February 28, 2017

Every so often, I like to dream about how we could think differently about the building blocks of the news industry.

So far, I’ve tackled headlines, homepages, bylines, analytics, podcast ideas, comment sections and ideas for covering the President; in today’s installment, I’ll list some new ideas for newsletters.

The nice thing about newsletters is that they’re great experimental platforms to test ideas and try new things. Consider these ideas starting points — I’d love to see you make these ideas better or try some of them out.

These ideas might work better if news organizations partnered or collaborated on them (and shared the data?)

  1. Three stories from a local paper, three stories from a national paper, three stories from an international paper, one other fun read.
  2. Three stories from where someone grew up and three stories from where they live now. Keep in mind what someone would want to know about where they grew up; it’s likely different than the type of news they’d want to get from where they live now.
  3. Three stories from a college paper and three stories from a national paper. I imagine this benefits the national paper (potential subscribers), the college paper (more reason to open the newsletter and see what’s happening locally), and the person opening the newsletter (more news).
  4. The way that other news organizations covered the story you just covered.
  5. A curated list of the top story each news organization has published that week, as decided by [editors, designers, reporters, the audience, analytics].
  6. Pick two locations. The newsletter is the questions people have in those locations about a news topic. Are they the same? Are they different?
  7. Give four very different writers from four different publications the same topic, and ask them to share one link or video related to that topic that helps people understand it.

These ideas require curation and a keen eye

  1. All of the data visualizations that have been published on [X] topic. The topic changes every week.
  2. Make a newsletter that shows how a topic was covered that decade, the decade before, and the decade before that. How has it changed? What did coverage look like, how has sourcing changed?
  3. Following up on [news story X] from six months ago. One year ago. What has changed? What news has come out in the interim?
  4. All of the top comments related to topic [X] as selected by [editors, reporters, audience, analytics]
  5. Five stories that [a random audience member] enjoyed from the past month. Think of Sweden’s communal Twitter account, but with a newsletter.
  6. Predictions on Monday for what will happen this week from [editors, reporters, audience members].
  7. Did they come true? That’s the Friday newsletter.
  8. You can play with the time frame. If once a week is too much, try the beginning of the month, beginning of the quarter, yearly, etc.
  9. How did people discuss a news story or topic in places around the internet?
  10. Bring a news story to eight different age groups, ask them to write a few sentences on what they thought.
  11. All of the push alerts you sent out over the past week, in one place, for people who don’t like push alerts, or want to see what was considered breaking news, or just can’t process information in that way.
  12. At the bottom of every story published in the last week, instead of a comment section, there is a form that asks “What did you learn?” Instead of headlines, the learnings are curated and then shared.
  13. All of the media criticism on topic [X].
  14. Asking local subject-matter experts to help create syllabi to help readers make sense of topic [X].
  15. Five things someone on your staff learned this week while covering [X].
  16. A newsletter that reviews how newsletters from different publications covered a particular topic. Call it Meta.
  17. The best curated Tweetstorms from the past week.
  18. Every new byline in a certain news publication. (This likely requires a database of previous bylines.)

Random or automated or whimsical

  1. Like whisper down the lane, only with links: Give a link, receive a link.
  2. News that no one in your social network has shared. Requires users to log-in with a social network.
  3. A newsletter that sends out the piece on your website that performed in the most average way the day before. How would you measure that? Maybe it changes each week.
  4. You sign up to receive a different newsletter every week from a news organization that you don’t subscribe to.
  5. News organizations sign up to receive a newsletter each week from a person in their audience. Perhaps there’s a profile written.
  6. A newsletter sent each day by an audio organization that reminds you to take a five-minute break and provides you with a five-minute piece to listen to.
  7. The same thing, but for your commute.
  8. You tell a news organization how long you want to take a break. When you get back, the newsletter telling you what you missed is there.
  9. A newsletter designed to be printed and colored and hung on the wall.

I have no idea whether these are technically feasible

  1. A newsletter that changes its content, depending on how many people have opened it.
  2. A newsletter that changes its content, depending on whether you’re on mobile or desktop.
  3. A newsletter that changes in reading level, depending on how well you read in [X] language.

Time-based newsletters

  1. A newsletter that changes its content, depending on the time of day.
  2. Same, but for the time of day you signed up for it.
  3. You can read it in 10 seconds. The entire newsletter is in the subject line.
  4. Eight short pieces, sent throughout the day, designed to be read in five minutes while taking a short break and drinking some water.
  5. A newsletter that comes out every day and tells you what news-related podcasts are dropping that day, with links — in case you use podcasts to stay on top of the news.
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Mel leads audience growth and development for the Wikimedia Foundation and frequently works with journalism organizations on projects related to audience development, engagement, and analytics.…
Melody Kramer

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