The Washington Post’s newsletter brand, 202, is outgrowing the inbox

The Washington Post built a successful stable of newsletters by super-serving DC insiders and news junkies. But it is slowly stepping outside the beltway — and out of readers’ inboxes.

On Dec. 4, the news publisher launched The Technology 202, the seventh newsletter it’s built under the 202 umbrella. Like its predecessors, it will deliver in-depth reporting and a hefty pile of curated material. It will also vie for space on the Washington Post’s homepage, plug into a growing event series and develop a panel of outside experts it can tap for research and opinions.

As it’s grown, the 202 newsletters have started to grow into a healthy sub-brand with their own loyal audience, which augurs well for the increasingly subscription-focused Post. Since it launched as a single newsletter called PowerPost three years ago, the 202 has grown into a healthy sub-brand for the Post. A team of 14 people work on the newsletters full time, up from seven last year.

“The newsletter portfolio has gotten a lot of attention,” said Rachel Van Dongen, the editor of the 202 newsletters.

Written by Cat Zakrzewski, the Technology 202 will publish five days a week, offering a mix of original reporting and a collection of aggregated articles and content gathered from platforms including Twitter. Zakrzewski will be in D.C. while Congress is in session, but she will be reporting extensively from the west coast as well, and anywhere else relevant to the intersection of technology and policy. The content is designed to attract an audience in other technology power centers, including Silicon Valley, Austin, New York and Boston.

Its report should also pique the interest of the Post’s regular readers. All 202 newsletter editions are published as standalone content on the Post’s website, with the most high-impact editions getting recirculated across the Post’s product. “We want to have enough scoops so we can compete for space on the home page,” Van Dongen said.

The Post declined to share details about how many subscribers the 202 newsletters have, saying only that the total number of subscribers it has across all its newsletters is up more than 20 percent this year. They also have an open rate of over 30 percent,  above the 22 percent benchmark for a publisher newsletter, according to Mailchimp data.

They are also, apparently, building a brand important enough to matter outside recipients’ inboxes. A live event series, launched in 2016, has attracted speakers ranging from Rep. Paul Ryan to Andrew Wheeler, the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and sponsors including Delta and Hewlett Packard have signed on to support it. The events attract an average of 100,000 live-stream viewers as well, a Post spokesperson said.

It has also built a successful podcast, The Big Idea, around its flagship newsletter, the Daily 202. The Big Idea drives more downloads per month, on average, than any other Post podcast, according to an advertising rate card viewed by Digiday.

The Post has also begun experimenting with ways it can leverage its standing within the industries the newsletters cover. In May, the Post launched The Network, a reader panel featuring dozens of leading cybersecurity executives such as Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos. The Network’s panelists are regularly tapped for opinions on major developments in their field, providing not just fodder for the Post’s cybersecurity newsletter but content that can be shared across the Post’s properties.

A second similar panel, oriented around technology, is currently in the works. Van Dongen expects to roll it out early in 2019. “There’s been a tradition in D.C. that’s kind of disappeared of leadership polls and surveys,” Van Dongen said. “We wanted to restart that.”

As many other publishers have discovered, newsletters are especially useful for publishers that want to build a reader habit, and the Post is no different; its 202 subscribers are significantly more likely to become digital subscribers than normal readers, a spokesperson said.

“The Washington Post sees that email, can be what newspapers themselves were for a long time,” said Will Drabold, the director of operations at Tarbell Media. “This is arguably the best way to build that habit with readers that print newspaper delivery used to provide.”

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