Mental coredump on the Herald as we've developed it since January. These are almost entirely MY ideas of what the paper is and how to get the job done; there are numerous ways we could do it differently (e.g. having a staff).

Table o' Contents:

I. Goals and Means to that End

The Last Homely Herald: What is is it?

Our goal is simple: publish the Herald each month. The Last Homely Herald is the newsletter of the Plaza Kingdom of Rivendell. It reports on the news of that kingdom, and tries to be representative of the interests and activities of that kingdom.

The editors’ view of that kingdom strongly influences how we present it. With Lae’s blessing, I added a “spin” to the paper: I present it as a “chronicle” or account of the goings-on and interests of Rivendell’s Elves, told from their perspective, and modelled on Bilbo’s Book in appearance. In other words, we strongly encourage contributors to write from the point of view of inhabitants of Middle-earth describing their “world”. However, we recognize that the Kingdom of Rivendell is not entirely set in Tolkien’s world, and that there are OOC aspects to the plaza which can only be reported in an OOC fashion.

The Threefold Goal of the Press

Being a bard, I believe the paper (and bards) serve three purposes. They must inform the reader about the topic, not necessarily covering every aspect, but covering enough to give the reader a basic understanding of it. Articles must entertain a reader so she’ll keep reading. Ideally, articles also inspire/teach the reader, not just telling her what is, but what could be. That’s why I ask contributors to write as if they were in ME— hoping to inspire them, and readers, to embrace more fully the ME environment.

What are we trying to cover?

Who is our target audience?

First and foremost, the members of Rivendell. Secondly, the rest of the plaza: I am constantly trying to explode the idea that Rivendell is a place where people are goofy and “foo-foo”. Thirdly, newbies. The Herald can be a valuable road map for them, explaining and attracting them to various kingdom activities.

Who are our writers?

Members of Rivendell. We seek 1) good writers familiar with the topics, so that we can get well-written articles and 2) to represent our kingdom’s population and give everyone a chance to contribute.

These two goals are often at odds. I tended to emphasize #1 at the expense of #2, looking for good writers as opposed to giving maximum opportunities. Earymir pointed out that hearing from the same people every month is boring, and keeps others from getting a chance. Hence his first-come, first-served policy, and my more ad hoc solution at the Bards’ Guild to let Silmarwen and Anni alternate.

What about non-Rivendell members?

We haven’t evolved a satisfactory policy here. As the Herald is primarily supposed to showcase Rivendell, and non-Rivendwellers signing up may discourage our members from doing so, it makes sense to restrict it to Rivendell members. Yet the fact is that many writers promise and fail to produce a report; foreign contributors can help fill in the gaps. They can report on non-Rivendell matters. Some can write really GOOD articles. And others (unfortunately, sometimes the most eager) write really BAD articles. We “ solved” this by saying that Rivendwellers get first dibs on all departments other than foreign reports, but I’m not quite happy about that.

One thing I've done is to actively recruit Rivendell writers, and then let the good writers of other kingdoms find their way to our doorstep on their own. Self-motivated people are usually the ones we want (unless they are simply self-motivated by points).

A related problem is foreign reports. Personally I prefer them to be written by members of their own kingdoms. But there’s only one foreign report a kingdom, and that creates a bottleneck. It wasn’t a problem when I was farming them out to “ kingdom contacts” who agreed to write their columns each month, but “ first come, first served” means people fight for slots.

What do we look for in an article?

Something which “brings to life” the topic giving enough relevent detail that even newbie readers can understand and visualize the activity or topic. Again, my three goals are “informative, entertaining, inspiring”. We are not looking for generic praise. We get a lot of “it’s really neat” or “this is an interesting topic” or “everyone should join!” filler that doesn’t, in fact, inform the reader, and is boring to read. It’s like saying ROTK is “cool” instead of describing exactly what about the battle scenes were astounding.

Finally, we treasure brevity, even if I don’t have it. One paragraph for monthly reports, if at all possible, one to three for other things, more if absolutely necessary.

How much editing do we do, and/or what is unacceptable?

I rewrite sentences, cut chunks that are boring and uninformitive, fix capitalization and grammar, and occasionally insert a bit of vital information that wasn’t there. I probably shouldn’t do the latter. What’s unacceptable is raw material lacking the content and information needed to cover the topic, since even rewriting can’t fill in those holes. If it’s so badly-written we’d have to rewrite most of it, that’s no good. If it looks like the author might be able to improve with guidance, I email them back, otherwise I must decide whether the article is a “must have”, in which case I farm it to someone I trust, or whether it’s expendable.

What problems/obstacles have we encountered?

Where is the paper stored, and how do we get submissions?

I've set up two resources on my personal website (istad.org).

Logistics: Getting the Job Done

End of previous month: set deadline

Best done while doing the final “wrap” on the paper, but sometimes we’re tired or forget— then meet again after release. Generally we set the writers’ deadline to be the last Friday of the month.

Beginning of the month: recruitment drive.

Riding post-release enthusiasm, we post a color-coded signup thread (the Editors’ Desk) outlining what reports we know we’ll need, and open-ended categories to be fleshed out by contributors. At the same time we post ads in announcement halls of other kingdoms recruiting foreign reporters— best done by my co-editor since I can’t make active links.

Getting writers, as I said, is tough. I use humor like “pointy hat needed” to seduce people to read the thread. Quick response to questions, making it seem exciting, and putting people’s name on the signup list in BIG GREEN LETTERS also help.

Second and third week: filling in the gaps.

Watch to see which “important” reports aren’t being claimed, and search for people within organizations or threads who are likely to be able to do them. Give guidance and suggestions to help people who aren’t sure what to write find a topic suited to their skills/interests. (I check their last 10 posts to see how well they write and what they do).

Ten days to a week before deadline: check in with reporters

Coax non-time-sensitive articles to be turned in early. Send friendly reminder to foreign reporters about deadline, submission address. Put together and send any new graphics to Rulers (that's really my job). Read submissions as they come in to make sure there aren’t problems with them (e.g. crossword puzzle not showing up)

The last week: filling in the blanks

Enter articles as soon as they arrive to spare ourselves as much as possible the Friday evening rush. Proofread/polish, get done what can be done early. Prearrange meeting times to discuss last-minute snags and keep each other appraised of progress.

One problem with entering articles: we can’t both be working on the document at the same time, or we’ll erase what the co-editor is doing. Either each work on a backup copy, and we’ll combine when we’re both on AIM and can do it carefully, or agree beforehand only to enter/upload articles at different times. E.G. if I know when you’re at work, I’ll do my parts then.

Deadline Is Upon Us

Generally I’ve found it convenient to enter articles Friday eve and Saturday morning, edit/proofread during the day, and get together late Saturday afternoon on AIM to go through things together. Sunday we do final edit and email finished file to rulers. Inevitably, they’ll attempt to upload it as is and discover some glitch which needs fixing. *g*

The Bailout Brigade

I don't make it publicly known, but there are some writers who are very good at filling in things last minute: Aduchil, in particular. The night of deadline, I first attempt to hunt down missing writers. The next day I send out "your mission, should you choose to accept" emails saying "we're working on the paper right now, but we're missing this article-- do you think you could whip something off? We'll be done by X time (I lie and say a few hours before I expect to be done), so if you could get it to us by then, great, if not, no worries." I give an extra tribute point for bailout. One problem is that occasionally we'll get an article late AFTER I've given up on its original author and sought outside help. Any time one assigns an article to somebody, then uses someone else's work instead, one risks offending and losing a writer, so I try to contact the original writer first and/or may just let an article go (I'd rather skip a kingdom report than risk hurting someone's feelings.)

Announcing the Herald

When it looks good, we post an announcement thread in Rivendell giving a link to it, and ALSO in all kingdoms, not only because we want it read, but because the publicity is the “payoff” for our writers and helps lure new ones.

III. Departments of the Herald

If we don’t know what goes in the paper, we can’t tell anyone else! I am always looking for ways to refine this to make it more comprehensible to our would-be writers.

1. Monthly Guild/Group reports

These include the Army, the Guilds, and kingdom teams. A paragraph each is best. It’s good to include a link to their headquarters or sign-up thread. We seldom cover ALL the teams and kingdom groups each month, and that’s fine, so long as we provide an opportunity for our groups to get publicity, and cover a representative spectrum of Rivendell activities.

2. Kingdom Events and RPGs

Current events and important announcements, kingdom projects such as Project Imladris, festivals and contests, and new kingdom RPGs. We try to coax writers to report on these in an eyewitness, IC fashion. For ongoing RPGs, we may cover them once and not again, or perhaps (we haven’t done this yet), we’ll have “continuing coverage” in a future issue.

3. Foreign Reports

Monthly reports rather like #1, except covering other kingdoms.

4. Creative submissions

Poems or other short pieces scattered throughout the Herald to keep it from being straight news.

5. Recurring Stuff

There’s a grab bag of articles we like to have each month. To some extent I have hampered this department and the next by urging people to write from the perspective of Rivendell Elves,

6. Outside-Rivendell Stuff

News or events taking place outside the kingdom of Rivendell that our members might want to hear about. These could be anything from plaza changes to a specific RPG or competition.

7. Miscellaneous Stuff

Here’s the hard part: encouraging people to write all sorts of interesting, informative, entertaining articles on Middle-earth, Rivendell, or plaza topics. I often suggest topics. But I’d love for people to start suggesting them.

8. Elf Stuff

Articles on Elvish history/culture/lore/language/crafts, or other Middle-earth lore. “Crafts” hasn’t quite caught on: a detailed description of creating some object, like forging a sword. The motive behind “crafts” is that I want to represent the “Noldorin” side of Rivendell, the Elves who were famous craftsmen/smiths.

9. Fun Stuff

Puzzles, games, riddles, on the one hand, and humorous pieces on the other.

Summary

The Monthly reports— departments #1 and 3— have the same “ groups” reporting every month, so we can just sign up for those groups, e.g. Fangorn or the Army. Department #5, “recurring stuff”, and department #8, “Elvish stuff” tend to have the same kinds of articles every month, so we can also post specific sign-ups for those: “interview” or “lore of the Elves”, e.g. The other departments’ articles are always completely new, dependent on current events in Rivendell or around the plaza, or the whims of our writers. In those departments we need to look for and suggest likely topics (e.g. a new RPG opening in Rivendell) and encourage writers to suggest topics.