January 14, 2020 by phicks2012
I look around me, and I still see newspapers for sale in grocery stores and magazines for sale on newsstands and at checkout stands. By the way, I’m even counting the tabloids here, for all that I don’t for an instant believe what their headlines proclaim any more than I believe about 75% of what I see presented as truth on the internet. I also still see paperback and hardback books for sale in similar locations, though actual bookstores seem to be a dying species of the genus Venditor. Too bad, because I LOVE browsing in bookstores, and always have.
Traditional printed media seems to be going the way of the dodo. Everything is moving to electronic media, which is somehow both more pervasive and more ephemeral, and to me lacks the permanence and authority and detail of print.
But in the SCA I am, and have been for 30 years, a Chronicler, which means that I produce a Newsletter. The thing is though, that even in an organization seeking to recreate and to preserve the arts, sciences and mores (the better ones at least) of the Medieval period of history (when they certainly did NOT have the internet) our newsletters, when they still exist at all, have migrated largely to digital media, created on computers and distributed electronically.
Don’t get me wrong, this is very convenient, but it is both positive and negative. Electronic newsletters do not incur the printing and mailing expenses of paper copies, and thus are more easily and widely distributed. It is much simpler to format a newsletter using a publishing program like MSPub, and far cheaper to send copies out as electronic (in my case .pdf) files to anyone still wishing to receive them than it is to print them on paper and to mail them — or even to print them and hand them out at a meeting.
To break even financially with paper copies, I need to charge $1.00 per issue per copy (reflecting mainly the costs of paper and ink), and I have to charge subscribers $2.00 per issue if I am mailing out those printed copies, simply because of the present costs of postage.
I am REQUIRED to send paper copies to the SCA Archivist and to the Kingdom Historian, because those individuals maintain hard-copy archives, and some few other people do prefer paper still. I also maintain a hard-copy archive for myself. But most people now are perfectly content with electronic, if they even care, and I do not have to charge anyone for an electronic subscription because those can be mailed out for free. In addition, I am not charging for my labor or passing on my internet costs.
I can (though I do not for reasons of privacy) post a copy of our local newsletter (The Equinox) to the Shire’s Facebook group, and it can easily be downloaded from there to a mobile device for later reading and for easy referral, so I no longer really HAVE to have a paper copy to carry with me for ease of access. As a result, I understand how the slow (or not so slow) death of printed media is happening, even in the SCA. Electronic is handy.
However, I have lost archives to computer failures often enough that as well as keeping electronic backups I )as previously stated) maintain for myself a paper archive of all of the Kingdom and Local newsletters I’ve ever received or produced. You’d be surprised how often I’ve been able to retrieve information from those archives for other people who proved unable to find it elsewhere (including on-line). Trust me.
But Kingdom newsletters are now almost entirely electronic — unless we pay extra to have a physical copy mailed, or do as I do and print them out at home for archival purposes. Local newsletters, by contrast, have almost ceased to exist. Kingdoms and Principalities are REQUIRED to have them, thank God, because at least they provide us with a single central resource for information on events and policy without having to click-click-double-click. often fruitlessly trying to find what we need. Baronies & Provinces are HIGHLY ENCOURAGED to have them, because these are large groups with many activities, but many simply do not. Shires, Cantons, Strongholds, Ports, and Colleges are not required to have them at all, and while it is true that many such groups never really HAVE produced a newsletter, it now is the case that small local branch newsletters are just vanishingly rare — this despite the fact that when they exist at all they can be very small and do not have to be produced monthly — or bi-monthly or quarterly, or semi annually, or even merely annually. as long as there is a publishing schedule of some sort.
But for 30 years I have been publishing a monthly newsletter for the Shire of Sol Haven, and it’s my intention to continue doing so. I am the only Chronicler my Shire has ever had, and suspect I will also be the last. When I am gone (and I base this upon the fact that no one has for YEARS volunteered to be my deputy or expressed any interest in taking the office) I doubt that anyone at all will feel motivated to continue and follow in my dubious footsteps. No, I rather suspect that it will immediately be declared that “Well, we don’t really NEED a newsletter, do we? After all it isn’t REQUIRED!” And that it simply will cease to exist — and in my opinion that will be a real shame.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that these days if something isn’t “required” people seem to feel no real desire to do it. No going above and beyond”. Just doing the bare minimum. But for now I’m stubborn. I’ve been proudly producing The Equinox since 1989 without missing a single issue, and our newsletter has (for YEARS) averaged over 40 pages. The current size of an Equinox issue is actually 52-pages, and if you’re curious as to how I find so much content you wouldn’t be the only one even though it isn’t actually that difficult.
I include minutes or information on meetings and activities, short letters from officers (or, if they don’t provide letters, general information on activities relating to those offices), thank-yous to contributors, original poetry, local birthday reminders, comic strips, articles, calendars of local activities and Kingdom level events, period recipes, humorous fillers, puzzles, event flyers, and contact information for officers and members of our populace. Rather a lot of those things are very easily obtained and included, actually.
The SCA as a whole has what are known as The William Blackfox Awards (named after a well-respected former Chronicler and Cartoonist) for newsletters world-wide, and The Equinox has been nominated in at least one category every year since the inception of these awards 20 years ago in A.S. XXXIV (2000)– except for a couple of years when our Kingdom Chronicler failed to make any nominations at all. It was the winner of the Blackfox Award for best Regular Feature: Shire! Shire! (a comic strip) for A.S. XLVIII (2014), and won a Special Commendation in the Best Overall Newsletter Category for A.S. LII (2017) — meaning it was the “runner-up” world-wide. I was also awarded a special personal Blackfox Award for Career Achievement in A.S. XLVI (2012).
Brag, brag, brag. But, as my mother used to say, “I said all that to say this”: If there were more local newsletters around the world I’d probably have had a lot more competition and a lot fewer nominations ;-), but since they don’t differentiate between newsletters for small local branches and huge sprawling Baronies I’m not going to short-sell my eforts either! 😉
Competition aside, I wouldn’t mind seeing a lot more effort made to preserve what I consider to be something of a dying art form. Newsletters are one-stop references. I hate having to scroll through Facebook looking for elusive references to activities, events, and other information that I frequently cannot locate — like what is the actual address of an event site (for use with my entirely non-period GPS), or whether or not there will be a feast, or whether the site has cabins or is camping only.
So whether or not the majority of the populace of the Shire of Sol Haven really cares whether or not we continue to have a local newsletter, or takes any pride in it (I’d like to think some do), and whether or not a newsletter is required, I will continue to produce one. Who knows, I might also set some sort of Guinness World Record, if I haven’t already. 😉
Dinosaurs did not exist in Medieval times, but apparently they do now. 😉
<signed> A Dinosaur