Last spring, staff members at Crosscut News, a nonprofit news site based out of Seattle, found themselves stalled at two questions regarding their email products: What do our subscribers actually want from us, and how can we best deliver that?
Despite finding pieces of answers scattered across platforms and industries, as well as a few strong examples from some news leaders, it became clear that there was no central source with comprehensive guidance on how a smaller newsroom like Crosscut should best recruit and retain subscribers.
In order to fill the void, Crosscut is researching the most effective way to convert unique news readers into engaged email subscribers in partnership with the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Tamara Power-Drutis, former executive director at Crosscut and RJI fellow, served as the project leader.
Later this year, Crosscut will release what Power-Drutis describes as a free “newsletter playbook tool” to serve as a guide for news organizations.
“Although we originally intended to focus on nonprofit, online newsrooms, our scope broadened early on to include for-profit, broadcast, and print media,” Power-Drutis said. “To utilize this tool, it doesn’t matter what primary platform you use or what your revenue model is. Every newsroom has a primary platform and every newsroom needs revenue in order to exist.”
During the research process, the team conducted surveys of leading newsletter curators and received input from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other print publications in addition to digital leaders such as Geekwire and Mic Check Daily.
The tool has two tracks: one for existing newsletters that need to be optimized, and one for building a newsletter from scratch. Both tracks provide context, resources, and examples to guide new or expert curators through the development of their newsletter.
“It walks teams through each decision, such as target audience, monetization, metrics, voice and content, then populates a customized strategy for their newsroom curators to implement,” Power-Drutis said. “It doesn’t just address basic housekeeping and design elements, but forces newsrooms to ask essential questions about who the people are they’re trying to serve, and what outcome they want those subscribers to reach from their product.”
According to Power-Drutis, one of the biggest mistakes continuously made by newsrooms is maintaining a mentality that views the newsletter as an afterthought or merely a re-creation of what’s on their primary platform.
“That’s a missed opportunity. Newsletter subscribers are often a newsroom’s most loyal consumers, and when used effectively, newsletters can become a primary content delivery platform, drive membership or subscriptions, generate revenue, and provide rich audience insight,” Power-Drutis said. “It’s a platform worth putting thought and expertise behind.”