Free tool helps newsrooms curate, manage effective newsletters

by Em Okrepkie
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital Journalism

Some newspaper subscribers head to their mailboxes every morning to grab the paper. Others open their inboxes and scroll through email newsletters to find stories to read.

In the age of the internet, email newsletters are yet another direct way for newsrooms to connect with their audiences. They create a more intimate relationship with subscribers, drive traffic to the main website and boost revenue.

Although beneficial, it can be a challenge for newsrooms to set aside time and resources to craft an effective newsletter. That’s where the free tool Opt In can help.

What is Opt In?

Opt In assists with building a newsletter from scratch or revamping an existing one. Tamara Power-Drutis and Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz spent a year researching newsletter strategies and developing the tool for Crosscut Public Media and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. The new tool, which was released earlier this month, helps newsrooms design their newsletters in an intentional way. The guide provides recommended strategies to build one based on the skills of the people the newsroom.

“It sounds kind of overly simple, but the truth is that most newsrooms aren't being intentional in their design or their curation — especially in small, scrappy newsrooms that would have so much to gain from an effective newsletter," Power-Drutis said. "Creating an effective newsletter requires just as much expertise and insight as laying out the front page of a newspaper, but it rarely gets that kind of attention or investment.”

How does Opt In help curate a newsletter?

To start, Opt In asks users a series of questions about their publication’s target audience, business model and mission. From there, Opt In produces a tailor-made strategy.

“The output for this tool is a very specific playbook based on who your audience is,” Power-Drutis said.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to an effective newsletter is identifying an audience. Once that is complete, the logistics are sorted out. The key to an impactful newsletter strategy is that it meets the distinct needs of its organization. The New York Times boasts 13 million subscriptions to its 50 email newsletters. theSkimm, which has an informal, conversational tone, has more than 3.5 million subscribers. Both are successful publications with drastically different audiences and tones, and their email newsletters reflect that. Opt In can help any newsroom determine the best strategy for identifying a tone and moving forward.  

What are the benefits of creating a targeted email newsletter with Opt In?

Email has been a consistent form of communication since before the social media boom, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Newsrooms can capitalize on the consistent use of email to enhance audience engagement. When the newsletters target the audience in a way that is engaging, the publication benefits.

“You spend a ton of time in your inbox, sifting through generic, annoying, and often automated email," Singh-Kurtz said. "To have something special, customized, and informative — that's worth your while."

Power-Drutis said the newsletter can be a platform in and of itself, or it can drive traffic to the main website. This increase in traffic can translate to ad revenue, which is critical for survival in many newsrooms.

An email newsletter also cuts out the noise that comes with promoting content on social media. It’s a direct line between the newsroom and subscribers. Opt In is designed to strengthen that tie.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Katey