In the world of journalism newsletters are a precious distribution channel


In the world of journalism newsletters are a precious distribution channel

In the world of journalism newsletters are a precious distribution channel


Jessica Anderson is senior staff editor at The New York Times. Alongside Elisabeth Goodridge, editorial director for newsletters, she works on the creation of these rather unique columns for the renowned daily newspaper. How does the editing team succeed in continually innovating? We interviewed her to find out.

Why has The New York Times decided to focus so much on newsletters? 

Jessica Anderson: We wanted smoother interactions with our readers. Newsletters enable us to ask them questions that they can reply to via our different email addresses. It's a way of strengthening the bond with our readers, which is so unique and so important to us. By subscribing to one of our newsletters they are telling us: "You can contact me directly." It's a precious distribution channel that needs to be supplied and maintained.
«Over 50 newsletters created by The New York Times»
How has The New York Times succeeded in continually innovating with its newsletters? Do you have an R&D laboratory? J.A.: Ideas come from all four corners of the editing room. I think that it's really in our interest to encourage all of this creativity. Elisabeth [Goodridge] and I are seriously thinking about setting up a laboratory. Sometimes we come up with new innovations ourselves: it was Elisabeth's idea to launch the "Summer in the City" newsletter, a kind of "best of" of things to do in New York. It seemed logical given that we had such an incredible amount of information at our disposal. She wanted to make something useful out of it, something tailor-made for the summer season. In her view, we had all of the necessary content but weren't necessarily presenting it in the most optimal way. And we also wanted to target one kind of audience in particular: young New-Yorkers. You have now launched a few seasonal newsletters that are similar in fashion to "Summer and the City". What conclusions have you drawn from these experiences? J.A.: Following "Summer in the City" we carried out a survey to which our readers responded enthusiastically. They had really liked the newsletter and a large number of them urged us to continue and to offer the same type of content for other seasons. Recently we launched a new seasonal newsletter entitled "Abroad in America": it's an informative gazette presented over a five-week period and contains everything you need to know in order to understand the mid-term elections. 

What is your mantra?

"Everything will work out just fine." Or something like that. I like to remind myself that, most of the time, pitfalls and obstacles are temporary and can almost always be overcome, if not immediately, at least in the long-term.

Who is your guru?

My best friend Matt. He always gives me excellent advice and helps me put things in perspective, and he's been doing so since we first meet in our freshman year of college.

How do you keep your chakras balanced?

I go both walking and running. It helps me to empty my head in order to purge any negative thoughts that are getting me down, and it also helps me to enjoy the present moment more.

What are your key performance indicators?

J.A.: The opening rate is very important, in particular for newsletters that aim to provoke a response from the reader, that is to say those that use the same tone as a letter. We look at the response rate and the answers we receive via our different email addresses, above all when we ask questions or ask readers for their help in order to write articles. The click rate is also important, especially if the goal is to redirect readers towards a signature article. It all depends on the objective that we want the newsletter to reach, whether in terms of the general objective or that of a specific issue of the newsletter: do we want the reading experience to be limited simply to the reader receiving the newsletter in their inbox? Do we want to open a dialogue? Or do we want to share an article of particular interest with the reader? 

You say that you want to offer an enriching experience to your readers via the newsletters. What are the advantages of newsletters over social networks?

J.A.: We want newsletters to be examples of pure journalism. On Facebook or Twitter there is often an algorithm that allows a third party to choose whether your article will reach a wide audience or not. With a newsletter we are guaranteed to reach all of our readers: we control the distribution. Another advantage for us is that everyone has an email address and everyone knows how an inbox functions. It's ideal for reaching readers who don't use Facebook or Twitter and therefore don't follow us on those platforms. Everyone has a telephone and everyone consults their inbox regularly, which is not necessarily the case with Facebook and Twitter. With a newsletter we can contact people via a platform that they are already using. 
«1.6 million subscribers to the "US Morning Briefing" daily newsletter »

You launched the very first personalized newsletter, "Your Weekly Edition"...

J.A.:  "Your Weekly Edition" is one of those tailor-made newsletters that works via the use of hyperlinks. Readers like it because it tells them what they may have missed or what kind of articles might interest them. It's our way of steering readers directly towards those articles. The articles that feature in this newsletter are chosen by the editing team and then, with the aid of an algorithm and machine learning technology, we distribute them to our readers based on their reading preferences. 

What is the recipe for a newsletter that is successful in terms of tone, format and analysis?

J.A.: When we launch a new product its content, format and objective need to be clearly defined. The recipe must be formulated like a promise to the reader, a promise that we need to be able to keep with every issue. Sometimes newsletters are born out of very vague ideas that are very difficult to transmit to readers. If they think they are signing up for one thing and then receive another they are disappointed. We want each newsletter that we launch to have a different voice embodied by a different journalist. In the spring we launched "The Week in Good News". Des Shoe, the journalist in charge of the intros, immediately knew how to capture her audience's attention.  People know that she's the one heading "The Week in Good News" and picking the articles for it. The reactions that we receive via email are all addressed directly to her. Associating a name with a newsletter means ensuring that readers have the impression that they are part of a real dialogue. You should never hesitate to try out new ideas either. Based on readers' feedback, whether it be raw data (opening rate or click rate) or comments received by email, you should let the data inspire you and utilize it fully. Never hesitate to make changes in order to take into account readers' remarks and offer them the content that they are looking for in a format that they like and at the time that is convenient for them.
Jessica Anderson,
Senior staff editor au The New York Times, Newsletters
Jessica Anderson est senior staff editor au The New York Times. Elle est diplômée d’une licence en journalisme et en relations internationales à l'Université Drake. Jessica Anderson a rejoint le Times en 2014.
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