Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Flexing My Critical Muscles

Today I had to kill two hours in a train station. I had a couple of copies of the EGA's Needle Arts with me. As you know, I have a PhD in English, which essentially means I am trained as a critic. It’s not such a bad way to live in the world, though sometimes other people do wish you’d shut up about the limitations of everything. (If you’re not sure about the difference between criticism that academics do and the criticism that your mother did--presuming she wasn’t an academic--check this out.) As I always say, how can you fix it if you don’t know what’s broke? I began thinking about Needle Arts, started taking some notes, and in the end, I had over four pages, to which I will not subject you all at once. I do want you to come back.

I read two issues of Needle Arts cover to cover. Let me tell you, this is not easy; we’re not dealing with a fascinating document. I was perplexed, bored, and flabbergasted. It took me a while, but I finally realized the problem: the editor doesn’t seem to know what—or who—this magazine is for. Oh, sure, broadly it’s for needleworkers and it serves to advance needlework education, but what is an article—no, a whole recurring column!—on Roberts Rules of Order doing in there? And have you ever seen the column on chapter newsletters? Not the “Chapter News Section” the “Newsletter Highlights” section? The past two issues covered how to mail a newsletter—and I’ve mailed newsletters by bulk mail, she’s not even good on that, though it is true that bulk mail standards are completely perplexing, better just to stick the .37 cent stamp on it… but I digress… The other article covered the names of newsletters. In extraordinarily tedious detail:
Most of the 292 chapters who send me their newsletters have titles. I did some research and found that neatly 100 use their chapters’ names as the newsletter title or part of their chapters’ titles. [Never mind the grammar.] Many more have titles that contain words pertaining to needlework. “Needle” is the most popular with 64 occurrences, “thread” is used 30 times, “stitch” or some equivalent is found in 21 times but “thimble” is found in only three newsletter names.

Hey, wake up! No drooling while I blog.

Never having attended an EGA meeting, I don’t know what other EGA members need from their newsletter. But it’s not doing it for this member-at-large. And when the newsletter is your single greatest budget item (June 2005, 6) it had better be worth it, doing something for your membership. (In this I will happily claim an expertise. In a previous position, I edited and wrote for a newsletter. The steering committee looked at the budget and said the very same thing. I asked for one year to change things. I added reports from our grant winners, wrote a fun column applying “dry academic thought” to “the real world,” and encouraged the director to move away from those columns that were merely a list of activities and events. Our readership increased—because so many other departments began using our newsletter for recruitment, we had to increase the print run.)

This newsletter seems to be doing too many things to do any effectively. It serves to advertise the education programs, it helps chapter leaders do their jobs better, it shares news about members (about whom we care not), it provides patterns, it presents articles about designers and how to teach children (I should say girls, more on that later). But when it comes right down to it, the information about the education programs is sketchy, the chapter leaders are a different audience from the chapter members, we're not one big happy family, and we don't all think that teaching kids is the only way to expand the needlework market. (Of course, we all love to get patterns and read about designers.)

Tomorrow, I investigate the information about education programs...

No comments: