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CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS

Publication Date: Summer 1999

Every year, CNYC presents an all day Housing Conference where board members and aspiring board members of housing cooperatives and condominiums can visit product exhibits from early in the morning, or attend a video theater showing Co-op Roundtable throughout the day, and select among a line-up of 60 or more workshops and seminars.

The 19th Annual Cooperative Housing Conference will be held on Sunday, November 14, 1999. The autumn issue of this Newsletter will include a full brochure of workshop offerings. Every CNYC member cooperative or condominium can send one person to the Conference at no cost. Check your calendars now to be sure that at least one board member will be able to benefit from this opportunity. The member registration fees (particularly for those who sign up early) are so reasonable that your cooperative or condominium will probably want to send a team of board members, potential board members, and key maintenance and management staff to this Conference.

The workshop offerings cover virtually every aspect of operating cooperatives and condominiums. Reviewed below are below is a presentation on Communications from last November's Conference.


BETTER COMMUNICATION USING NEWSLETTERS & WEB SITES

One of a board's most important responsibilities is to communicate with shareholders and unit owners, and a newsletter is the board's number-one communication tool. At its best, a newsletter can clearly and concisely spell out the facts about all building issues and events: renovations and maintenance, financial decisions, policy changes, and many others. It can help to dispel confusion and create an enhanced feeling of community, potentially heading off misunderstandings, complaints and antipathy.

Of course, publishing a newsletter can present a real challenge, especially for the board member who accepts the responsibility for creating it. There's certainly a lot to do! come up with ideas for articles, write the articles, find suitable artwork to go with those articles, and print and distribute the publication. Each one of these tasks can seem daunting to someone who is putting out his or her first publication.

To help boards make the most of this important tool, and to clarify and demystify the process for newsletter editors, CNYC presents a comprehensive workshop on Newsletters each year at its annual Conference. Attended by newly chosen newsletter editors and ink-stained veterans alike, this perennial workshop covers the process from the basics of reporting and editing to the finer points of telling the board's story to people who have a significant personal and financial stake in the building.

And in recent years, this seminar has taken the newsletter concept into cyberspace, showing board members how to communicate on the World Wide Web.

GETTING THE STORIES
Editors sometimes have trouble deciding what type of information to put in their newsletters. According to Margaret Walsh, a former English teacher and printing professional who serves on the CNYC Executive Board and is vice president of the 8200-unit Parkchester South Condominium in the Bronx, the best way to approach this dilemma is to understand that the newsletter is first and foremost the voice of the board. "You need to present the facts, whether it be about work being done in or around the building, or about a new pet rule," she says. "But you also have to recognize that it is the board's point of view that you are presenting. This is your communication tool, and you can choose what to say and how to say it."

Indeed, boards often seem at odds over whether or not to publish dissenting points of view from non-board shareholders and unit owners. "You should maintain total editorial control over the newsletter," advises Ms. Walsh, who publishes her condo's newsletter, "A View from the Oval". "You must make it clear that you reserve the right to accept or reject material, and that your decision is final."

Another issue is how often the board should publish its newsletter. The most effective newsletters are those that come out regularly, either monthly, quarterly or twice a year. "When residents get into the habit of reading the newsletter, your message becomes stronger," says Ms. Walsh.

But the number one question posed by new and veteran newsletter editors alike is: Where do you find material to publish? "We would come out every month if we thought we had something to say," notes one board member. "It's difficult finding enough to fill even two pages."

One way to keep your pages filled with interesting and useful information, says Lloyd Chrein, a journalist and Web site designer who has helped publish the CNYC Newsletter for the past 8 years, is to constantly keep your eyes open. "Beyond the big news, such as a roof replacement or a mortgage refinancing, everything that happens in your building, around the neighborhood, and in the world as it relates to your building is a potential story," he says. "If the utility company is working in the street and anticipates a two-month delay in finishing the job, that's a story. If your superintendent can offer tips on making air conditioners more energy-efficient, that's a story. If New York City is offering tax abatements to co-ops and condominiums, that's a story. The point is to identify questions that residents may have about living in the building, and to try and answer them in the newsletter."

When gathering information, remember the "5 W's" of reporting: who, what, when, where and how. "When you are getting the facts together, try to place yourself in the reader's shoes," says Mr. Chrein, who recently won a journalism award for his work with Money Magazine Online. "Ask yourself, "What will people want to know about this topic?', and then fill in the blanks with your questions." It also helps to do some research ahead of time. "The more you know about a complex topic, the better you'll be able to explain it to readers," he says.

Ms.Walsh also recommends keeping a "slush file" of tips, hints and pointers, as well as photos and illustrations, that can be run at any time. "There's always going to be some space to fill," she says.
However, be careful about using copyrighted material. Since most co-op and condo newsletters are not commercial ventures (they are not selling advertising ) all you generally need to do is contact the publication where the material appeared and request permission to run all or part of it. Most will say yes, requesting only that you attribute the story to the proper source. If you do sell advertising to local merchants, which is a good way to defray the cost of producing the newsletter, you may be asked to pay for the right to use the story.

WRITING THE STORY
Newsletters, which are generally only two to four pages long, don't give you much space to tell your story. In addition, readers want to get the information quickly and get on with their lives. That means stories have to get to the point fast. "You want to get to tell people everything they need to know in the first, or at most the second paragraph," says Mr. Chrein. "In journalism, this is known as the ‘inverted pyramid'. You open the story with a lead paragraph that gives readers a good idea of what the story is about. Then the rest of the article fills in the details."

For example, he says, a good newsletter story could start like this: "Roof leaks will soon be a thing of the past. The long-anticipated roof replacement project is set to begin August 1, 1999, and is scheduled to be completed August 31, 1999. "Workers will be in the building from 8 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Friday, and will use the service elevator. During that time, residents will be asked to use only the front elevators."

The rest of the story could fill in such details as the name of the contractor, the price, how the project will be supervised, and security precautions that will be put in place while workers are in the building.
When writing stories, try to remain in the "active voice", says Ms. Walsh. Rather than writing, "The company chosen by the board to complete the roof replacement is ABC Contracting", you should say, "The board has chosen ABC Contracting to complete the roof replacement." This uses fewer words and makes for a more engaging sentence.

If other residents are contributing to your newsletter, make sure they know up front that their stories will be edited for style, content and length. In addition, give them specific instructions about the information you expect, the length of the story they will turn in, and the style guidelines they should use. "The more specific you are when you give the assignment, the less work you will have to do when they hand in the story," says Mr. Chrein, who gave out hundreds of story assignments as managing editor of Habitat Magazine for six years.

In addition, gather photos, illustrations and artwork for your newsletter while you are writing the story. Always carry a camera when you interview someone, and ask contractors and vendors for photos they have taken of jobs at buildings similar to yours. "A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, and in a newsletter, you don't necessarily have those thousand words to tell a story," says Ms. Walsh.

Every story will need a catchy, descriptive headline, and good headlines are never easy to write. Readers will scan the newsletter before reading a particular story, and they'll be looking at the headlines. Make your headlines brief, easy to understand and punchy as possible. When you lay out the newsletter, make the headlines bold and in a highly legible typeface.

Finally, make sure you proofread the newsletter before you print it. If you wrote or edited all the stories, have someone with a "fresh pair of eyes" read it through, says Mr. Chrein. If you can't get someone to read it, then a good trick is to take a ruler and go line by line from the bottom of each column looking for typographical errors. "Don't rely only on your computer's spellcheck," says Mr, Chrein. "If you meant to write ‘buy' and instead you wrote ‘by', the computer won't catch it. And mistakes like these detract from the credibility of your publication.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Once you have your stories, artwork and headlines, you'll need to lay out the newsletter in a publishable format. While a few buildings still do this by hand, cutting and pasting typewritten copy, most now use a computer with some form of desktop publishing program. In the past few years, the most popular word processing programs – Microsoft Word and Corel's Word Perfect – have added features that allow you to create newsletters with graphics, multiple columns, a wide range of typefaces and even color. These programs are available for under $200. Professional-grade programs, which cost between $300 and $700, include Quark Xpress and Adobe Pagemaker.

No matter what you use, you should adhere to a few basic design principals. First, break the page into between two and four vertical columns. It is difficult for the eye to travel along a line of text from one side of an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper; columns make reading easier.

Second, choose a legible typeface (also called a "font") and size for your body text. The most popular text typefaces are Times Roman and Palatino, both of which are found on most newer computers. These are both "serif" typefaces, meaning they have small "feet" and "arms" on each letter, making them easier to read at smaller sizes. "Sans serif" typefaces, such as Helvetica and Univers, have a more modern look. These can also be used for body copy, but are most commonly seen in headlines.

As for size, consider your readership when making this choice. Older residents will appreciate a size of 12 or even 14 point. Also consider the "leading", or the space between lines of text. Packing the text too tightly makes for difficult reading; with looser leading, a smaller type size becomes more legible (for example, the CNYC Newsletter body text is 9 point Helvetica with an 11-point leading).

Before creating a design for your building's newsletter, collect a few samples from neighboring buildings and local businesses. You may even find a few in your mailbox. Pick design elements you like and weed out ones you don't like.

PRINTING AND DISTRIBUTION
How you print your newsletter will depend on how many copies you need to distribute. If you have a small building, you might want to print out the newsletter on a laser or laser-jet printer attached to your computer. If you have a color laser-jet printer, you'll be able to add more pizzazz to your publication. These are somewhat slow, generating three to five pages per minute, so they are best suited for buildings that don't need to produce hundreds of copies. Good color laser-jets are currently priced as low as $200.

Larger buildings generally have two options. The lower-cost route is to create a high-quality master print of the newsletter (a laser printer often does an adequate job) and then photocopy it. The more expensive option is to use offset printing (the method by which newspapers are printed), professional color laser printing (a new and fairly expensive service) or color photocopying, also expensive.

An economical way to introduce color into your newsletter is to print a large quantity of template pages with the nameplate (the newsletter's name that appears at the top of the front page) in two, three or four colors. When you have a new issue of the newsletter to publish, you simply print or photocopy the layout onto the template pages.

Different buildings have varying theories on how the newsletter should be distributed. In smaller buildings, it is easy enough to slip copies under each door. That gets tricky in larger buildings, says Ms. Walsh. She has hired kids from her building to go from floor to floor to distribute her condo's newsletter.

There's also the question of whether subletters and sponsor tenants should receive the newsletter. "This, of course, is up to your board to decide, but the general feeling is that the newsletter is meant to create a sense of community, and to urge people to care about the building, so the more people receiving it the better," says Ms. Walsh. She adds that some buildings distribute their newsletters to local police precincts, neighborhood stores and political representatives.

GOING ONLINE
With more and more people going online at home and at work, many co-ops and condos are publishing information about their buildings on the World Wide Web. According to Mr. Chrein, who is the Webmaster for CNYC's Web site design program, called CNYCSites, buildings are using their Web sites to publish events and meeting dates, urgent information for residents, as well as the information from their newsletters, apartment listings, and e-mail links.

"It is both a communications tool and a sales tool for co-ops and condos," says Mr. Chrein. "It's immediate! You can change it daily, if needed, and it's timeless, since you can have an archive of past newsletters and other information. It solves the problem of getting information to absentee owners, and it shows the world how active and updated your building is."

The CNYCSites program is available to member building of the Council of New York Cooperatives. For more information visit the CNYCSites Web site at www.cnycsites.com.

 
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