Inbox Journalism

February 16, 2016

Director Alex Bloom
Director Alex Bloom

Everyday, I receive 15 different email newsletters.

My inbox populates with newsletters from well-regarded reporters and thought leaders who have spent the early morning reading and curating the news before sending out the best of the day’s clips to their subscribers.

A few examples (disclaimer, I’m an avowed political junkie):

It’s an interesting concept – journalists are being recruited to lend a critical eye to already-reported news stories and send an email assessing the day’s coverage. And the formula goes far beyond politics:

  • TheSkimm, a general interest newsletter geared toward Millennial women, now boasts nearly two million subscribers.
  • The New York Times christened POLITICO’s Mike Allen as “The Man the White House Wakes Up To” for his Playbook, with over 100,000 subscribers.
  • Dan Primack’s Term Sheet, at Fortune Magazine, is one of the best places to get up to date on the latest financial news and has over 50,000 subscribers.

Here in the Boston media market, newsletters are picking up steam. POLITICO arrived last summer, making a newsletter writer their first Massachusetts hire. As the Boston Globe launched STAT last fall, one of their first moves was to seek “a stylish and engaging writer,” according to a job posting, for a morning newsletter. Megan Thielking now anchors the Morning Rounds. The Boston Business Journal has 18 newsletters, Boston Magazine has 15 and the Boston Herald offers nine.

The best and most successful newsletters, according to WGBH’s Mike Deehan, are the ones that find and cultivate a niche.

Deehan spent six years as the author of MASSterList, growing the State House News Service product to 10,000 subscribers as he injected more and more of his humor and sarcasm into the each email. His goal was to take a morning news roundup that he inherited and make it “one that’s a little more enjoyable to read.”

There’s also a difference between authored newsletters – like MASSterList – and a collection of aggregated links without explanation, such as the offering from the newly-minted Crain’s Boston.

But overall, newsletters are growing in popularity, likely because newsletters are mobile-friendly. According to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone and more than half (55%) got news on their smartphone at least once over the course of a one-week survey period.

Deehan said that the user experience of reading an emailed breakdown of the news, rather than having to open your web browser to multiple different news sites, is a key aspect of the success.

“When it is mobile-first like that and phone-centric, you’re probably going to increase your readership because it is easier to read,” Deehan said.

The trend does present a dilemma for reporters, however. Appearing in a popular newsletter – like Allen’s Playbook – will give great exposure to a game-changing story. But it could also mean that readers don’t ever make it to the full story. For Deehan, who now finds his WGBH radio reports in other newsletters, it isn’t a problem.

“It’s gravy anyway,” said Deehan, who likes to amplify a story’s reach through his own social media. “It’s added to whatever the outreach of that story is going to be.”

For brands, these newsletters represent a great opportunity to get a press release or an announcement in front of key influencers and audiences.

Deehan believes the best newsletters have highly-specific audiences, creating communities around a “high interest” topic. And industry leaders seem to be recognizing that trend, as the New York Times announced this week that it will be creating a newsletter focused solely toward college students.

“The more successful emails are the ones that get ‘nichier’ and ‘nichier,’” Deehan said.

Senior Vice President Cosmo Macero Jr. also offers a glimpse into his inbox with a few of his favorite reads:

  • Dave Pell’s NextDraft is a collection of quirky stories from across the spectrum, making it one of the few successful newsletters that offers general interest news.
  • DealBook, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, comes out twice a day as the New York Times’ mergers and acquisitions reporter/Wall Street expert shapes world financial news.
  • For media insiders, the Morning Media Newsfeed newsletter from Mediabistro plugs readers in to the latest on media news.
  • 5-Bullet Friday captures the thoughts and ideas of Tim Ferriss, an author, investor, and expert on management and leadership.
  • Muck Rack Daily keeps you updated on the latest moves and changes in the world of journalism.

Alex Bloom is a director in O’Neill and Associates’ communications practice. Connect with him by email at and on Twitter at @AlexBloom_05

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