How On Earth Did Email Newsletters Become Popular Again?
The best in news isn’t always found online. A growing trend shows that it’s inside your inbox
Despite the criticisms you may hear about today’s methods of news consumption, what most people don’t realize is that there’s a renaissance happening in news media. It’s not happening on any new blogs, and it’s not taking place on social media platforms.
The truth is that one of the best things to happen to the news is that it’s being delivered to millions of people’s inboxes every morning. Yes, I’m referring to email newsletters and no, I’m not talking about those awful & clunky marketing ads disguised as “news” that stuffed your junk email inbox five times a week last decade. On the contrary, today’s best newsletters have rabid followings and actually deliver useful information that people look forward to each day.
I know this may sound like hyperbole but there are actual statistics to back this up and much of it is centered on the rise of smartphones. According to statistics from Quartz’s Global Executive Survey, 74% of top executives get their news first thing in the morning and 94% of them get it from email newsletters. It’s not just executives that rely heavily on email because it’s also estimated that 91% of regular consumers check their email at least once a day. These figures support why today’s best newsletters such as the New York Times Daily, the Quartz Daily Brief, the Skimm and some newcomers like the 1440 Daily Digest and The Mission’s Daily Newsletter have become so popular with readers.
In an age where attention spans are shorter than ever and digital distractions have never been more rampant, it may seem strange that a relic from the internet’s early years has come back stronger than before but it actually makes perfect sense the deeper you look into it.
So how did newsletters regain their popularity?
Let’s be honest, when you think of email newsletters, you probably conjure up bad memories from a time when your inbox was too full to manage due to countless newsletters you didn’t consciously sign up for. I’ve had entire email accounts destroyed after becoming overrun with spam so even I am shocked at how well newsletters have rebounded over these past few years. One of the biggest changes to happen to newsletters though is not so much the content of them but how they are delivered to users; and that’s through smartphones.
With close to 80% of the US population and nearly half the world’s population owning a smartphone, people are more attached to email than they ever were before. After all, not every person uses social media, but nearly everyone has email. If you were to record how many times a day you pull up your phone in an elevator, on the train, or waiting on line at the supermarket, there’s a very good chance many of those instances were spent checking email.
“A lot of people forget this when they think of mobile — they think of apps. But email is inherently mobile. Everyone has email on their smart phones, and email looks great on your phone because you’re so limited. You basically only have words, links and images, beyond that there’s not much else” — Millie Tran, BuzzFeed
Another big change that’s occurred in newsletters is that they are largely designed much better than before. The small screen sizes of phones and the barrage of other distractions that come with them have forced newsletters to become more sleek and focused. Some of the best newsletters are formatted to look a lot more like glossy magazine pages and less like something routinely sent from some company’s marketing department. In many cases, users look forward to opening newsletters when they arrive because they are actually enjoyable.
Newsletter editors understand that people today don’t have the free time nor the attention span they had a decade ago. This doesn’t mean that people still don’t have a desire to be informed about the various topics that interest them though. The way today’s most popular newsletters responded to this is by only including the content that matters to readers and by keeping it informative. A decade ago, newsletters were thought of more as marketing tools meant to bait people back to websites. Nowadays, the best ones are thought of more as tools to provide short and digestible information that is useful for readers to consume.
It also helps that thanks to advances in email systems, spam is automatically identified and kept away from users’ eyes. The effect that this has had over time is that since most email inboxes today aren’t as inundated with junk like they were in the past, many people aren’t as anxious about signing up for a newsletter. Another thing that’s also helped assuaged users is that unsubscribing from a newsletter is usually just a matter of clicking a link whereas in the past marketing emails purposely kept it opaque. The result these developments have had is the formation of a more honest and user friendly email ecosystem.
How daily newsletters can help you consume the news better
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about how we as citizens can reclaim our newsfeeds from social media and looking back at it now I realize I missed mentioning a crucial component, daily newsletters. A major part of eliminating the unnecessary clutter from your regular news consumption requires you to be purposeful when retrieving news. That also means being efficient with how you spend your time taking in information and there’s nothing more productive than constraining the bulk your daily news consumption to a simple email.
There’s a number of great daily newsletters out there and depending on your interests, there probably is one best suited for you. Some of the more popular ones such as theSkimm, NextDraft, Quartz Daily Brief, and The New York Times Daily Briefing, all deal with news but there are also others more centered on brands & personalities such as Bill Simmons’s The Ringer Newsletter, Lenny Dunham’s Lenny Letter, Tim Ferris’s 5 Bullet Fridays, and Art of Manliness’s weekly Newsletter. As for me I prefer a newsletter that only focuses on the most important news of the day from a vartiey of different fields, so the 1440 Daily Digest easily became a personal favorite over others I tried.
Not too long ago my morning routine was comically hectic. I fell into the trap of trying to orchestrate the perfect morning routine and what actually happened was the complete opposite. With an hour and a half commute into Manhattan from the Bronx (thanks to the hell that is the 6 Train), each morning I tried to juggle reading through work emails, Apple’s iPhone News app, a brain training app, a language learning app, a podcast, and perhaps a book that’s already due back to the library. I’m pretty sure this cannon ball run-like productivity derby isn’t how mindfulness is supposed to work. Eventually, I realized I was starting my day with unnecessary tasks and made the decision to just stick with reading the day’s news and listening to music during my commute.
I still had to juggle between different news publication’s daily newsletters though and noticed that whether it was the New York Times, The Washington Post, or the Wall St. Journal, much of the content of their daily briefs were from their own news reports. There isn’t anything wrong with that but its important to remember that each news outlet has it’s own narratives and political blind spots. The means there might be other nuances missing from the story, and it’s good to be aware of them in order to be fully informed.
After trying out a handful different newsletters I noticed that I ended up relying on 1440 the most to keep me updated because unlike how many other daily newsletters report stories 1440 included multiple links from different sources as part of it’s news summaries. It also highlights news from different fields such as politics, business, tech, culture, and many other areas so 1440 became a one-stop-shop which saved me time from having to scan through other newsletters from different areas. In fact, after a few weeks of reading 1440 each morning, it became the first newsletter I would open over other longtime favorite from New York Times and Quartz, which became secondary. One other aspect of 1440 that has worked well for me is that it opens with the three biggest news stories of the day. That may not seem like a big deal but with all the news unfolding through each minute of the day, it’s helpful to have a newsletter filter out what’s most important and what else is tertiary.
By relegating my personal news consumption to the same time each morning, it’s given me the space to focus on other things the rest of the day. Admittedly, I’m someone that probably has a borderline obsession with staying informed so I found myself constantly checking different news sites and scrolling through social media feeds to keep up to date. When I think back to how much time I’ve spent checking the news each day, it’s unnerving considering the fact I’ve could been using that time on something more productive.
However, my new approach of telling myself I’m only going to take in news during the mornings from a newsletter has really been rewarding. I realized that if a major story were to break out, I’d certainly hear about it anyway so there really isn’t a need to constantly check the news throughout the day. Even less important was watching cable news shows in the evenings that masked what is actually theatre as sober political analysis. It took some time, but after awhile it actually felt pretty liberating to no longer be so hooked on the news.
Today’s news media landscape is much bigger than it ever was before and it’s probably not healthy for it to have such a presence in our daily lives. Becoming a better consumer of the news can help us balance our perspectives better. The best way to do that is becoming more purposeful with how we retrieve and read the news.
For me, 1440 has helped me achieve this but for you perhaps there are others that you prefer more. One thing I’m adamant on is the fact that daily newsletters are an incredibly useful tool to stay informed. After all, if you aren’t assertive and purposeful in how you get your news, there are plenty of other individuals, corporations, and entities that will gladly imprint their version of it on you instead.
Richard Bertin is a freelance writer that writes about culture, sports, and technology and can be contacted at RichBertinWrites.com