This is a series on Better News to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.
This “win” features highlights from pieces previously shared on BetterNews.org by alumni of the Table Stakes Local News Transformation Program.
Although the creation or restructuring of digital newsletters can be daunting, they’re also a fantastic way to attract and engage readers, listeners or viewers. Outlets across the country have tested the best tactics for newsletter creation so you don’t have to. Here are their takeaways.
1. Streamline and simplify – no need to be fancy.
Resource limitations affect every newsroom, so it’s vital to account for the time and effort that goes into a newsletter.
The San Antonio Express-News refocused its newsletter to focus on engagement and hired a specific editor whose sole responsibility is to make sure that newsletter production runs smoothly. Not only does the editor ensure accountability and efficiency, but they also help with consistency. “Having one person curate everything, with some targeted help from newsroom departments on various niche newsletters, ensures that our tone and execution remain consistent,” the organization’s editorial team said.
Additionally, the publication made the design of the newsletter pretty bare-bones – including a list of headlines with a photo and abstract each. The team hand-curates the list of stories, but the other newsletter elements, such as graphics and text, are automatically pulled from the webpage – saving time and energy. This frees up the newsletter curator to focus on reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs) and upgrading content, better serving the community. High-quality journalism doesn’t have to have a fancy design, and the KPIs prove that readers understand this.
2. Reach long-term goals by focusing on a target audience.
Serving viewers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, KXLY-TV used a daily newsletter to boost viewership and digital engagement with millennials, who have veered away from watching daily news broadcasts.
With such a large demographic gap, the team catered to what they referred to as the “Chelsea” sub-demographic – a woman in her late 30s, or early 40s, who is a busy mom. “Women are more likely to be TV news viewers,” Melissa Luck, the outlet’s news director, said. “And women are the most likely to make spending decisions and safety decisions for their families. For us, a natural targeted audience was born.”
Called The Daily Local, the newsletter consists of key news topics, lifestyle content and advertisements that the team thinks “Chelsea” would be most interested in after putting the kids to bed for the evening.
By the newsletter’s third birthday, it reached over 10,000 subscribers, and only 1% of readers ended up unsubscribing, surpassing the team’s goals and expectations.
Though the outlet originally wanted to focus on broadening television viewership, the team decided to work on digital development. “We don’t believe TV and digital compete with each other, and when done right, the two complement each other,” Luck said. “Growing our audience on one platform will likely help grow the audience on the other.”
3. Serve underrepresented communities.
“Atlanta is synonymous with Black culture thanks to the Black community’s major contributions to civil rights and entertainment,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution team wrote. “However, the Black community has been underrepresented among our readers, in print and digital, based on past readership studies.”
Unapologetically ATL acts as an entry point for people who haven’t engaged much with the media. Many readers go on to subscribe to other newsletter offerings and engage further with a wide variety of coverage from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The newsletter also acts as a conversation starter about race, culture and identity. Shortly after its launch, it had a 38.1% unique open rate, which stands out against the industry average of 21.9%, according to the Northwestern Local News Initiative.
4. Remember that happy subscribers turn into gracious donors.
WJCT Public Media primarily serves Florida and southern Georgia through TV and radio. With the launch of its weekly newsletter, Jacksonville Today, the primary goal was to boost engagement and reach as many community members as possible with critical information. The long-term goal was to also boost funding.
A couple of things proved critical during the outlet’s first all-digital fundraising campaign: Direct messaging from the newsletter’s reporters and matching gifts from partners.
“More important than any dollar total was the fact that more than 500 loyal subscribers – almost 5% of our newsletter list, our goal for the year – were compelled to donate,” according to WJCT Public Media’s staff.
Readers reached out to the team after donating, many of whom were first-time contributors, and praised the team’s critical reporting. “I appreciate being informed of local news and events in a concise and positive way,” one reader wrote. ”I feel more connected to the community I live in thanks to your weekday offerings.”
As of March 2023, Jacksonville Today has maintained a 50% open rate.