Subscription-based newsletters have gotten a lot of attention lately. Often coverage has been about big names raking in millions of dollars by expressing controversial opinions. But for me, the newsletter trend is about something more fundamental: the opportunity for reporters to fully focus on serving their most loyal readers.
Every publication tries to serve their readers, of course. But a lot of news organizations have corporate structures or business models that get in the way.
Ad-supported publications have a strong incentive to write about the most clickable topics rather than the most important ones. Venture-backed news startups face pressure to grow so rapidly that it's hard to maintain high quality standards.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, venerable, subscription-based news businesses like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal unquestionably produce some great journalism. But these organizations are so bureaucratic that they sometimes get in the way of reporters doing their best work. I also don't think it's healthy for the news business to be dominated by a handful of huge incumbents.
The beauty of the newsletter business model is that it establishes the most direct possible connection between reporters and readers. Reporters are paid directly by their readers and accountable only to them. They don't have to worry about hitting traffic targets, nor do they have to worry about whether their editor's editor's editor likes their work.
Rethinking News is a newsletter about the news business. I'll write about the big problems facing the industry and people working to solve them.
Rethinking News will also chronicle my own efforts to build a different kind of news organization. Later this year—it might be in a few weeks or a few months—I plan to shut down this newsletter and launch a new one that I hope will grow into a substantial publication. In the meantime, I'll use Rethinking News to share my progress, ask for advice, and start building a community of interested readers. If that's you, please subscribe by clicking here (it's free). It would mean a lot to me.
So far, most successful subscription-based newsletters have been solo publications. But I think that's just a sign of how early we are in the newsletter trend. There's no reason the same business model that supports one writer couldn't support five or 10 or 20.
I think the best journalism tends to be done in teams—at least that's how I've always done my best work. I'll launch my newsletter as a solo effort if I have to, but I'd rather have a co-founder or two. So if you're a journalist or blogger interested in a project like this, I'd love to hear from you—especially if you live in the DC area or we've worked together in the past. Please email me.
Photo by Markus Pitzer.