That time I tried to read our school newsletter (Part 1)

One afternoon a few years ago, while working as McKinnon Secondary College’s Systems Manager, I tried to read our school newsletter.

It looked like most school newsletters — it was difficult to read. Very dry, not friendly on a mobile phone and a large file that took far too long to download.

Example spread from Melbourne High’s Newsletter (*sorry MHS but we’ve all been there)

The layout and visual appeal of our newsletter hadn’t been updated since fluoro spandex and big hair were popular.

Like many schools we’d simply taken the dated newsletter we used to print in order to send home with the students and simply saved it as a PDF.

It wasn’t compelling and parents weren’t reading it.

The way most schools build newsletters is crazy

Our newsletter was rushed out. Belted out, even. When I investigated further I realised why. The newsletter creator was being put in an impossible situation.

Firstly, the newsletter has to go out in a regular cycle (each fortnight in our case). The person creating the newsletter has to relentlessly chase articles from staff who aren’t really interested in writing an article for the dusty old newsletter. (Besides, writing is hard!) Because parents weren’t excited to read the newsletter, staff weren’t prioritising writing articles and much less taking any photos.

Articles are sent from word docs, emails and other random places that when pasted into Microsoft Publisher display as a random mess that need to be resized, restyled and matched into the rest of the newsletter. On top of this, often the articles are too long and the newsletter creator has to go back and forth with the teacher who submitted the article because it’s too many words to fit the specific A4 sheet template we use. The whole process becomes a game of tetris instead of presenting beautiful, relevant content parents love to read.

Once the newsletter is finally finished the work isn’t over yet… oh no! We have to wrestle the PDF into a size that wont be rejected from peoples email boxes. We have to unsubscribe anybody and try and maintain an email list to send to parents from our emailbox. We have to update the website via some clunky portal and wrestle the social media accounts and any school apps or parent portals. Once it’s all shared out and being read, the mistakes start to roll in. Back we go to update our original file and repeat the whole sharing process. It’s messy, manual and time consuming.

After spending all this time, the stats show, most parents just don’t read it.

Ever get those calls about not knowing about an event that was on even though it was “in the newsletter!?” — I feel your pain. We shouldn’t be surprised though. The newsletter is often tired & rushed out. Near enough is good enough. After the pain and angst of putting it all together the person who built the newsletter doesn’t want to think about it until next fortnight when this groundhog day nightmare happens over again.

The irony of this whole situation is that schools are very “content rich”. We (like every school) have fantastic news and events to share that are happening all the time. There is plenty of reason to want to celebrate and promote the great thing our school is doing. We need a better way to build and create newsletters that are beautiful, insightful and created with enough care that parents are excited for the next one.