Strategic considerations for newsletter journalism

April 4, 2024

Newsletter journalism is certainly not a new phenomenon, but in an age when publishers are struggling to make an impact in a crowded field, the email newsletter continues to be a popular avenue for creating direct links with consumers and driving engagement and loyalty. Despite media constantly speculating that we have reached ‘peak newsletter’, each year the number of publishers investing in newsletters increases. In fact, recent research from the Reuters Institute found that a majority of publishers surveyed plan to create more newsletters in 2024. Publishers with already established newsletter portfolios continue to create more topic specific offerings. The New York Times, for example, has almost 100 different newsletters across a wide variety of topics and themes. Newsletters can be so successful that many popular ones have started as a newsletter first proposition, such as Morning Brew or Semafor.

For those looking to dip their toes in the newsletter space, it’s crucial to define the holistic strategy at the outset, identifying their editorial role as well as their role in the business. From a design perspective, it is not as simple as throwing a few recent articles in an email and hitting send. There are a wide range of editorial and creative considerations that need to be thought about early on, in order to set the best possible foundation for success. Here are three key questions we would recommend considering as you begin your newsletter journey.

What are the goals?

It may seem obvious but identifying clear goals and KPIs for your newsletter can inform everything from the design to the commercial proposition. Are you trying to drive traffic to the website ultimately or is getting readers to open the email more important as you simply want to build brand loyalty?

Screeenshots from the Economist newsletter and the Semafor newsletter

The Economist example on the left is an example of the approach where readers have to open the story to find out more, whereas the Semafor example on the right uses concise summaries which give the reader the gist without having to leave the email. Both approaches are completely valid, it just depends on your goals. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, it may be suitable to simply populate the newsletter with links to recent stories, or it might make more sense to create custom copy unique to the newsletter. Are you trying to guide readers farther down a subscription funnel or are you trying to add value to retain existing subscribers? Setting the goals is the first step which will inform everything else.

How much editorial resource can you dedicate to it?

Another key question which is very closely tied to the goals discussion - what is the size and scale of the editorial team working on the newsletter. If you want this to be an endeavour that takes up less resource, then you are likely better off exploring a more automated solution. Daily or weekly roundup newsletters that showcase recent articles in different topics are incredibly common and relatively easy to set up. These often pull in the thumbnail image, headline, and a short description from the articles but have little or no additional copy within the newsletter. They are intended to drive readers to the website to read the full article.

Screenshot from New York times newsletter and the Test

The New York Times utilises many different automated emails such as the breaking news example on the left which notifies subscribers of breaking stories and drives traffic to the website. Food & Wine pulls together a selection of new articles and articles from specific themes in each newsletter but doesn’t add any custom editorial. 

If you have more editorial resource to dedicate to a newsletter, then you can consider a newsletter format with custom content. This can range from just some introduction copy, through to full long-form stories unique to the newsletter. 

Screenshots from the Tortoise, Monocle, and New York Times The Morning new

Tortoise Media, Monocle, and The Morning by NYT are all examples where a significant amount of copy is written daily for each email.

It’s important to align your newsletter ambitions and your back office process at project outset to ensure the initiative can be resourced and you avoid problems with production and email publishing frequency down the line. 

How will it sit alongside your existing brand? 

Newsletters from major publishers present an interesting case study when it comes to brand as they are often allowed quite a bit of leeway compared to the website. This is especially apparent when it comes to tone of voice. While the main website of a publisher might have quite a serious tone of voice, it is very common that the newsletter is allowed a more light-hearted, playful, or even snarky tone of voice. On the visual side, although many publishers choose to adhere more closely to their brands, some bring in new fonts, colours, or visual elements, unique to the newsletter to make it distinct. 

Screenshots from The 7 and Recast newsletters

The 7 by The Washington Post feels visually and tonally different from the main publication while Recast from Politico has a much more familiar tone of voice than its articles would use, leading with “What up, Recast family!”

There can be a lot of brand flexibility within the medium of newsletters. Consider how you might push the boundaries of your brand but make sure it still feels part of the overarching family.

Newsletters aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and should be seriously considered as part of any digital publications strategy. At Furthermore we have worked with multiple organisations to help refine newsletter strategies and designs including, most recently, The Harvard Gazette. If you are wondering how newsletters might enhance your offering, get in touch and make sure you are asking the right questions.

No items found.
Next Up:

More insights:

Get in touch with the team to discuss your idea, project or business.

workshop session for a service design project
service design workshop with Furthermore teamLarge Furthermore logo in white