Tips for Libertarian Activists

Newsletter ideas

Last updated 1994-11-06 by Tom Isenberg

For you current or potential LP newsletter editors out there, here are a couple of ideas for your consideration. First, let me say that I think that newsletters should be left to the state LP. Many Libertarians are literary wannabes and the party suffers from an abundance of absolutely pitiful local newsletters.

Remember, in politics image is everything. If our prospects and members are getting crappy, kooky, amateurish mailings, they'll write us off. Most of our prospects and members will get their only impression of the LP from the stuff we mail them. If you want to work on a newsletter, work on your state LP's newsletter. It can probably stand some improvements.

Remember, there are many affordable newsletter design services out there. In fact, the local Kinko's copy shop provides this service. You give them the text, and they lay it out. It looks great, and you can use it as a template for future issues. Whatever it costs, you will get the money back in future donations from people who weren't scared off by a pathetic newsletter.

The Purpose of a Newsletter

  1. If you can't say anything nice, shut up!

    I believe that the purpose of each LP newsletter is to increase morale, membership and donations. When I was editor of the Washington Libertarian, which is now in even better hands, I saw each issue as a combined fundraising letter, membership letter, prospect kit and volunteer recruitment appeal. Therefore, I am stunned by the number of newsletters out there that whine about apathy, do dirty laundry in public, tear down other Libertarians, etc. Nothing turns off prospects, members, donors, and volunteers faster! Instead of whining about how no one volunteers for anything, how about writing an article proposing a new project?

    Impressions are everything, and it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your newsletter focuses only on the good stuff, you'll find more good people becoming motivated to do more good stuff. If your newsletter whines and complains and tears down, you will encourage more of the same. I never published letters that were critical of libertarians, I never ran kooky ads (e.g., "Get the Facts on Infant Genital Mutilation!"), and I never used off-color language or material. We must look as professional as possible, not just to show prospects and the media that we're serious and worth supporting, but to motivate our members and volunteers (who are also our donors.)

  2. Prospect Page

    Since newsletters are often used as an outreach piece (in Washington we send it out in our prospect kit and distribute copies to sympathetic newsstands) we should have a regular "prospect page" in each issue that gives a "Libertarianism in One Page" sort of overview. That way, someone who's reading the newsletter for the first time (maybe it's the first piece of Libertarian literature they've ever seen) could tell what we're all about from that page. Run this same page in every issue (maybe reserve the next to the last page for it.) The top half would be an abbreviated LP Program (or something like that) and the bottom half would be a Nolan survey and the membership/subscription coupon.

  3. Suggestions from a Marketing Consultant

    Here are several excellent suggestions I received for Washington Libertarian (the Washington LP newspaper) and Liberty Today (the national outreach tabloid) from a marketing guru here at Microsoft who is also a libertarian. I think they apply to all LP newsletters ...

    • Masthead for "Washington Libertarian" should, if not duplicate, complement one of "Liberty Today." Goal is to demonstrate that this is an organized, national, coherent effort -- that people won't be pissing away their money on the Washington Lib Party which is somehow independent of the national party (read: 50 separate, disparate, unleveraged efforts). Ideas: Same Statue of Liberty icon -- pick one and go with it. Both are kind of garish but the one on "Liberty Today" is better -- would be worth, but not required, looking at getting a version of the Statue of Liberty icon which doesn't look so impersonal/cold. (Now it has that impersonal look that, say, the Communist Party would like on their letterhead).

    • In masthead of Washington Libertarian you must do as the Liberty Today did and put in the phone numbers, CIS ID and call to action.

    • Liberty Today is a meaningless name -- the goal of this organization is to effect political change, to do that it must recruit members, the newsletter must do that and keep current members 'home' (it is akin to a college alumni newsletter). Change the name to Libertarian Party News or something like that. Get the party name in there (if someone were walking by a recruitment table and just scanning, what's the thing you want to spend your biggest font -- the thing you know they'll read -- on....right, the party name. Now you may argue, "No, no one has heard of us, we want our message to scream out, not our name." I disagree -- you're in a loop of a self-fulfilling prophecy that way -- you guarantee they'll never know the party name. You aren't selling the idea of freedom -- you are selling a political party and you want people to pay you with votes. In the voting booth there is no message next to your candidates' names -- just party affiliation. I think the party is pretty well known, in any case, so we can use this analogy: The Democratic Party has its name above its tables at events not their slogan "Economic Dark Ages NOW!" or whatever it is they stand for (helping people, I guess they would say.)

    • An idea: Use the national paper for recruiting new people and the state paper for recruiting new people but primarily for informing existing members. This idea perhaps should be chucked if all major states don't have their own newspapers. I suggest this because I assume the national party has the bucks and they can produce a better looking product -- let that product be your vehicle for getting out the message -- don't waste space redundantly by selling the message in both newspapers. Use the local paper to communicate what is happening locally and what people can do locally -- that makes sense because that is where you want people involved -- locally. This will also nicely dovetail this way: "See, we are a national organization with shared values and we have things you can do to support those values in your own backyard."

    • In every issue have a column or section titled something like "Welcome new Libertarians!" You want the newsletter to focus on topical events, but you need to realize it is partly a recruiting device and that new people may be hesitant getting and staying involved -- make 'em feel welcome! Explain the purpose of the newsletter, the state party, what they can do, etc. Perhaps change it every issue (maybe focusing on what is happening for new people at that time or where new people are needed at that time) so that existing people don't get bored with it.

    • Text font is fine, headlines font is unprofessional. Look at what daily newspapers use and see if that might work. Current font is a bit too 'contemporary' and inappropriate for serious communication.

    • Letters to the editor. This ain't a general daily trying to provide a 'balanced' (yes, I'm rolling on the floor in laughter as I type) view of the news. That means, since you are using this for recruiting, that the ugliest letters of dissent must not be printed. However, healthy debates are good because they show people this is a group of intellectually open people (again, not too open -- you don't want people to think the organization is not well-run and that infighting paralyzes it). More letters would be good to demonstrate that and to show that people are active in the rank-and-file and listened to by the party 'elders.' Consider expanding this section.

    • International News Bites. Why is this here? Shouldn't the national party be focusing on stuff like that? I'm not dead set against this section here, but I'd think you could find local things that people will care more about to write about here (or national, even -- most people really don't give a rat's patootie about the six Canadians who have a clue and are libertarian).

    • Advertisements. If they are needed financially to stay afloat, then fine -- but they sure give the paper and party that "we're not really professional politicians" look and feel.

    • Bits about rallies, meetings, etc. where the members can go to voice their opinions are great. All in all, I'd always emphasize activities that the party is doing quite heavily, with calls to action for how people can be involved (even if it is just giving money).

    • If the party is pretty big in the state and growing fast, a monthly chart showing the size and growth rate would be nice -- shows people they are reaching critical mass to effect real change and not some bizarre little splinter group. Also helps with recruiting -- everyone loves to jump on a bandwagon. (If there are really only 100 people in the party, don't do it -- it will drive people off by showing you aren't a force. I'd say the threshold number is 10,000.)

    • Calendar is excellent -- expand and always include.

    • News Bites [similar to Reason magazine's "Brickbats"] is cute and light -- keep it.

    • Keep the membership form.

    • All in all, I think the local paper is better than the Liberty Today. It conveys more relevant information, is more professional and does a better job of protraying the party as serious and not some bizarre, wacko group of anarchists. Very nice job!

    Planning the Content

    Layout templates and spreadsheets

    Some editors change the layout every issue, but when I was editor, I used the same template for each issue so that I knew I always needed a 500-word article for the top of page 5, and a half-page ad for the bottom of page 5, etc. It saved a lot of time, and I always knew what length text to ask my authors for.

    I also used a spreadsheet to lay-out current and future issues. The first column looked like this:

    Items Needed:

    • Page 1: full page cover story (750 words with photo, 1000 words without)
    • Page 1: 3 x 5 photo or artwork (optional)
    • Page 2: 1/4 page "From the Chair" column (250 words)
    • Page 2: 1/4 page "Projects" column (250 words)
    • Page 2: 1/2 page advertisement or article (500 words)
    • etc.

    The second column listed the next issue ("FEBRUARY") and the third column listed the subsequent issue and so on. In the appropriate cells, I'd then list the name of the article or the author or the advertiser (and when the ad was paid for). This way, I was able to reserve space for multiple ads, regular features, etc. It saved me a lot of time and bother because I could always tell what I still needed for the next issue (and for several issues down the road.)

    Getting Articles

    Libernet is a great source of news items. Also, you should contact allied organizations (national, state, and local) and ask them to add you to their press release list. That way, you can cover their projects as well (National Taxpayers Union, Cato, Reason, etc.)