American Culture

Journalism’s new (not really) vehicle for delivering news — email newsletters

CATEGORY: JournalismI don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.

Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).

These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:

10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn

Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes

THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]

Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.

WashPo’s not alone in the newsletter game. The failing New York Times has 56 newsletter offerings, ranging from daily to “as necessary.” The Los Angeles Times has 22 newsletters; the Wall Street Journal has 20 newsletters. CNN offers 11 newsletters; Fox News has 12 newsletters. CBS News offers 10; NBC News, seven; ABC News, three.

Lots of newspapers and other news media have newsletters. They’ve been described as “newspapers on your front porch” although, remember, newsletters offer nuggets, not the full course menu. Because the world has abandoned analog (print) for digital, a reader doesn’t have to walk to the front yard where the damn paperboy threw the paper instead of hitting the porch. Email arrives conveniently. The bite-sized portions fit audiences’ assumed shortened attention spans. Newsletters carry audio and video and still images, too. The good newsletters are well designed and attractive (meaning eyeballs like them, so advertisers do, too).

Email, once thought dead, has revived news consumption — or at least news companies hope so.

But newsletters bearing brief snippets of news with linked opportunities for more do not represent a dramatic change in news presentation — only in delivery mechanism.

Anyone who’s worked in a newsroom — or read a newspaper intelligently — recognizes briefs. They’ve been a staple of newspapers for a century (and in the digital era, on websites, too). Sometimes they operate as teasers — boldface single sentences or phrases containing the “see page 10” tagline arrayed in boxes at the top of the front page. Or they’re paragraphs down the left-hand side of the front page. Inside the paper, they’re shortened stories — a paragraph or two — deemed insufficiently important to warrant full play.

Teaser is an important word in the news biz. It shouts, “Read me. Read all of me.” Email newsletters — useful to me, at least — still amount to teasers. The senders want subscriptions. They want readers and viewers. All news organizations, still operating with the crippled business model of advertising-driven revenue — find old habits difficult to break. Readers wanted. Viewers wanted. Eyeballs wanted, because eyeballs can still be  sold to advertisers.

I like the newsletters. It’s handy to have them come to me via email. I can read them wherever and whenever I wish on whatever device I wish. As a news junkie, I appreciate the plethora of précis found in them.

I only hope newsletters are driving increased revenue for news organizations — and that such revenue eventually allows the tens of thousands of journalists canned by those organizations since 2007 to be rehired.

Without journalists, news doesn’t get credibly reported and written. Without journalists, my newsletters would be … news-less.