In praise of the morning newsletter

This week in digital tools for journalism

June 4, 2019

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

Every morning around 6:30 a.m., I get an email about a place some 1,100 miles away from me.

The message doesn’t come from a friend, though often I feel like it does, and the contents don’t affect my daily life, though I often feel like they do.

The email is The Buffalo News’ “Good Morning, Buffalo.” If you’re familiar with morning newsletters, it is what you might expect — a top story that goes into some detail, a roundup of other articles organized into various sections and a sprinkling of links that point to local news from other publications. If you’re not familiar with morning newsletters, you should change that.

In my estimation, “Good Morning, Buffalo” is a perfect news product.

It’s both informative and interesting. It’s packed with voice — from individual reporters on the top stories and freelancer Brian Meyer on the roundups, with the occasional edition from Max Kalnitz (a fellow Spectrum student newspaper alumnus) — without losing its institutional authority. The combined packaging of news, politics, food, sports and other tidbits paints a lively portrait of a resurgent Western New York region.

I haven’t lived there in a decade, but this newsletter makes me care about Buffalo like I never left. (In what I swear is a complete coincidence, the Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns and which covers the area in which I currently live, launched a revamped morning newsletter today).

There’s an opportunity here for any and all publications. And you don’t necessarily have to follow The Buffalo News’ template.

Designer Paul Jarvis has a nice roundup of the types of newsletters that tend to succeed, along with five or so other great tips for finding a voice and getting started. If you’re looking for inspiration, a site called Really Good Emails shares examples of … erm … really good emails, including newsy ones. And the newsletter guide from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center and the Lenfest Institute should be required reading for anyone who’s considering hitting that send button.

And if you’re interested in the news about the news, you should check out Poynter’s Morning Mediawire from my colleague Tom Jones. I heard from a reliable source that it’s getting an exciting makeover soon.

MYTUBE: Found a YouTube video you want to save offline? There are a number of sites with sketchy names like “KEEP-DAT-VID dot info” that’ll allow you to do that pretty easily, but it’s likely that you already have a more reliable tool on your computer. In her brilliant Tools for Reporters newsletter, Samantha Sunne shared that VLC Player is capable of downloading YouTube videos. If you don’t have VLC Player, download it now. It’s free, open source, available across almost all platforms, comes with a cool traffic cone icon and, most importantly, it can play just about any video file you throw at it. It’s one of the first tools I download on a new computer.

NOTMYTUBE: You might want to brush up on copyright laws before you go downloading YouTube videos willy nilly. Here’s a series of 12 Creative Commons licensed videos about copyright from William W. Fisher III, Harvard’s WilmerHale Professor of Intellectual Property Law. They cover topics that journalists grapple with all the time, like fair use and exceptions to distribution. And they’re high quality and concise, unlike those bootleg-esque recordings of professors in lecture halls that give you flashback nightmares (just me?).

BETTER THAN ONE: Periscope, the Twitter-owned tool for broadcasting video, just got a big update that allows broadcast hosts to invite anyone to join in the conversation. Guests who accept the invite are voice-only, but it’s a big step up from text comments. In a blog post, Twitter hinted that Periscope may add video guests in the future, bringing it up to speed with Facebook Live and Instagram’s split-screen video capabilities.

A-TO-Z MAIL: When you open your texting app, your phone shows the most recent texts first. Messenger tools start with the most recent message. So why does Gmail put the most recent message all the way at the bottom and force you to collapse old messages and scroll to get to it? Solve this (admittedly minor yet annoying) problem with a simple Chrome plugin.

ARMY OF ONE: I struggled with whether to share this one or not because it strikes me as cynical. But, given the state of our industry, I think it might be useful to hear. Sean Blanda, who previously led 99U (a site that you should bookmark), makes the case that building an audience is job insurance. Push people to follow you on social networks. Start a personal newsletter and share your best work. Try out something like Authory, which allows audiences to follow your writing wherever it is. “It only takes one person in the right position to knock us off of our career path,” Blanda writes. “But no one person can take your audience.”

REINSTATE WONDER: A couple of newsy things that made me go “wow” this week:

  • Inspired by the film “Baby Driver” and its use of songs that include the word “baby,” The Pudding created an interactive tool that explores proper nouns in songs. Believe it or not, there are no songs about “Ren.” (Editor’s note — Pro tip: check for “wren” and then just pretend they’re singing about you.)
  • The Weather Channel is back at it with another awe-inspiring and mildly terrifying look at severe weather, this time by putting a forecaster “in the middle” of a tornado. I previously wrote about how they use video game technology to make these.
  • In a format that seems to be inspired by Instagram Stories (themselves infamously “inspired” by Snapchat Stories in a ripoffy kind of way), The New York Times shares some of the best dogs in bags in New York subways.

GOING THE DISTANCE: I started this newsletter by sharing the approximate distance between St. Petersburg, Florida, and Buffalo, New York. I admit that I did not know how to find that before today. Here’s how. Search for a location in Google Maps. Right-click the location’s pin and select “measure distance.” Then click on any other location to measure the distance between the two points as the crow flies. Now you can measure everything in bird miles.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.