Introducing The Nightcap

A couple months ago, Nathan and I were trying to figure out a way to create Hardbound stories faster.

He had been creating a story per week that usually explained some type of interesting scientific or historical topic, like What Is Fire? and The Secret History of Salt, but we wanted to be able to release something on closer to a daily basis

One idea seemed promising — a visual, Hardbound-style summary of the day’s most important and interesting news stories. It would address an obvious problem: there are so many stories that come out every day, and it’s hard to sift through them and quickly understand the most important information.

It’s a lot of work if you want to keep up with everything, so we tend to focus more on sensational stories rather than important ones. It’s hard to read the average article about something like the Paris climate change agreement if you don’t know anything about it. We thought Hardbound would be a great way to help you understand news like this better.

Nathan called it The Nightcap. I loved it.

The next week, we started writing it with the help of Olivia Saillet, who handles the visual presentation. Fast forward to about a month ago, and I took over all of the writing so Nathan could focus on the Hardbound Weekly stories.

Today, the Nightcap is being added as the second official channel inside the Hardbound app, so I thought I’d quickly explain what exactly it’s become and the editorial vision for it going forward.

What Is The Nightcap?

The simple explanation is this: The Nightcap gives you a visual summary of the day’s most important and interesting stories.

We pick three stories from a variety of sources, and explain them in a way that helps you understand what’s happening as quickly as possible. We use words and lots of images, like this:

We follow up those summaries with three “quick things” — basically, one-sentence news bites that don’t need much explaining.

How We Decide What Stories to Cover

This is where things get a little more complicated. Here’s how I’m looking at it:

A story is important if it has (or could have) large-scale implications for the people reading it, or a particular group of people. Sometimes, these are obvious implications, like a story about Donald Trump selecting cabinet members. If you saw a headline for that story, you’d immediately know it affects you in some way.

But then there are stories of equal importance that you might not recognize as so at first. For example, we recently summarized an excellent Vox.com feature on the Battle of Mosul. While it didn’t really fit the bill of “breaking news,” I thought it really helped readers understand the unique challenges that come with battling ISIS, which is an issue of major global importance.

Interest is a little different. Since important stories tend to be heavy, we wanted to balance out the heaviness with at least one story of fascination every day. These might not be immediately important, but they’re interesting and have the potential to become important.

For example, this story about Chinese scientists pioneering the first human CRISPR gene-editing trial. Right now, it’s just interesting. But long term, it has the potential to cure cancer (among other things) — a perfect fit for an interesting Nightcap story.

As for the “quick things” at the end of the Nightcap, interest can outweigh importance. If I find something of low actual importance, but of high delight — like scientists discovering that narwhals are better at echolocation than any other animal — it might make a great quick thing!

So that’s what I look for — what happened today that might affect or fascinate you?

We’d Love Your Feedback!

Obviously, there are more than six impactful/interesting things that happen each day, and that’s the challenge. So if you see something you think fits the bill, let me know! The best way is to tell me on Twitter.

This is a work in progress and I want to frequently challenge the criteria for selecting Nightcap stories. I’d love your help in the process because I genuinely want this to be something people enjoy and value. We’ve gotten amazing feedback from our readers, who have loved it so far. The consensus seems to be that it makes people feel smarter, that they have a better handle on the events that are impacting all of us every day. We think that’s a good thing, and hope to do all we can to spread that feeling to more people.

If you haven’t already, head the app store and download Hardbound. You’ll find the Nightcap as the second channel. We release a new edition every Monday-Thursday at 8p.m. Eastern. We hope to see you tonight at 8. :)