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Journalists Are Trading Newsrooms For Newsletters

Email puts it right in front of them and meets people where they’re at.

Angel James

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“Brevity is the soul of wit.” -William Shakespeare

In other words, say more with less. 

We all know a long-winded Polonius from Hamlet, who will take five minutes to tell you what he could have said in 30 seconds. In 2020, where attention and time are money, where there is constant noise coming at us from all different directions, one digital news startup is banking on brevity.

BANKING ON BREVITY

axios.com

Axios is putting its money on “smart brevity,” its motto and registered trademark.

In a sea of layoffs, furloughs and newsroom closures, the three-year old startup is poised to make a profit this year in spite of the pandemic that has shuttered newsrooms across the country with
smart, efficient news worthy of your time, attention and trust.”

The company is on track to take in about $58 million in 2020, up more than 30% from the year before, according to The Wall Street Journal, thanks in large part to its sponsored newsletter business, which makes up more than 50% of the company’s total revenue.

Now, Axios is now positioning itself to fill a gap that is widening by the day in local news. Early next year, Axios plans to launch local newsletters in four local markets:

  • Minneapolis
  • Denver
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Des Moines, Iowa

Axios was founded by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz after they left Politico. They’re not alone. Journalists are leaving newsrooms and becoming their own media companies.

theskimm.com

The Skimm was founded in 2012 by two former news producers who launched it from their couch. A brand which now includes newsletters, an app, podcasts, video social and community reaching an audience of 12 million people across platforms.

morningbrew.com

At the end of August, the Morning Brew hit one million unique daily opens. Alex Lieberman and co-founder, Austin Rief, were two bankers, who launched the Morning Brew to liven up traditional business news reporting and make it more conversational and fun.

Instead of focusing on subscribers, the word that makes for great headlines, The Morning Brew focused on metrics that matter: Open rates.

Similar to social media, a lot of attention is paid to follower counts, but it’s a vanity metric—things you can measure that don’t matter. As entrepreneur & author, Tim Ferris, puts it:

“Vanity metrics: Good for feeling awesome, bad for action.”

A subscriber that isn’t opening an email isn’t a valuable metric.

So, The Morning Brew hyper focused on engagement and for email newsletters, that’s open rates. 

As co-founder, Austin Rief, tweeted, The Morning Brew would stop what they were doing to see at 11am every day to see the open rates, then they’d write it on their “great wall of opens.”  

A daily reminder of what really matters.

They also hopped on Instagram Stories early and benefitted greatly from that. 

Other journalists are leaving newsrooms and using tech companies such as Substack to reach an audience.

Emily Atkin, a former reporter at the New Republic, told the Washington Post that she got into a position I believe many journalists, including myself, do at some point or another, asking herself: “Is this publication giving me as much as I’m giving it?” 

heated.world

Soon after, she launched “Heated” a four-times-a-week newsletter on the climate crisis. It’s now one of Substack’s top paid publications.

substack.com

Substack describes itself as “A place for independent writing. We make it simple for a writer to start a paid newsletter.” 

The platform handles the technical end of the newsletter process in exchange for ten percent of the subscription revenue. 

Some journalists have left their publications to write on Substack full-time, including Matt Taibb, who left Rolling Stone & Andrew Sullivan who left New York Magazine to resurrect his blog, “The Dish.”  

Ten years ago, many declared “Email Is Dead,” as they turned to the next shiny new thing, Facebook. But algorithms are a tricky thing, deciding who sees your content and who doesn’t. Email puts it right in front of them and meets people where they are. 

I resigned from my TV producing job a few years ago, after 20+ in local television. It’s hard to leave the only thing you know whether you do it by choice or it’s a choice made for you. I had no plan. I wasn’t even on Facebook at the time. So, I wrote, started a blog… 

It’s that writing that connected me with my next opportunity.

I turned on the local news the other day for the first time in a long time. Same format, same way we were doing things 20 years ago. Nothing has changed.

I looked up their Instagram accounts. One of them hasn’t posted since the First Day of Fall. That was September 22nd

Today is October 12th

A lot of news happened in that time…

Seems like a good time to remind you of another Shakespeare quote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

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BNM Writers

DEBATE PREVIEW: It’s a Thankless Job, and Unfortunately She Has to Do It

The stakes are even more complicated now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has changed the rules.

Evan Donovan

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NBC News White House correspondent Kristin Welker has the job nobody wants tonight.

Welker will try to reign in President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday night in the second and final debate of the 2020 election.

The president attacked Welker on Twitter and in rallies this week, calling her terrible and unfair, setting up a debate showdown with both his opponent and the moderator.

It’s a thankless job for Welker, who will have to corral a president who needs to do well in the debate to shore up what appears to be a several-point disadvantage with less than two weeks of voting left in the election.

Several colleagues and other news personalities came to Welker’s defense this week, but the true grit will come on Thursday night when she will have to tightrope between keeping personalities in check and not becoming part of the story of the night. 

The stakes are even more complicated now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has changed the rules.

Just as in the first debate, the debate will be 90-minutes long divided into six 15-minute segments. Each candidate will deliver uninterrupted remarks in response to a question from the moderator at the beginning of each segment. Then the debate will move to an ‘open discussion’ period for the remainder of the 15 minutes.

What’s different this time is that the mics will be muted during the 2-minute answer period for each candidate. They will not be muted during open discussion.

This is where things will get tricky for Welker.

The president, anxious to make his points and make up ground on Biden, will likely be even more aggressive during the open discussion. Their personalities are starkly different without the pressure of playing catch-up. 

How will Welker react if Trump simply talks over Biden and dominates his time during the open discussion? 

Interruptions will “count toward their time,” but again, that puts the pressure back on Welker. She becomes the center of the evening at a time when public trust of the media is at or near all-time lows, and one candidate is actively undermining trust in the media at-large and this moderator specifically.

It’s a job nobody would want, but Welker is a seasoned professional. 

Here’s wishing her luck.

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BNM Writers

Capitalizing on Debate Season

Your station carrying not only the presidential debate, but also carrying debates in statewide races, can grow and keep your audience tuned in.

Pete Mundo

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The election season always brings opportunities for news talk stations to shine. The audience knows they can go to you for the latest information, news and events. I’d imagine there won’t be a news talk station (that isn’t fully syndicated) that won’t carry this week’s second and final Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. 

It’s relatively easy to do, it’s great for branding and it hopefully draws you some cume during a time of day when your station might not typically get it. 

But what about carrying debates from some of your local races? 

It seems like debates at the state level are happening less and less each election cycle. Political consultants are convincing campaigns that it’s only the blunders that get remembered and the campaigns flush with cash are better off letting their TV and radio ads do the storytelling for them. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, that’s a disservice to the voter. But it’s the way things are trending, unfortunately. Incumbent favorites usually find every reason to not debate their opponents. 

So when a debate does occur, how can your radio station capitalize on it? And should you carry it? 

Here in Kansas City on KCMO Talk Radio, we will be airing a congressional debate on Thursday, October 22nd, between incumbent Democrat Sharice Davids and Republican challenger Amanda Adkins. The seat that was Republican for nearly a decade until 2018, when the House of Representative’s “Blue Wave” hit Kansas’ third district. As a news talk station, our conservative audience would love nothing more than to flip the seat back into Republican hands. 

Also, the seat covers essentially the entire side of the KC Metro in Kansas. Unlike in Top 5 or Top 10 markets, where congressional districts, for example in the Dallas-Fort Worth market can include up to, or more than, 10 congressional seats, the Third District of Kansas is the bulk of the Kansas side of the KC Metro and is a relevant race to a huge part of the listening audience.

With that being said, we elected to carry the Third District debate this week which is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. There was some hesitancy as it is in the middle of Ben Shapiro’s afternoon drive show, and Ben is performing well on the station, but considering the percentage of the audience that lives in this district, combined with the fact that it’s the only debate between the two candidates, we decided to move forward.

Also, it gives us a great branding opportunity as Thursday being “Debate Day” and a “Two-Fer”, as listeners will get our local, Third District debate at 5:30 p.m. and then later that evening the Presidential Debate at 8:00 p.m. We’ve used that branding on our website and social media.   

The lead up to the event will be just as important, if not arguably more important, than the debate itself. All week long, we’ve been able to push on the station via promos, liners, imaging, etc. our ability to cover the local and national races better than any station in the Metro, while branding ourselves as the station, politically, where “if it’s happening in KCMO, it’s on KCMO”. Thursday’s debate will be another example of coming through on that promise in a way no other station in the market will be.

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BNM Writers

GEN Z Transforming Newsroom Social

500 million people watch Instagram Stories daily. Compare that to Twitter’s 166 million daily active users and it’s not even close and it’s where more than half of Gen Z’ers get their news.

Angel James

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I asked my son the other day where he was getting his news on the upcoming election from— he doesn’t watch TV. He doesn’t do TikTok. He’s not active on SnapChat. He doesn’t have a Facebook account & he only follows his baseball team on Twitter.

While all the talk this week has surrounded Twitter and Facebook when it comes to election season, there’s been one stealth social media platform affecting change, but not making as many headlines:

Instagram.

Once known for a place to post your selfies or vacations, it’s now become a player in the election process. 

And, it’s high time local news started paying attention to it. It’s not a new platform, recently celebrating its tenth anniversary. 500 million people watch Stories daily. Compare that to Twitter’s 166 million daily active users and it’s not even close, and it’s where more than half of Gen Z’ers get their news.

But, it’s not just Gen Z, more in my generation, Gen X, have gravitated away from Facebook and into Instagram.

The problem is: Most newsrooms don’t know how to use Instagram, so they don’t use it at all or the only thing they’re consistent about on Instagram is being inconsistent. Or, even worse, they don’t even have an Instagram account.

In the words of Julia Roberts, “Big Mistake. Big. Huge.”

GETTING HELP FROM GEN Z

But, nearly two dozen local newsrooms weren’t going to make that mistake this past summer. 22 college graduates participated in the Instagram Local News Fellowship, a partnership between the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Facebook Journalism Project. As a group, they generated: 

  • More than 111,000 new followers
  • More than doubled their publishers’ posting frequency
  • Increased interactions by 120% 
  • Increased Video view by 360%

HOW THEY DID IT

TEXT FEED ASSETS: It’s a trend you’re seeing across the news industry. The format is simple, yet encourages shares because it’s easy for followers to hit the paper plane underneath the post and share it in their own Stories and provide their own viewpoint, increasing the reach of the post and ultimately, your news organization.

INCORPORATED STICKERS: From quizzes to polls to questions, stickers aim to increase engagement. These kinds of “stickers” are much more than what you grew up with and are where you can get immediate feedback and discover what topics resonate with your community and which ones don’t.

INSTAGRAM LIVE: Nine of the participating newsrooms went live on Instagram this past summer, many for the first time. Only NINE. Some for the FIRST TIME. They are NEWS outlets. It’s incredible that this feature isn’t used more in newsrooms to deliver on the promise they don’t just make daily, but invented: live, local and late-breaking news. 

By doing these core three items, the fellows were able to:

  • Generate subscriptions
  • Generate referral traffic
  • Reach younger audiences
  • Increase engagement

I spent more than 20 years in a newsroom as a TV producer and now own a social media content creation business, so I’ve seen this from both sides. We spent more time on making content than we do promoting it. In TV, it was always the very last thing we did when it should have been our first. I’ll admit I used to hate it when the promotional team would come to me while we were still on the air with that morning’s news to ask me what we were doing tomorrow for a :10 spot that would air on some courtroom show I didn’t even know we aired to a demographic we weren’t after…  

I was living in a bubble.

At the end of the day, as journalists, we want to make an impact on people, on peoples’ lives—but, our one-dimensional approach that everything has to be on TV or on our website is, quite frankly, elitist and short-sighted when one piece of content could be sliced into a variety of different formats and distributed across multiple channels to reach a maximum number of people.

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