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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Email providers Mailchimp — they handle Nieman Lab’s daily and weekly emails; we’ve been happy with them — have a case study up on their blog on how — despite Quartz’ desires to be a future-friendly news org — it’s found good old-fashioned email to be a surprisingly important part of their content mix.

They pay attention to those readers, too, learning from the things they click — and don’t click — on. “We look at that pretty closely,” [former Nieman Labber Zach Seward] says. “In general, we see that people don’t much click on links in the first half of the email, which makes sense since those are part of pretty concise news summaries. But they click a lot on the links to opinion pieces and ‘random discoveries’ that we include in the second half of the email, which also makes sense. Sometimes we notice a particular link is really popular among our readers and assign a follow-up story for Quartz based on that. So there’s a bit of a feedback loop in the click data.”

Each Quartz Daily Brief, from start to finish, involves about five or six people. “Generally one person writes and one person edits and sends, per edition,” associate general manager Sara Lerner says. The Quartz team built a plugin to integrate MailChimp with their custom WordPress content management system. They use permissions so that only editors can send the campaigns, but everything happens within one interface. With readers and contributors spread out all over the world, though, it’s the sending and subsequent updates where things can sometimes get a little complicated.

(Nerdy aside: For what it’s worth — and mainly because we’re a lot smaller than Quartz — the Nieman Lab daily and weekly emails are designed to involve zero people. It uses Mailchimp’s ability to send regular emails based off the content of an RSS feed. I built a custom RSS feed that uses WordPress template tags to create a single RSS item, with all the email’s desired content — pulling in our stories and the latest from Fuego — that’s ready to go at 3 p.m. Eastern Monday to Friday. So I’m basically able to use the power of WordPress templating to generate an automated email. The opposite of Quartz’ approach, but evidence that Mailchimp’s tools can be made to work with a number of different workflows.)

— Joshua Benton
                                   
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  • michael

    I believe one of the reasons we have both a high open rate on this email is that we have no qualms of linking out to the best sources we can find – regardless of whether it is us or someone else.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Joshua Benton

    True.

    It’s remarkable how often I encounter someone who’s surprised that their email product is doing well. Email’s really powerful! And I really think the summarization ethos of a good email (like Quartz’) doesn’t have to be limited to just email.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

    No doubt email is #1 newsfeed. SMS #2. FB & Twitter #3. All others follow.

    When thinking through and designing social products, this lens guides most decisions.

    Email is ultimate mobile-first play for the smart startup.

  • jzguest

    Thanks for the valuable insight. Good work, Joshua.

  • Dan Kaplan

    Are there any metrics on the daily email? Subs? Ad rates? CTR? I think Quartz is doing a great job and is a model for all of us – would love to hear some benchmarks on these numbers. Thanks!