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Oct. 14, 2014, 6:11 p.m.
Aggregation & Discovery
voxsentences

The new Vox daily email, explained

The company’s newsletter, Vox Sentences, enters an increasingly crowded inbox. Can concise writing and smart aggregation on the day’s news help expand their audience?

T
he old email newsletter continues its remarkable return to prominence. The latest move: Vox wants to make explaining the news a little more manageable by telling you everything you need to know in the comfort of your inbox.

Tomorrow, the site will launch Vox Sentences, its first daily email newsletter, with an aim at delivering both information and utility to readers. As email has become increasingly popular with publishers — not to mention built individual franchises for writers — the race is on to find ways to differentiate what you deliver.

Vox is focusing on delivering only a handful of top stories with a collection of the best links from around the web. So on any given day, Vox Sentences will serve up several main topics — say, Ebola, ISIS, and California’s “Yes Means Yes” law — with context provided by some of the day’s best writing. And, as the name implies, it’ll be direct — just a bunch of sentences. One thing that separates Vox’s newsletter from competitors is that it arrives at the end of the day, not the beginning. Instead of an 8 a.m. briefing, Vox is offering an 8 p.m. roundup.

“You’ve had a long day, and we want to give you something that is the easiest way anywhere to get caught up,” Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein told me. Vox Sentences will offer a daily reading list for people who want to stay informed but don’t have the inclination to stay on Twitter all day or the time to keep on top of every breaking news alert. Klein said the evening delivery is meant to give the email more breathing room from the morning newsletter stampede. While it’s primarily designed to be read in your email, Vox Sentences will also be published daily on Vox.com.

In the seven months since Vox.com launched, the site’s audience has steadily grown, seeing 22 million unique visitors in September, according to Klein. They want to continue to grow the audience by finding ways to better slice up what Vox does, either in its reporting or the services the site can provide. They see the newsletter as one example of that; Vox Sentences was built to be a concise package of the news, focused on the most important stories and mindful of the time people devote to their inbox. It’s first and foremost an exercise in smart aggregation, something media companies are taking a renewed interest in.

Vox Sentences would seem to share some DNA with BuzzFeed’s upcoming news app, both want to reach an audience of general news consumers who are looking for a smarter daily bundle of stories. Yes, a package — not unlike, say, the evening newspaper, timed for when people are at home and fiddling around on their phones or tablets. Klein says many of the stories you’ll find in the newsletter won’t be from Vox: “I don’t care if it drives traffic back to the site. I care if the people who read it feel well served by it,” Klein said.

Vox joins a growing collection of sites who are trying to broaden their audience by building branded products on one of the oldest — in digital years — delivery platforms around. But email is a different stage than the open web, and publishers like Vox want to be mindful of the constraints, and the benefits, of the space. Those readers can be a reliable audience who have a connection to Vox, even if they don’t go to the site, Klein said.

Klein said he wants Vox to focus on building things that provide a reliable service to readers, while also creating stories and products that are meant to be discovered piece-by-piece on social media and in search. “We at Vox want to be providing readers with certain services,” he said. “The idea is not just to write a bunch of content we think is interesting every day.”

Vox Sentences was developed with special projects editor Dylan Matthews, who will also oversee the day-to-day production of the newsletter. This is not the first newsletter collaboration between the two: They previously launched the Wonkbook newsletter while working on Wonkblog at The Washington Post. Matthews said the newsletter was built using Sailthru with styling from Vox designers. In scouring the web for a daily roundup, Matthews said he plans to avoid the chatter and echo chamber of Twitter in favor of RSS feeds and deep reading on newspapers and magazines. From that deluge of tabs, he’ll choose a handful of topics, along with 5 to 8 corresponding links.

But Matthews said Vox Sentences will be a very flexible project, meaning that what we see today won’t necessarily be the same six months from now. In the same manner Vox staffers launched the site quickly and iterated from there, Matthews expects they will tinker with everything from the number of links to themes and the time of day the newsletter is delivered.

The target reader for the newsletter is someone who wants to stay on top of the news, is curious about what’s going on in the world, and wants a context — and the occasional surprise — in their news, Matthews said. “Hopefully, this is a mechanism for people to discover articles and topics they wouldn’t otherwise and feel enriched by what they find there,” he said.

POSTED     Oct. 14, 2014, 6:11 p.m.
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