Today's alternatives to a printed newsletter are the email version. I doubt that a single person reading this right now doesn't feel overwhelmed by the amount of email they receive on a daily basis. I, for one, have a few email subscriptions that I will read every week, and the rest pretty much goes in the trash. People tend to go overboard in email with offers and sales pitches. If I get a printed newsletter from a company that I do business with, however, I will at least scan the headlines to see if anything interests me and read the articles if it does - especially if it is well-designed. I feel like they sent it to me because I was important to them (unlike email, which everyone gets).
Aside from business to business communications, a company newsletter may also be used for inter-company communications.
Using articles that educate readers can actually even reduce labor costs by answering frequently asked questions or introducing and explaining changes.
But what about email? I recently met with a software company. They mentioned that they were getting terrible email open rates even for important updates on their products that the recipients USED. When you send a printed information piece, the recipient is going to have to hold it before getting rid of it, which is more of a connection than the click click of email deletion. Chances are, the person getting the newsletter will feel like a valued customer, partner or employee for having received it.
Tips for a good company newsletter:
Make it personal. In relation to your company, don't make it about marketing. Highlight employees and express the personality of your brand. Build a relationship.
Organization. Make sure the information is well-organized for easy reference and quick reading.
Make a template. For the content areas as well as the design. To avoid re-inventing the wheel, define what categories of topics will fall in each section. ex: "Community Contribution of the Month".
Look and Feel. Think about the vibe of your favorite magazines to get ideas for the look and feel of the design.
Here's an example of how you might set up a newsletter template front page: