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July 12, 2017, 9:30 a.m.
Audience & Social

With its Take Action newsletter, The Nation is giving readers ways to act on the stories they read

“We’re about ideas, but we’re also about instigating actions. Though I believe our role is to seed ideas for the future, you want a journalism that has impact. It’s news readers can use.”

When it comes to politics, the first half of 2017 has given people plenty to protest. And while some have responded to current affairs by becoming more politically active, others, certain they can’t have an effect, have shrugged and tuned out.

The liberal magazine The Nation is experimenting with new ways to get those on the left of both of those groups — the active and the inactive — involved. Late last month, the magazine launched Take Action Now, a weekly newsletter designed to offer readers three ways they can act on the issues and stories they read in the news. In one recent edition, the newsletter offered readers opportunities such as donating to the disability-rights organization ADAPT, whose members protested the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid. It also highlighted the work of #AllofUs, Democracy Spring, the Democratic Socialists of America, which were organizing sit-ins at senators’ offices. Another showed how they can help with organize the “Internet-wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” later this month. Take Action Now also posts advocacy opportunities on its Twitter account.

For the 152-year-old magazine, born out an extension of the abolitionist movement, Take Action Now is decidedly on brand and in sync wth the magazine’s tradition of pushing a progressive agenda, said Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. “We’re about ideas, but we’re also about instigating actions. Though I believe our role is to seed ideas for the future, you want a journalism that has impact. It’s news readers can use.”

Take Action Now is an offshoot of The Nation’s Take Action program, which the magazine says has directed hundreds of thousands of readers to sign petitions, write to their representatives, and protest. The new initiative builds on that model, however, by acknowledging that not all its readers will have time to organize a sit-in or participate in protests. That’s why each of the three actions included in each newsletter are selected to fit the criteria of “No Time to Waste?,” “Got Some Time?,” and “Ready to Dig In?,” which vary in terms of how much time they will demand.

“People have busy lives, and we want to be humble about what we’re suggesting,” vanden Heuvel said. “We’re not asking people to give it all up and devote everything. We want people do what they can. And I think people will respect that, no matter what their schedule is.”

For plenty of traditional news organizations, such a approach would likely turn off both reporters and readers. As the mass media becomes further splintered into niche outlets — many of them with a strong ideological point of view — more organizations have started to embrace the notion that news organizations can both report and direct readers to act on issues on consequence. And given the current occupant of the White House, a lot of that energy has been on the left. Mic, for example, recently launched a feature called “Offsite,” which offers readers ways they can take action on certain stories. The tool is designed to hook into sites like, letting readers, for example, sign petitions directly from related stories. The tool also works with messaging apps like Kik and Facebook Messenger. (HuffPost product head Julia Beizer recently floated the idea of a bringing a similar feature to its site.)

And then there’s Crooked Media, the podcast company launched by a trio of former Obama staffers, which is also designed to be less journalistic and more activist. Hosts of the network’s shows regularly call on listeners to call congressmen or donate to groups like SwingLeft. Tommy Vietor, host of Pod Save the World, said in a recent interview with venture capitalist Hunter Walk that the company has “tried to do a better job of not just talking about what awful thing happened last week, but also helping listeners understand what they can do about it. That last step is what I think distinguished us from even progressive news outlets.”

Vanden Heuvel also says that she hopes that The Nation’s approach to activism will be a differentiator. “As long as we’re honest about our values and root all of this in our journalism, then there will be a natural synergy that readers will respond to,” she said.

Photo of protesters tedeytan used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 12, 2017, 9:30 a.m.
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