Like many modern freelancers, you may find journalist Ann Friedman in a range of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and New York Magazine. This disaggregation of her body of work can make it difficult for readers to develop loyalty. Yet many readers — particularly millennials — are more interested in following a writer they trust or enjoy than a publication. “People like people more than brands,” Friedman told Crosscut in a recent interview, which is why she began curating her own weekly newsletter to better engage and grow her readers across publications. The roughly 500-word-count letter highlights topics she finds interesting, written in her distinctly casual, first-person tone. Through unpaid social media and word of mouth, Friedman has grown her subscriber base to more than 25,000 readers since the newsletter launch in 2013.
E-newsletters have become a primary engagement, dissemination and revenue-generating tool for modern newsrooms. With benefits ranging from reader loyalty to audience insights to new revenue, it’s easy to see why. What’s harder to see is the “why not,” though it’s equally important. Email used to be a method for filtering the internet. Far from the infinity scroll or overcrowded stream of unvetted articles, email delivered exactly what we needed to know from a trusted source in a format that we could finish. For newsrooms, email allowed us to target exactly who we wanted with the content and branding we wanted them to see. Email has not only outlived and outshone other tools, it has remained the one constant in a stream of new technologies. As ReDef executive Jason Hirschhorn told The New York Times, email is “the cockroach of the internet.”
If you operate a nonprofit newsroom, email appeals have likely become an essential fundraising tool. Yet while recommendations for how to grow your mailing lists are readily available, it’s much harder to find good information about retaining subscribers and engaging them as active community members. As a result, many successful efforts to gain subscribers are followed swiftly by flurries of unsubscribes or high spam ratings. Through a fellowship with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, I’ve set out to explore ways that nonprofit news outlets can turn fly-by readers into email subscribers and, further, into supporting members.