With newsletters, you can cherry-pick the best stories for your readers.

Credit: Photo by Kolby Milton on Unsplash

In 2020, research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism showed that one in five Americans, and one in ten Britons, accessed news via email each week. For many news outlets, the newsletter has proven to be an efficient way to grow reader habits and drive subscriptions.

While new email products seem to be popping out every day, two are worth a mention. The difference between them is that one is a result of reader demand, the other is a response to reader needs.

Seven is the magic number

The Washington Post last week came out with The 7, a short daily rundown of the seven must-read stories to start your day. It is published each weekday at 7 am and updated through to 10 am, featuring news topics ranging from politics and pop culture to the latest on covid-19 and climate change.

This adds another email to its roster of more than 50 newsletters. What makes this one different is that it is the quickest and most essential briefing on offer. It is designed to take just three minutes to read.

"Seven items give us the opportunity to provide a well-balanced briefing that incorporates more than the single most-critical story dominating the news day," says Coleen O'Lear, head of mobile strategy for The Washington Post via email.

"The news can change quickly. We understand that, so as storylines change or break, the briefing will update to reflect what audiences need to know at that moment."

She adds that the impetus for The 7 was a 10 per cent year-on-year growth for newsletter open rate across the publication, and an 86 per cent increase in app downloads over the last year. The Post declined to offer a more concrete breakdown of that raw data.

"Both subscribers and non-subscribers increasingly come to The Post from their phone, whether on our apps, mobile website or social platforms — particularly younger readers. We are invested in meeting audiences where they are and finding better ways to support our mobile users through optimising for smaller screens," she continues.

The 7's first newsletter was sponsored by American Express Business, and it is expected to generate more sponsorship opportunities in the future.

Popping the bubblewrap

It is a very different story for Bubblewrap, a free weekly round-up of the best stories from the nooks and crannies of London, UK. This was launched yesterday (16 September) by UK social enterprise newspaper publisher, Social Spider Community News.

The clue is in the name. Bubblewrap wants to burst the London 'bubble' of Westminster politics and West End hustle and bustle, with a 'wrap' of stories from the boroughs of London.

The managing director David Floyd says that many parts of London have experienced a decline in corporate local newspapers and reporters integrated in the community. With three or four honourable exceptions, he says that more than 20 London boroughs feel as though their coverage is edited from afar. The ambition with Bubblewrap is to flag up compelling stories coming out of the independent news titles mushrooming in and around the capital.

The newsletter goes out every Friday afternoon, and features between 10 and 20 stand-out articles in total, some of those from Social Spider's five independent titles, mostly based in North London: Waltham Forest Echo, Tottenham Community Press, Enfield Dispatch, EC1 Echo and Barnet Post.

But it will also amplify noteworthy stories from other London-based independent titles, including its seven launch partners Newham Voices, SE1, Peckham Peculiar, 853, Roman Road London, Fitzrovia News and Inside Croydon. These are all members of the Independent Community News Network, which has 125 member publishers across the UK. 

Anyone with good knowledge of London postcodes and boroughs will realise West London is not well-served here. Social Spider will be on the hunt for stories and potential partners in that part of the capital.

Newsletters are an inexpensive medium to produce compared to doing a weekly print edition with the same ambition. Mariam Chaudhri will lead as Bubblewrap editor, working with Socal Spider editor-in-chief James Cracknell.

The big question is: why would a reader in Peckham care about what is happening in Barnet?

"We want to look at how different areas are responding to, and experiencing, similar problems," says Floyd. "Whether that's gentrification, social care, flooding or environmental issues. I think readers will be interested in the similarities and differences in what's happening in different London boroughs.

"But we are also looking to flag up things happening in one borough that are just really interesting developments, what a particular person or group is doing, that we think will resonate more widely.

"What we're doing with Bubblewrap is picking out of the articles which are important to local readers but may also have a relevance to a wider readership and help to build a London-wide picture of what's going on from a collection of locally-focused stories and sources."

Bubblewrap is free to sign up to, but if it proves a thriving success, it will consider monetising the newsletter.

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