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Keep It Real: The Key To Employee Publications

While many companies are converting completely to electronic media for employee communication, it would be premature to say that print is dead. Even white-collar


While many companies are converting completely to electronic media for employee communication, it would be premature to say that print is dead. Even white-collar industries such as banking are discovering that they cannot reach everyone through sophisticated intranet and e-mail systems. For many companies, print is still the only way to be sure that everyone has access to the same information. And print has an advantage over electronic media in that it is permanent. It provides a record whereas electronic media is transitory. Who would want a digital yearbook or opt for only digital wedding photos?


Companies that phase out print probably are not using it to its best advantage. Often print media is used for indoctrination. That is, it bores employees with stories that are more important to management; or it tries to influence their opinions about company policy. Worse, the publication staff may be filling each issue with pictures of managers and stories about their accomplishments. Electronic media (e.g., intranet Web sites) are more interactive and, consequently, have a better mix of employee issues and stories. The success of internal electronic media is best taken as a reminder that we need to get back to basics with employee print media. Print media and electronic media should follow the same objective of targeting employees.

For those companies that haven't given up on print, here are some guidelines for making the employee newspaper a viable communication tool:

  • Make it about employees

    If hourly employees are the target audience, then fill it with pictures and stories about hourly employees. This is not the place to provide reward and recognition for managers and customers.

  • Write interesting stories

    Just because something is deemed important by management does not mean it is interesting to employees. People are very selective about what they read. Just putting something into print does not guarantee that it will be read.

  • Keep it real

    Whenever possible, get quotes from employees. The less composed the quotes, the better. I once asked a loading-dock foreman what advice he had for new employees. ìLay low and keep your mouth shut,î he said. It got a big laugh from the guys who were standing around on the dock, and I printed it under his photo in the anniversary section of our employee newspaper.

  • Timeliness is everything

    There are two big problems with printing old news. One, no one is interested; two, you damage the credibility of the newspaper. Usually, employee publications print old news because they are waiting to get additional information for a story. Company publications benefit from the same rules used by commercial publications. You set a deadline, and when it arrives, you go with what you have.

  • Write in news style

    There is a reason that real newspapers use objective news style: it gives them credibility. Put the who, what, where, when and why into the lead. The most important information goes first, least important last. No personal pronouns, and no opinions.

  • When taking photos of employees, try to get working portraits

    If every picture is a tight headshot of someone grinning into the camera, the newspaper looks boring. If someone drives a truck, put the truck in the picture. If the employee sits behind a desk, then include the desk. Also, try to avoid using flash. Flash makes everything look unnatural.

When you add it all up, print publications are for posterity. They capture the culture at a point in time and preserve it. Putting out the employee publication may seem like just one more item on a to-do list, but it is much more than that. It is a record of the people, the accomplishments and the emotional bonds of the workgroup.


Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in the communication field, working as a journalist, consultant and director of internal communication. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.