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Oct. 26, 2016, 4:44 p.m.
Business Models

The Texas Tribune updates its premium political coverage for an email newsletter world

Goodbye, Texas Weekly. Hello, The Blast.

Texas is shaping up as a surprisingly important state in the presidential election this year: Hillary Clinton is closing in on Donald Trump (the race in Texas is closer than it is in Pennsylvania), record-breaking numbers of Texans are voting early, and the 23rd Congressional district could flip to blue come November 8.

The tightness of the race provides an added sense of urgency to political coverage in the state. So it’s fitting that The Texas Tribune is choosing this fall to complete a revamp of its subscription political coverage.

Since it launched in 2009, the Tribune has offered access to a premium subscriber-only site called Texas Weekly. Texas Weekly actually dates all the way back to 1984, when it was a six-page print newsletter. When its editor and owner, Ross Ramsey, was hired as the Tribune’s managing editor in 2009, Texas Weekly came with him. (Ramsey is now the Tribune’s executive editor.)

“Over the years, The Texas Tribune, by virtue of its successes, has eaten away at Texas Weekly,” said Emily Ramshaw, the Tribune’s editor-in-chief. And a product that was only available via login on a website and primarily updated on Fridays started to seem outdated. During the legislative session in 2015, the Tribune experimented with sending daily email updates to Texas Weekly subscribers. “The open rates were really high and we made the decision to go ahead and keep it as a year-round product,” said John Reynolds, the Tribune’s newsletters editor, while Texas Weekly continued as a separate site. “We offered both products to appease the folks who’d been getting Texas Weekly in [the website format] for years,” Ramshaw said.

Now, though, the Tribune is abandoning the idea of a weekly product altogether and is instead rebranding Texas Weekly as The Blast, a paid email newsletter sent to subscribers every weekday. The Texas Weekly login website is going away.

“It’s a culture shift for the longtime Texas Weekly readers who are used to logging in and visiting this site once a week,” said Ramshaw. “But we really felt we needed to cater to a broader audience of Texans who need robust, daily, behind-the-scenes content to do their jobs.”

Texas Weekly had almost 800 subscribers, who pay $349 a year (or $325 for tax-exempt organizations). The Blast costs the same, and the goal is to double the subscriber count. The new potential audience members are still “the insiders to end all insiders,” as Ramshaw described them, but they “were less interested in reading a product they had to log into on a website and are far more interested in a push aspect.” A subscription to The Blast also includes a digital subscription to The Washington Post, and there are plans for subscriber-only events; here’s a sample edition.

Publishing a daily newsletter presents the Tribune with some new challenges. “The Blasts have been getting increasingly lengthy, so we’ll probably be dividing them up and sending them out multiple times a day,” Ramshaw said. “There is just so much stuff that doesn’t make it onto our homepage but is juicy and really delicious to our insider audience.” Think of a combination of Politico Playbook’s delivery model and Politico Pro’s business model.

The Blast is a larger undertaking than Texas Weekly was. Texas Weekly “used to be from inside the brains and notebooks of just a couple people,” Ramshaw said, but the full Tribune reporting staff is contributing to The Blast. The Tribune is not hiring new reporters to work on the newsletter, at least not yet; instead, the reporters who are already writing for the Tribune’s main site will offer additional reporting for the premium product.

“It’s like clearing their notebooks,” Reynolds said. “Some of the reporting will live on the main site, but some of it is more compelling for an audience that closely follows the minutiae in the Capitol.” At some point, he said, “we would like to have somebody who can do dedicated reporting for this premium site, but we haven’t arrived there yet.”

The Texas Tribune has eight other email newsletters that either curate articles or provide updates; those will remain free. “The Blast is our premium insider’s product and I’d like to focus on curating it to be as valuable as possible for that audience,” Ramshaw said.

“Texas Weekly has gone through all the iterations,” Reynolds said, “from something that physically got mailed out, to something that existed as a website that got updated once a week,” and an email newsletter is “a natural transition of that.”

Image of the Texas Capitol Building dome by Rex Boggs used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Oct. 26, 2016, 4:44 p.m.
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