Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Why won’t some people pay for news?
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Aug. 23, 2017, 10:31 a.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   August 23, 2017

Earlier this summer, we spoke with Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall about ways he was thinking about adding value to its $50-a-year Prime membership program:

What we are looking for are things that are are only really going to be of interest to our core readership, people who are logical subscribers to TPM. Things that fall into that category, both that might not have a lot of relevance to our broader audience as opposed to our core audience, and things that the core audience is really going to be into. That is where we come up with giving people more detail, more transparency, more guidance in understanding the stories of the day and our reporting, as the the key thing we want to focus in on.

Last night, Marshall outlined an idea for a new morning email newsletter that could be part of that effort:

For all of its history TPM’s been at its best when we are on a small number of stories (maybe 3 to 6 at a time) that we grab on to and pursue doggedly with iterative reporting. Those aren’t the only stories we cover. We’re hitting lots of things here and there every day. But those are the ones that capture our attention, the ones we think are important, the ones with mysteries that need to be solved. Those are the stories where we put most of our resources…

As I mentioned at the top, at any given time we’re really focused on a handful of key stories. But just what they are or how they’ve changed on a given day isn’t necessarily clear from looking at the site’s front page. I tend to be pretty up to date on each of those storylines. But a lot of times I don’t have a perfect idea of where each one is. I’d like a morning briefing giving me a quick synopsis on each. This is still on the drawing board. But rather than the standard morning links email that every site sends out and we do too, I’m interested in launching a morning newsletter that does just this: a smart, concise overview of where the critical stories are for the day and how we plan to attack them.

I’m sharing this with you because it grows out of what we’ve always done but I think takes it to a new level. It is also a reaction to the ways the news business is changing, how we process the surfeit of information being thrown at us hour by hour, how we piece together the various strands of news across multiple publications.

On one hand: Yep, it’s another morning email newsletter, a genre with no shortage of entrants. But if this goes forward, it could be an interesting small tweak on some of the the existing models. Instead of “here’s what you need to know to start your day” or “here’s what happened overnight,” it could be a little closer in tone to an edited version of a morning editorial meeting — noting journalistic resource allocation and small but significant granular updates rather than just top headlines. It could be a small step away from the events-driven approach the web seems optimized for. And structuring it around a small number of stories — à la Quartz’s much admired “obsessions” model — could help both reporters and the audience maintain focus.

The ultimate goal, according to Marshall, is this: “I want to give you as readers, avid news consumers, access to the information swirling around the collective TPM brain trust that doesn’t necessarily make it into the four corners of the published articles.” And that’s a target any news organization could aim for. Today, if that information does reach readers, it’s probably through Twitter — an idea I’ve harped on before:

Columbia’s Bill Grueskin felt similarly:

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