Publishers are rediscovering that email newsletters are a reliable way to reach readers — and serve a critically important direct connection to audiences that serves as a counterweight to the mercurial algorithms of Facebook. The popularity of email digests is giving rise to a new specialty at publishers: the newsletter editor.
The title and its role varies somewhat by publisher. Quartz has a small “push team” that oversees its main Daily Brief newsletter and a few others. Organizing the newsletters in this way recognizes they’re a skill set unto themselves, said Zach Seward, Quartz’s vp of product and executive editor. The Daily Brief now has more than 200,000 subscribers and a unique open rate of 40 percent, he said.
The Washington Post has 75-plus newsletters that are written by reporters and editors in their respective verticals, but the strategy is overseen by a newsletter and alerts editor, Tessa Muggeridge. The Post wouldn’t give raw numbers but has said it has increased traffic to the site from newsletters by 129 percent in the past year and added more than 1 million newsletter subscribers in the past year by making a concerted push in this area.
Vox Media, meanwhile, is looking to hire newsletter editors for three of its verticals, Vox.com, Eater and Racked. “We had a realization that newsletters are their very own platform, and we should think about them in the way we think about other platforms,” said Melissa Bell, vp of growth at Vox Media.
Others echoed that feeling, saying the unique nature of newsletters calls for a distinct approach. Unlike articles that people encounter in their social feeds, publishers say newsletters have permission to be written in a more conversational and personal style because the reader has already opted in to them.
Vox.com’s main newsletter, called Vox Sentences, for example, has a strong, often declarative sentence as the subject line that’s different from the headline. It’s self-contained, so it’s written so that the reader can get a complete experience without clicking out.
“It’s a different experience,” Bell said. “It’s like getting the newspaper delivered to you every day. And that changes the way you think about them.”
Given the distinct nature of the platform, publishers are recognizing that a good newsletter editor has to have an appreciation for their writing and the format itself.
“I think an underappreciated skill for the newsletter editor is being able to put yourself in the mindset of the reader at the end of the email,” Seward said.
Quartz’s push team takes care to keep the tone and format consistent. To make sure different time zones are covered and the content reflects Quartz’s global editorial mandate, the newsletter duties are spread across a few people. Vox Media is looking for people with a strong voice and who are excited about the platform. (To suss this out, Racked asked applicants for its newsletter editor position to create a cover letter in the style of an email newsletter.) In a memo announcing her hire, the Washington Post noted Muggeridge’s knowledge of distribution through messaging and enthusiasm for building community.
The position also requires having a facility with data and experimentation. A job posting for Racked’s newsletter editor calls for someone to “guide email best practices, tracking metrics, and leading our testing program.”
At the Washington Post, Muggeridge’s job is to set strategy, identify potential new ones to launch, look at metrics like open rates and scroll depth and work to improve their creation and design. People don’t necessarily open their email right away, so one area she’s focused on is making elements of newsletters up to date, as the Post did with user-driven emojis in newsletters during the convention, even if the recipient opens them hours after they were sent.
“Email is stuck in a previous decade,” Muggeridge said. “It hasn’t evolved the way online news is evolved. We have a lot of experimentation we can do.”