May 26, 2016

David Carr was onto something two years ago when he proclaimed that newsletters were still alive and well.

Noticing the sudden glut of briefings jockeying for attention in the world’s inboxes, The New York Times media columnist declared that newsletters, “an old-school artifact of the web that was supposed to die along with dial-up connections, are not only still around, but very much on the march.”

Vox thinks so, too. Vox Sentences, the explainer site’s bullet-pointed digest of the day’s most important headlines, has seen huge gains in its subscriber list since it launched in October 2014, said Melissa Bell, vice president of growth and analytics at Vox Media and a co-founder of Vox. That success has prompted Vox to create a position for its first-ever email editor, who will build and lead the site’s burgeoning newsletter program.

The new position is part of a push at Vox to launch additional newsletters that will bring the site’s explainer content on a variety of subjects to readers’ inboxes on a consistent basis, said Allison Rockey, the director of programming at Vox.

Why email? Like its sister websites at Vox Media, Vox adopts a distributed approach to the news — crafting journalism designed to be consumed on platforms other than its flagship website, such as Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube. Vox views email as one of these platforms.

This thinking requires an editor with ideas about how stories should be told and consumed in readers’ inboxes, someone who doesn’t merely want to serve up an identical email version of a story, Rockey said.

Among the considerations Vox is thinking through: What types of experiences do people want to have on email? How should Vox keep that experience consistent? Should they? And what types of content truly engender long-term loyalty?

“For us, it feels like a lot of other people approach email like a shorter, more direct version of the web,” Rockey said. “But what we’re really looking for with this position is someone who’s going to be more creative than that. What’s the way we can make Vox content really shine within email? What are the ways that we can provide a service to our readers so that when they’re done consuming our email, they feel smarter?”

The topics, frequencies and number of the new newsletters will depend partially on whomever Vox hires for the new position, Bell said. But a likely contender might be politics and policy news, which the site has already been building a community of listeners around with its podcast The Weeds.

With this addition, look for Vox to continue waging the battle for readers’ attention in a place many visit obsessively.

“Newsletters offer a direct relationship to readers in a platform that is necessary to a lot of people’s lives: Their email inbox,” Bell said. “So we want to have a presence there and make sure that we’re developing a direct relationship with people who like to consume our stories in that manner.”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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