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A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
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July 2, 2013, 10 a.m.
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Evening Edition looks to build beyond its simple model

The idea of a once-a-day summary of news has obvious appeal for people overwhelmed by streams and feeds. But you’ve also got to get that summary in front of readers.

Mule Design co-founder Mike Monteiro has never argued that Evening Edition — the five-stories-delivered-at-5 o’clock news roundup from Mule Design — is a complicated idea. “Evening Edition is ridiculously, stupidly simple,” he told me. “We got this thing done in 24 hours after thinking it up. It was crazy.” The news summary isn’t exactly a new form.

But that didn’t stop it from being received rapturously in some corners. Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb, for instance: “These Designers Did for Fun What News Sites Can’t Do to Save Their Business…It did in a week’s work what news organizations can’t seem to do at all: deliver their output in a form that’s comfortable and convenient for the audience.” Others praised its simplicity and predicted “it won’t be long before Monteiro and his group are clocking millions of page views.”

A year later, some of that buzz has worn off; pageviews have leveled off at around 30,000 a week, around what it was earning around launch and last fall, and Evening Edition isn’t raised as a savior for media as often. But Mule still believes in the formula and is expanding — even if that means adding some complexity to their simple model.

Monteiro just brought on friend-of-Nieman-Lab Miranda Mulligan (whose day job is executive director of Northwestern’s Knight Lab) to oversee the content as its editor-in-chief, and a New York edition launched last month to accompany the existing Paris, London, and San Francisco editions. (Evening Edition is published at 5 p.m. in each “local” time zone.)

“I have no idea what it’s going to look like in a month,” Mulligan said. “We’re figuring that out as we go.”

Two of her priorities are clear: creating more interesting content, and finding more ways to get people to read it. For instance, last year, when some suggested that push notifications might be a useful way to get people to read Evening Edition, Monteiro argued for simplicity:

Now, he’s warmed up to the idea of an app to provide push notifications, if it means more people paying attention to the publication. “One of things we’ve heard is that people forget it’s there, because people don’t get those alerts for emails the way they do with an app,” Monteiro said, adding that they would be very interested in new desktop push notifications as well. “We’re trying lots of stuff; some of it might stick.”

Mulligan said editions for more cities are coming soon, and she is also working to make that content more reader-friendly. Evening Edition emails typically focus on international news — the four headlines in a recent New York edition email were about Taliban peace talks, global refugee numbers, toxins in the Fukushima water supply, and protests in Brazil — and she acknowledged that the generic writing style can be unappealing.

“I think we might try not necessarily going lighter with the news, but I think we’re going to be trying to be more approachable,” Mulligan said. “Some of it will be style and presentation; some of it will be a more approachable way of writing the stories.” (As she put it in her intro post: “Perhaps we’ll pivot to something more locally focused. Perhaps we’ll shoot for something more dinner-party-esque.”)

Evening Edition is still a side project for Mule, supported in part through sponsorships, which include a small ad on the Evening Edition website, links at the bottom of their daily emails, and a 20- to 30-second spot at the beginning of their daily podcast. “We’ve done okay with that,” Monteiro said. “I don’t think anybody’s getting rich here, but we’ve paid people, you know, a kick past being a volunteer.” (Eight people work on Evening Edition in some capacity, including freelance writers and Mule Design employees who work on other projects as well.)

There’s still lots of power in summarization, but another effort that got some attention last year is also still operating on a small scale. The Brief, a tech-focused publication that also attracted attention for its simple, curated summaries of the day’s news, is a much smaller operation, designed and compiled exclusively by Richard Dunlop-Walters, who also compiles The Feature (née Give Me Something to Read) for Instapaper. Unlike Evening Edition, the site’s identity isn’t staked on being once-daily, Dunlop-Walters says, and now he says he’s considering scrapping that model altogether.

“I’m still deciding the right format for it,” he said. “I think a lot of people, more news junkie people, like to read things through the day. I want to appeal to those people too.”

The Brief, which launched last October, has about 700 subscribers to its free daily email of the day’s tech news, and about 100 of them pay $3 per month for additional content. Dunlop-Walters admits he’s not interested in marketing and promotion, and he’s happy that his readership has slowly expanded in the site’s first six months without worrying too much about the business model.

“It would be nice if it were sustainable, if it was a full-time thing, but that seems a long way off,” he said.

Image from Olivander used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 2, 2013, 10 a.m.
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