Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Misinformation is a global problem. One of the solutions might work across continents too.
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Nov. 8, 2018, 11:24 a.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   November 8, 2018

Newsletters abound in 2018’s reshaping media market — helping to expand the subscription funnel and subvert social media algorithms, among other causes. There are plenty of panels, case studies, and lists of questions about how you can improve yours in the newfound age of email newsletters.

But saying “make me a newsletter” is easier than actually putting in the work for the newsletter to happen successfully.

Harvard’s Shorenstein Center has also been keeping a watchful eye on newsletters, in particular how they interact with nonprofit digital newsrooms. Shorenstein’s Single Subject News Project works with, well, single-subject newsrooms including local education network Chalkbeat, inequality and innovation in education-focused The Hechinger Report, criminal justice investigative outlet The Marshall Project, gun violence reporting startup The Trace, and The War Horse, a newsroom covering the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs built by a “stubborn Marine grunt with a dream.” (The project also works with ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, the Center for Public Integrity, and Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting.)

For the Single Subject News Project, Caroline Porter surveyed eight news organizations this summer on their internal structure and strategy for newsletters. “They are both editorial and business products, and unlike an advertisement or a news story, their place within news organizations is an open question,” she wrote in her summary of the results.

Here are the top findings:

  • Half of organizations surveyed described newsletters’ place in the organization charts as sitting among the “audience” team, or “engagement” team or “digital team,” while the rest used “editorial” or the “newsroom” labels.
  • Each newsletter has at least one editorial review before publication, and in some cases involves draft sign-off by upper management, including those in the editor in chief, executive editor, and editorial director roles.
  • It makes sense, especially in smaller organizations, that when it comes to workflow many people pitch in to produce a newsletter. In larger organizations, we found that it was more common to have one staff member, such as an engagement reporter, dedicated to the tent-poll newsletters.
  • According to our survey, news outlets dedicate between four to 58 hours per week producing newsletters. For three of the news orgs, it’s about 40 hours per week.
  • Good product design is also critical. Keeping the newsletter to a certain size, understanding the impact of images, and experimenting with interactive elements are all examples of powerful tools for successful newsletters.

A striking comparison: “A lot of newsrooms operate like everything is breaking news,” Chalkbeat’s head of product, Becca Aaronson, told Porter. “The newsletter and other digital projects require strategic long-term thinking. There are long-term implications, and newsrooms today need to connect all the dots.”

Read the full writeup here.

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