Are Newsletters the New Blogs?

Newsletters specific to journalism and media are becoming more common, with both journalists and academics endorsing – and writing – them. Are newsletters the new blogs for academic communication and disseminating expert and scientific information? 

Some newsletters present comprehensive coverage of the development of specific issues over time, while others take a daily or weekly, more informal approach. As the number of newsletters increases, one way to stand apart is to move beyond a factual presentation of information, to more personal communication. Going beyond institutional newsletters, private individuals are producing them more and more. 

Seth Lewis and Mark Coddington, two journalists turned academics, recently launched RQ1, a newsletter that gathers and highlights current research and news throughout the month. The first issue released in February highlighted the work of a research group at Karlstad University who is aiming to reframe how we think about small-town news production. 

– There has never been a time when more academic research about news and journalism was being published. We’re talking orders-of-magnitude differences in the level of academic output regarding news compared to ten or twenty years ago, explains Lewis. 

– And that’s wonderful – such research is offering tremendous insights. But it’s also a bit overwhelming, even for those of us who study these things for a living. It can feel impossible to keep up. 

When Coddington had the idea to create the kind of curated resource that both he and Lewis wished existed to help them stay up to date with the never-ending stream of research, they ran with it – and RQ1 was born.

Mark Coddington (photographer: Kevin Remington) and Seth Lewis (photographer: Whitney Lewis) launched the newsletter RQ1.

The ability to easily access cutting-edge research also increases the possibilities of innovation in academia. According to Andrew Mills, co-author with Amy Sanders of the Jumpline newsletter, the main goal of their newsletter is to bring together development in academia with the realities of a quickly changing media landscape. 

– For years I had been pushing faculty colleagues and administrators at the journalism school I was working at to radically transform the journalism curriculum in order to bring what we were teaching in line with the realities of modern newsrooms. Frequently, I found myself in the minority – few of my colleagues were interested in changing how and what they teach. The motivation behind Jumpline – and, by extension, our newsletter – was to build a community of like-minded journalism educators and find ways to support their efforts to transform journalism education, says Mills.

Likewise, Lewis and Coddington express a similar motivation, describing how they seek to address the gap between study and application with RQ1. The newsletter offers the opportunity to address how journalism is taught and practised, and to influence how news is shared and the community strengthened. A single newsletter won’t bridge the whole gap, Lewis says, but they can do their part in developing greater engagement.

“There is a larger purpose behind what we’re doing here. There’s a major gap between research and practice” – Seth Lewis

According to Mills, Jumpline offers the opportunity to increase exposure to the changing reality of contemporary media and newsrooms, and help instructors stay up to date on the skills and knowledge the new media landscape demands. With such rapid change in the field, having an accessible resource increases the likelihood of instructors having the time and inclination to bring new ideas to their courses.

Concise yet substantive – the key to more subscribers 

But how should newsletter authors go about informing curious readers while avoiding the possibility of people unsubscribing?

– Email is old at this point, and yet remarkably durable as a medium. Everyone has email, and it’s a “push” medium rather than a “pull” medium – email comes to you rather than you having to go to a website to seek it out. That can be annoying, of course, given the huge volume of email that many of us receive. But it’s also convenient, and people seem to appreciate having something come to them on a regular basis – when they ask for it, anyway, asserts Lewis.

As a regular, dedicated source of information, the newsletter offers a way to consistently reach an audience with critical updates; however, certain things must be kept in mind, and the right balance struck.

– We know many people, especially academics and journalists, feel overwhelmed by their email inboxes and don’t want to subscribe to another newsletter that will feel like an obligation or a chore. Our goal is for our newsletter not to contribute to that. We want it to be brief and manageable, yet substantive enough to be consistently worth our audience’s time. And at only once a month, we hope that it will be a welcome sight when it pops up in our audience’s inboxes, explains Coddington of RQ1.

“Good writing transcends medium. We all can benefit from learning how to write better – more clearly, accessibly, and with a broad audience in mind” – Seth Lewis

Benefitting the writers – not just the readers

The newsletter medium also presents the opportunity for individuals to not only present their work or research but to develop their writing and voice and make it more relatable for readers:

– Good newsletters are often direct and personal, which are two characteristics that journalists and academics can struggle with. Journalists are good at being direct, though using writing that’s driven by an engaging personal voice can be foreign for many of them. And academics often struggle with both directness and personal voice in their writing. So training in writing newsletters could be a useful corrective for both of those groups, says Coddington.

Lewis reinforces this by explaining that focusing on clarity, accessibility, and a broad audience in our writing can help us move past lazy jargon and reach more people with a clear, articulated message. Moreover, Mills asserts that the learning, especially for journalism students, should encompass entrepreneurship, open-source intelligence, verification workflows (especially for social media content), artificial intelligence and machine learning, and collaboration, just to name a few things. 

– I think that newsletter writing should be taught as one of the tools journalists can use to reach specific audiences. Different audiences have different expectations and needs, asserts Mills.

Stay up to date and connected with the following newsletters

  • Media Trends in the Nordic Countries is a newsletter produced by Nordicom and edited by Eva Harrie. Published three times a year, it reports on trends in media use, the media market and media policy issues in the Nordics, and is based on various media statistics, media surveys, and results throughtout the region. The newsletter also provides an update on Nordicom’s publications and research journals. Subscribe here.
  • European Media Policy, also published three times a year by Nordicom and edited by Anna Celsing, focuses specifically on developments in media policy at the European level, such as new proposals for legislation, debates in the European Parliament, recently taken or impending policy decisions, EU studies in the field, and so forth. Subscribe here.
  • RQ1 is a newly launched monthly newsletter that collects the latest research on news and journalism and also presents key research from the past month. The authors, Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis, are former journalists and are now instructors and researchers at Washington and Lee University (Mark) and the University of Oregon (Seth). They created RQ1 to help themselves, and their readers stay abreast of the continuous stream of new research. Subscribe here.
  • Jumpline is written by Andrew Mills and Amy Kristin Sanders, both experienced in Journalism research. They seek to support academics and students who are working for a radical transformation of journalism education and providing a resource to help make sense of the rapidly changing media landscape. Subscribe here.
  • Benedict Evans is named after the author, who is an independent analyst based in London with 20 years’ experience in analysing mobile and digital media and technology. The newsletter has been sent out every Sunday since 2013, with thoughts on the news that matters throughout the week. Subscribe here.
  • The Local Fix is a weekly review of writing on journalism. It also provides advice, tools, and resources. Curated by Josh Stearns, Teresa Gorman, and Christine Schmidt from the Democracy Fund, this newsletter explores the current debates in journalism sustainability and community development. Subscribe here
  • The Interface is a daily column and newsletter by Casey Newton, a Silicon Valley editor for The Verge. His newsletter presents thoughts on the intersection of social media and democracy, from the possibilities of social media to benefit the home-bound during the coronavirus pandemic, to the decisions of when to remove misleading political videos from social media platforms. Subscribe here.
  • The Intersection is written by Adriana Lacy, an audience engagement editor for the Los Angeles Times, and considers the intersections of journalism, technology, and product. From the interactions of editors and writers to the influence of tech companies, this newsletter explores what happens when the paths are crossed. Subscribe here.
  • Axios Media Trends, by Sara Fischer, is sent out every Tuesday and brings the most current news and analysis of media trends and the media industry straight to your inbox. Subscribe here.