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Creating an IYA supplement in your local newspaper


As 2009 and IYA approaches, the Gemini Observatory Public Information and Outreach Office has an initiative which involves the production of a newspaper “tabloid” or special edition supplement on astronomy (and specifically related to IYA). As a general astronomy supplement the concept has proven extremely successful on an international level at both of the Gemini telescope site’s host communities (Hawai‘i Island (twice) and in Chile (once)).

History

In 2003 “Stars Over Mauna Kea,” a special supplement/tabloid was produced and distributed in the local newspaper (the Tribune-Herald) in Hilo, Hawai‘i with over 30,000 copies printed and distributed. The publication, 48 pages in total, featured profiles on the people and observatories of Mauna Kea, stories about the geology and legends of the mountain, and historical information about the evolution of astronomy in Hawai‘i.  In addition, the publication included a series of essays titled “In their own words,” these were articles written by key members of the local astronomy community.

In 2005 60,000 copies of “Stars Over Mauna Kea II” were printed as a follow-up to the successful first edition. An article on `Imiloa Astronomy Education Center, explanations of what types of telescopes sit atop Mauna Kea, and columns written by scientists about the fascinating and significant discoveries being made were featured. Personal stories about the wide variety of careers in astronomy were also highlighted.

A smaller version (8-pages) of the publication was also produced in Chile in 2005 as a partnership with the regional El Dia newspaper. It saw a distribution of about 15,000 copies.

All three of these publications engaged a wide swath of the local astronomical community at a significant level and the result was a publication that everyone, from astronomers to the editors of the local newspapers, were extremely proud of.

Implementation

The first step is to approach your local newspaper editor, at least six months prior to when you envision the publication date, with a plan and vision for the publication (genuine enthusiasm goes a long way in selling the idea). Each publication is very different but they all need a local angle that will be interesting to readers and advertisers alike that ties the content to the community. Keep in mind that people like to read about people and the human stories will always be at the core of any publication. An astronomy researcher at the local university will undoubtedly have stories that will be compelling to a local reader because scientists are often a “hidden treasure” that most readers are not overly familiar with. A well-written article about a high-school intern at the local planetarium will appeal to even the most jaded newspaper editor!

Once the idea has been “sold” to the editor then the work begins and it is necessary to identify a single point of contact individual who will coordinate the project. This might include helping to identify potential advertisers, authors (usually the newspaper will provide staff writers), interesting stories/individuals. Depending on the size and scope of the publication, this job can be very time-consuming because of the level of details involved. It never hurts to be very specific with your newspaper editor so that specific jobs and responsibilities are well-defined and even documented if you feel it is necessary.

The content is obviously another issue that requires significant thought and effort. A Cornerstone project for the working group on science/visitor centers, observatories and planetaria is to produce a set of generic articles that can be used in any community and supplemented with local content to round out the publication. At the time of this writing the funding to produce this content is pending but even without generic content it is still possible to pursue a newspaper supplement but realistic expectations should be set in terms of the number of pages and the quantity of unique content. Even a supplement of 8 pages will have a major impact on a community’s awareness of astronomy, IYA and the facility or group sponsoring the publication.

How you can do your own astronomy supplement

The first step is to approach your local newspaper editor, at least six months prior to when you envision the publication date, with a plan and vision for the publication (genuine enthusiasm goes a long way in selling the idea). Each publication is very different but they all need a local angle that will be interesting to readers and advertisers alike that ties the content to the community. Keep in mind that people like to read about people and the human stories will always be at the core of any publication. An astronomy researcher at the local university will undoubtedly have stories that will be compelling to a local reader because scientists are often a “hidden treasure” that most readers are not overly familiar with. A well-written article about a high-school intern at the local planetarium will appeal to even the most jaded newspaper editor!

Once the idea has been “sold” to the editor then the work begins and it is necessary to identify a single point of contact individual that will coordinate the project. This might include helping to identify potential advertisers, authors (usually the newspaper will provide staff writers), interesting stories/individuals. Depending on the size and scope of the publication, this job can be very time-consuming because of the level of details involved. It never hurts to be very specific with your newspaper editor so that specific jobs and responsibilities are well-defined and even documented if you feel it is necessary.

The content of the supplement requires forethought and effort. Realistic expectations should be set in advance in terms of the number of pages and the quantity of unique content. Even a supplement of eight pages will still have a major impact on a community’s awareness of astronomy, IYA2009 and the facility or group sponsoring the publication.

Content Idea

Calendar of Local (and some larger national and international) IYA2009 events

  • GLOBE at Night
  • 100 Hours of Astronomy
  • Earth Hour
  • The history of the telescope from Galileo – present
  • Timeline of key astronomical milestone discoveries
    (highlighting most recent and any with local angle)
  • How to enjoy the sky as an amateur
  • Light pollution and the environment (participating in Globe at Night)
  • Local exhibits, planetarium shows, lectures
  • Economic impact astronomy or related industry has on the local area
  • Sky charts for the month or season that the insert is running
  • A supplemental piece for how to use the sky charts to observe the night sky
  • Interview a local astronomy club and add a sidebar of when their meetings take place
  • A piece explaining the difference between astronomy and astrology
  • A visitors or travel guide from one or more of the larger observatories
  • A sidebar listing recommended books (including children’s books) and videos to learn more about astronomy
  • Astronomy related activities for families to do together
  • A sidebar of online resources
  • How to buy a telescope guide

When you approach your local newspaper one of the first issues they will want addressed is how much advertising can be secured in order to support the editorial content envisioned. For every page of content a certain quantity of advertising must be obtained to support it or the publication will not be viable for the newspaper. In Hawai‘i this was a big concern since the main industries are tourism, agriculture and of course astronomy. However, even with this limited economic base the newspaper was able to make the publication profitable (it was more of a challenge to make the publication profitable in Chile). Advertisers also appreciated the opportunity to be creative in their advertising and several local businesses created special ads that included an astronomical theme. This only strengthened the publication and gave it a “feel” of engagement and excitement – it created a “buzz!”

Best Practices

David Bock, Editor of the Hawaii Tribune Herald is a strong supporter of the project and he is currently working to make a special 3rd supplement a reality for IYA in 2009. “We are excited the world is going to pay that much attention to astronomy in 2009,” says Bock.  “Sciences can get lost.  The fact that the planet will be paying this much attention to astronomy, letting the world know why astronomy is so important and the contributions it is making to society, makes this upcoming publication a very exciting prospect for a newspaper.”

The argument can be made (and has been) that both Hawai‘i and Chile present unique environments for a newspaper supplement given the significant investment in astronomical research and resources that has made in each of the Gemini host communities. However, with the IYA events and visibility, an extremely strong case can be made for any community with a planetarium, science center, observatory, university with a strong astronomy program or even a very active group of amateurs to explore this initiative with their local newspaper editor.

One of the first issues that needs to be addressed is how much advertising can be secured in order to support the editorial content envisioned. For every page of content a certain quantity of advertising must be obtained to support it or the publication will not be viable for the newspaper. In Hawai‘i this was a big concern since the main industries are tourism, agriculture and of course astronomy. However, even with this limited economic base the newspaper was able to make the publication profitable (it was more of a challenge to make the publication profitable in Chile). Advertisers also appreciated the opportunity to be creative in their advertising and several local businesses created special ads that included an astronomical theme. This only strengthened the publication and gave it a “feel” of engagement and excitement – it created a “buzz!”

Finally, since this paper will not answer all of the possible questions and challenges will be encountered in the pursuit of a newspaper supplement, the authors encourage readers to contact us with questions and queries. Chances are we’ve encountered the same issues and can help provide a smooth path for a successful publication and enhancement to your IYA activities.

Articles that you can use

Communities Publishing Supplements for IYA2009

  • Hilo, Hawaii
    Hawaii Tribune Herald
    Contact:  Janice Harvey, (808) 974-2603, jharvey@gemini.edu

email newmedia@astronomy2009.org to get your name added here