In 2014, the late great New York Times journalist David Carr proclaimed “a radical publishing technology that is catching on in news media companies big and small.” He wasn’t talking about Snapchat, nor the next hyped Silicon Valley startup, but e-mail.
E-mail newsletters are clicking with readers. It’s a medium that’s been embraced by both legacy organizations like The New York Times and digital upstarts like Buzzfeed – allowing them to retain control of their own messaging and bypass intermediaries like Facebook. The result is a hybrid content platform that functions as a halfway house delivering a print-style layout with digital economies of scale.
The Quartz Daily Brief, the Poynter Institute’s Morning MediaWire, The Economist Espresso and The Atlantic Daily are the newsletters that make up my morning routine. They each share one or more of three common features that reflect the innovation that the medium brings. And they’re something I try to incorporate when writing the APEX Daily Experience every weekday morning:
Borrowing an overused term from the museum world, newsletters are an opportunity to present a narrative that connects the dots between individual stories and provide a “bigger picture” view of the world. Poynter’s MediaWire does this by offering a daily critical eye on what the US media is covering, and sometimes more importantly what it is not. The end result is a casually written, informed take on current affairs revealing connections hidden in plain sight. Conversely, The Atlantic Daily is sent out at the end of the day, delivering a snapshot of what the publication’s journalists are following, a photo of the day and a quiz for readers.
Online news, Twitter and Facebook feeds deliver never ending torrents of recycled news stories. The best e-mail newsletters, whether sourcing their own content, trawling rival publications or obscure sources, find the stories people didn’t know they wanted to read. The Quartz Daily Brief’s “Surprising Discoveries” section is a great example of this, offering daily morning gems such as “Russians are obsessed with a blob-like sculpture” and “The broccoli of the future knows no season.”
Social media, news feeds, YouTube videos, mobile apps and other web 2.0 innovations are often cited as a root cause information overload. Newsletters, on the other hand, have a beginning, an end and are quick to read. Like Twitter’s 140-character limit, the technical and space restrictions imposed by e-mail encourage creativity and precision, and makes the platform a blank canvas for constraint-based innovation. The Economist’s Espresso is aimed at time-poor executives and decision-makers. It contains just five brief items on what The Economist thinks will dominate the day’s news agenda, followed by short summaries of world news from the day earlier.
At face value, writing an engaging daily newsletter on a subject as niche as the airline passenger experience industry may seem a challenge. And it certainly did when I started the job. While some of the topics we cover will only interest industry folk (think satellite Ka-band terminals hardware certificate approvals), my job is to present a wider context to these stories. Few industries embody and facilitate globalization like aviation does. Nearly everything we cover is related to what is happening in the wider world. It affects millions of lives and touches upon politics, the economy, culture and technology.
The job of e-newsletter curators is to sift through the clutter, pick the best stories, provide context through wider trends, and keep our readers ahead of the curve – in a format that can be digested in under five minutes.
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