebook page, assuming one is available. Responsible webmasters will let their customers know when an outage is planned or an issue has been encountered.

More often than not, web site issues sort themselves out over time. Webmasters check their web sites throughout the day or their Internet Service Provider (ISP) sends them alerts when a problem is detected. Usually doing nothing is the best course of action. Go waste time on another web site or, better yet, sit down at the workbench and build a model rather than read about them. If you're anything like me, you spend too much time on the internet anyway.

Editor's note: A kind reader reminded me of another resource, Down For Everyone Or Just Me. Simply type in the URL of the web site, and they'll let you know if it's truly offline.