Email Newsletter Success Metrics

Updated: Jan. 8, 2015, 11:21 a.m.

One byproduct of all the recent articles about the growth of email newsletter that aim to “cut through the daily clutter” is an amazing amount of clutter about email newsletters. Here’s what you need to know today.

    • The Skimm was started by two NBC News producers in their 20s. It’s been around for two years. It goes out at 6 a.m. They have $1.1 million and 7 employees. They don’t talk about their subscriber numbers. Their blog is a fantastic read on media entrepreneurship, and we should hand it out to incoming freshmen at Chapel Hill. (
    • Quartz’s Daily Brief also goes out at 6 a.m. There are three global versions, and users “click a lot on the links to opinion pieces and ‘random discoveries’ that we include in the second half of the email.” (httpss://
    • The Quartz email in June had 77,000 subscribers (62 percent of its Twitter followers). It has a 50-percent open rate. It “makes money.” (
    • Time’s email newsletter has 650,000 subscribers. The curated daily list of 12 stories every morning has a 40 percent open rate, that it says is twice the industry average. That’s up from a 17 percent open rate when it was auto-generated headlines. (
    • The daily newsletter about data — called Up, Down, All Around — from Lindsey Rogers Cook of U.S. News has subscribers “in the low hundreds” and open rates around 40 percent. (httpss://
    • Alexis Mardrigal’s email newsletter has a 60 percent open rate. (
    • Nieman Labs email newsletter (in March 2013) had 10,000 subscribers and drove 3 percent of monthly pageviews. If what I’ve seen elsewhere holds true, each visit from an email newsletter is worth about 3x as many page views as from social media. (
    • At Buzzfeed, email ranks behind Pinterest in the amount of traffic it generates for the site. (
    • The number of subscribers to Nieman Lab’s email newsletter is 10 percent of the number of Twitter followers it has. (
    • Alexis Madrigal’s email newsletter had 8,800 subscribers in July. That’s about 5 percent of his Twitter followers. (
    • 75% of Digg’s users say they use email to share links in April 2013. It was more popular than any other service they used to share links. (

  • Today in Tabs grew from 1,000 subscribers in January 2014 to 10,000 in January 2015. ( and httpss://
  • In June, Nieman Lab used a Twitter card to solicit subscriptions to the newsletter. It went out to 157,000 followers and yielded 370 new subscribers. (
  • “The Arizona Daily Star’s site saw a 30 percent increase in email newsletter signups January through February. (
  • The Slurve is a daily newsletter about baseball. It costs $4 a month or $36 a year. It goes out about 10 a.m., and has about 150 links and 2,700 words. (


Ben Bradlee interview from 2005

I was lucky enough to be working at The Washington Post in 2005 when the identity of Deep Throat was revealed. I remembered at the time thinking what a relief it was for The Post to finally have it out there — now we could focus on the future.

But 10 years later I find myself doing something I once criticized journalism students for doing — being nostalgic for something I never really knew. If given the choice between working at Facebook in 2015 and The Washington Post in 1975, I’d choose the later.

At the same time, if the choice were between Facebook 2015 and The Washington Post 2015, I’d probably go for Facebook.

The future of journalism is forcing us to think about technology and economics, which is not just healthy but exciting. But those topics can dull our sense for holding powerful people accountable, shining light in dark places and explaining an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Here’s my interview with Ben Bradlee from 2005.

Correct Audience Numbers for The Columbia Tribune

I made an error in the piece I wrote for PBS Media Shift Idea Lab yesterday. I misrepresented the audience for The Columbia Tribune. The paper’s general manager, Andy Waters, kindly brought it to my attention and I want to offer a correction here.

Numbers that Waters sent me from The Media Audit show that the news organization reaches nearly 80 percent of the 130,000 adults in its market. I used a small potential audience base and a smaller penetration rate when I wrote up the post. That number was no good and I should’ve known better than to use it. I simply took the print circulation and divided it by the Census estimate of residents in Columbia.

You could go all night quibbling about audience measurement methodologies, but whatever faults The Media Audit numbers may or may not have, they are certainly better than the way I tried to calculate it.

And I think this is a particularly important measurement to correct because of the number of unsourced posts that you can find on the Internet saying that the Tribune lost anywhere between 25 and 40 percent of its online audience when it implemented online subscriptions. I’m not fact-checking those claims one way or the other, and even if true they may not be important. I’m repeating it here only to provide context for the correction and to hopefully spur some critical thinking about any audience claims you see — including mine.

Anyway. The Media Audit numbers that Waters showed me indicate that out of a base population of 130,634 adults 18 or older, 103,260 of them – or 79 percent – say they read the Tribune either in print or online. The print edition (weekday/Sunday) reaches 62 percent of the market at least once a week, and the website reaches 52.5 percent of the market at least once a month.

I hope that gives a better picture of the kind of environment in which the Tribune’s OpenBlock experiment is taking place. And the point I was trying to make I think remains valid — that Columbia, Mo., is WAY different than Chicago or Charlotte or San Francisco.

How it’s going to go down tonight. Maybe.

7p –
Romney: 44 (Ga., S.C., Ky., Ind.)
Obama: 3 (Vt.)
Undeclared: 34 (Va., Fla.)

Virginia and Florida will be our first undecided states, and in 2008 they were the ones that finally got called at 11 p.m. and allowed TV networks to project that Obama would win.

7:30 –
Romney: 49 (W.Va.)
Obama: 3 (Vt.)
Undeclared: 43 (N.C., Ohio, Va., Fla.)

In 2008, McCain conceded even while he was still ahead in North Carolina. Of course, after all precincts reported it was Obama who won became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to win the state. It will be at least 9:30 before the state is called and I suspect that the longer it stays open the worse it looks for Romney.

West Virginia hasn’t gone Democratic since 1996. Sometimes I forget that.

8 p.m. –
Romney: 130 (Tenn., Ala., Miss., Mo., Tex., Okla.)
Obama: 98 (Mich., Maine, N.H., R.I., Conn., N.J., Del., Md., D.C., Ill.)
Undeclared: 59 (N.C., Ohio, Va., Fla.)

If N.H. and Mich. don’t go for Obama right away, then he may be in trouble there.
If N.J. doesn’t get called right away, it’ll probably not be an indication of anything other than storm-related voting issues.

8:30 p.m. –
Romney: 136 (Ark.)
Obama: 98 ()
Undeclared: 59 (N.C., Ohio, Va., Fla.)

9 p.m. –
Romney: 174 (La., N.D., S.D., Neb., Kans., Wyo., Ariz.)
Obama: 152 (N.Y., Minn., N.M., Wis.)
Undeclared: 68 (Colo., N.C., Ohio, Va., Fla.)

Colorado is another of those states that didn’t get called in 2008 until after McCain conceded shortly after 11 p.m.

In 2008 at about 9:30 p.m., the networks projected Obama would win Ohio. They also projected Wisconsin going for Obama about the same time. It looks like they both may go Obama’s way this year, too – but Wisconsin before Ohio.

10 p.m. –
Romney: 185 (Mont., Utah)
Obama: 164 (Nev., Iowa)
Undeclared: 68 (Colo., N.C., Ohio, Va., Fla.)

Iowa went for Obama right away in 2008. And he eventually got 54 percent of the vote there. If the state goes to Romney, it would be the second time since 1988. A slow call for Obama here might point in that direction.

I seem to recall that Nevada is very slow to report, but a slow call in Nevada might also be an indication that the state will return to the Republican column.

In 2008 at about 10:45 p.m., Fox called Virginia for Obama.

11 p.m. –
Romney: 185 ()
Obama: 269 (Ohio, Va., Calif., Wash., Ore.)
Undeclared: 50 (Colo., N.C., Fla.)

Hope will remain for Romney if Ohio doesn’t go to Obama by 11 p.m. But also note that Ohio is expecting more than 200,000 provisional ballots, and will be forced into a recount if the difference between the two candidates is about 14,000 votes.

Of the five remaining undeclared states, Nate Silver predicts that Obama is most likely to win Virginia and Colorado. But winning Virginia would still leave Obama one electoral vote shy of the 270 he needs to win the presidency. So expect this election night to go later than it did four years ago.

Florida and Virginia got called for Obama shortly after 11 p.m. in 2008, allowing networks to project him as the winner. Obama had about 53 percent in Virginia and 51 percent in Florida when all the votes were counted in 2008.

Nevada didn’t get declared until after McCain conceded. Obama ended up with 55 percent of the vote there.

12 a.m. –
Romney: 185 ()
Obama: 273 (Hawaii)
Undeclared: 37 (Colo., N.C., Va., Fla.)

1 a.m. –
Romney: 188 (Alaska)
Obama: 273 ()
Undeclared: 37 (Colo., N.C., Va., Fla.)

Thanks to:

How to subscribe on Facebook? What does Acquaintance mean?

In other words, what’s the difference between “Unsubscribing” from one of your friends on Facebook or adding them to your Acquaintance list?

Subscribing to someone is a way of seeing their Facebook updates in your News Feed without being friends with the person.

While you don’t have to be friends with someone to subscribe to them, you do automatically become subscribed when you become friends.

Once you are subscribed, you further limit what you see from someone by mousing over one of their content items that appears in your News Feed and selecting the down arrow that appears on the upper right of the post. You can choose to see “All Updates” or “Most Updates” or “Only Important”. The default is “Most Updates”.

Facebook’s algorithm determines the precise meanings of each of those terms. “The news feed algorithm uses several factors, including: how many friends are commenting on a certain piece of content, who posted the content, and what type of content it is (e.g. photo, video, or status update),” according to Facebook.

Adding someone to your Acquaintance list automatically changes the subscription setting for that person to “Only Important.”

Selecting “Only Important” does not automatically add a friend to your Acquaintance list.

Acquaintance lists can also be used to manage which of your posts are seen by the members of that list. When you post a piece of content on Facebook, you can choose to share it with “Friends except Acquaintances”.

Facebook says that “people on your Acquaintances list will rarely show up in your news feed,” so it would seem to me.

Installing Python: Quick Tutorial for Journalism Students

Right off the bat, you’re going to learn that your ability to troubleshoot ambiguous instructions and consider all relevant variables will be key to your success as a computational journalist. Getting started with Python depends on which operating system you are using.

Python on a Mac

The easiest operating system on which to start is Apple’s OS X, which is install on all Macintosh computers. Every version of OS X ships with a default version of Python already installed. The “Lion” version of OS X — versions that begin with 10.7 — ship with Python 2.7.1 or (I think) 2.7.3. That’s great, because 2.7.3 is one of the most recent versions of Python, and the version we’ll be using here. (I’ll tell you in a bit why I say that 2.7.3 is one of the most recent versions.)

Earlier versions of OS X — such as 10.6 “Snow Leopard” — come with earlier versions of Python, such as 2.6.1 or something like that. For now at least, that’s no big prob.

Here’s how you can find out which version of Python is installed on your Macintosh:

  1. Go to Applications –> Utilities –> Terminal
  2. At the $ prompt, type “python –version”, and hit the [Return] key
  3. You should get a response that tells you what version of Python you have installed by default. Go ahead and get Python started by typing at the $ prompt: “python,” and then hitting the [Return] key

Python on Windows

Python does not come with Windows computers, so you will have to download and install it. Here’s how:

  1. Open a browser and go to . This will begin downloading the Python installer. It should take about 2 minutes to download.
  2. Once downloaded, double-click the installer to run it. It will take another 2 minutes to install.
  3. Unless there’s some reason not to, leave all the default choices selected.
  4. Python will be installed at C:Python27 and it will take up about 51MB of space. In your Start menu you will also see “IDLE (Python GUI)”. Let’s go ahead and launch Python now by clicking on that icon.

Python on Linux/Ubuntu/Amazon AWS

Many hard-core programmers work on some flavor of the free Linux operating system. Ubuntu is the version I use. You can install Ubuntu as an alternate operating system on either a Mac or a Windows PC. On my Mac, I use the freely available Virtual Box application from Oracle to create what’s called a virtual machine that allows me to run Ubuntu in RAM while I’m also working in the OS X operating system. But you can also install Ubuntu on your Mac using Apple’s own Boot Camp application (which you can find in Utilities) or a program called Parallels. I will say that Virtual Box is not particularly user friendly, and Boot Camp might be your best bet.

You can also install Ubuntu as an alternate operating on a Windows computer by using the instructions at

Finally, at some point you will want to put the applications you write in Python on the Web. To do that, you’ll need access to a Web server. Probably the easiest and cheapest place to start is the EC2 service from Amazon Web services, by going to The upside of using AWS is that you can launch within minutes a Web server running the most recent version of Ubuntu and Python, and the cost is $1-$15 per month unless you do some heavy work. The downside is that security configuration that allows you to connect to create Python programs by using the “command line” — the Terminal on a Mac or on a Windows PC — can be a bit hairy. But you’ll have to learn how to do it eventually so now might as well be the time.


By now you should have a version of Python up and running on either a Mac, a PC or on a remote service like Amazon EC2. Or… you might have run into trouble. Most trouble you encounter is going to be because you’re reading instructions that differ, in some small way, from the operating system you’re using or the version of Python you’re using, or a thousand other small things. When you’re Googling for tutorials or forums on Linux, be sure you know the numerical version of your operating system and your version of Python. But even that may not be enough, because many authors have written their tutorials using outdated versions or they aren’t clear about which versions they’re using. Get used it. Be skeptical. Go slowly. Be calm.

Two potential errors I want to check with you right now:

  1. Don’t use any flavor of Python 3. Use only Python 2. Right now there are two “branches” of Python, and all of the applications we’re using will require Python 2. In this case, bigger is not better.
  2. On a Mac — and Ubuntu to some degree — be careful when you feel a temptation to “upgrade” to a new version of Python. Python comes with Macs for a reason — the operating system needs it to be a certain version in a certain location. Change it and things can get messed up beyond my ability to explain it. The built-in version of Python on a Mac will be at /System/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework and /usr/bin/python. If you install a different version, it — in an ideal world — will be at /Library/Frameworks/Python.framework. You should be able to use the command line in Terminal to navigate to those directories, and if you don’t know how to do that now is the time to ask a human for help. Your likelihood of finding the answer via Google will be inefficient at beast and frustrating at worst.


The 7 Key Presentation Elements of a News Story

I’ve been looking over a lot of news stories lately — as an award judge, as a grant recipient and a journalism professor — and I’m realizing there are a few items I want to see on every story. I may be unique in this. But, boy, gimme these and I’m a happy judge/editor/professor/reader:

1. A lead. The who, what, when where at minimum. Add the how and why if needed. One paragraph. No anecdotes.

2. Links from every relevant proper noun to a very brief reference card about the person or organization.

3. A timeline. How’d we get here? Where are we going?

4. A map.

5.  An FAQ. 

6. A search form. Backed by a relevant database.

7. A hosted, asynchronous discussion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or article comments. Just make sure it’s truly hosted by a knowledgeable human being adept at using conversation to clarify and verify rather than merely amplify assertion.

Now, I know from watching site metrics and studying award patterns that these aren’t the seven elements that most people prefer. Maybe four.

1. A number — or the words “How to…” — in the headline.

2. Breaking News. Often of relatively small increment.

3. Photos.

4. Something to click.


How about you? What presentation elements do you find yourself seeking out? Are there elements you see showing up repeatedly in award-winning pieces or audience favorites?

Top 10 Best Things About David Broder

The future of news looks less bright today with the death of David Broder, one of the best journalists of the 20th century. I had the change to work with him at The Washington Post, and all I can think about today is how much I’d enjoy replaying the last 50 years of his life, the last 10 of mine and putting us at the same news organization again.

Here are the Top 10 Best Things that the students in my journalism classes need to know about Mr. Broder.

10. Be a reporter first and an analyst second. Long after Mr. Broder was a television talking head, a syndicated columnist and a Pulitzer Prize winner, he knocked on the doors of voters in the Ohio River Valley.

9. Respect democracy. Mr. Broder believed in the value of public service and respected the sacrifice of candidates and elected representatives. I saw him treat the most influential members of both parties as human beings rather than targets, even as he probed them with smart, aggressive questions. I suspect the esteem in which he held public service allowed him to have high expectations that required tough questions.

8. Do not be driven by the “scoop.” By the time I had the chance to meet Mr. Broder, political journalism was already on its way to being driven mostly by the ability to deliver small details before your competitors could put together a cogent narrative. But even then, he cared more about being able to explain the story than break it.

7. Write plainly. Mr. Broder’s columns, news stories and books are a pleasure to read for their precision and economy of words. His prose seemed to be designed to make people feel smarter than they really were rather than dumber.

6. Work hard. I suspect that if given the choice between a deadline and party, Mr. Broder would choose the deadline every time.

5. Clean up your office. Seriously. Mr. Broder’s was a death trap. The La Brea Tar Pits of political reporting. Nobody’s perfect, after all.

4. Try new things. Mr. Broder was doing live online discussions with readers in 1998. What’s your excuse?

3. Have a sense of humor about yourself. During one of those early online discussions, the website’s political editor sent him an email of thanks and encouragement. Mr. Broder’s response is one I hope to get made into a t-shirt one day: “Did I do something bad on the Internet?”

2. Be an optimist in a world of cynics and naysayers. Mr. Broder cheered for the Cubs. He never tried to convince anyone that the world was worse than it is, and nor did he try to convince them it was better.

1. Take the kids to lunch. When I’m 81, inshallah, I’ll still remember the lunch I had with Mr. Broder. Just he and I. He had lunch with me not because he wanted anything from me. Not because he owed me anything. But because I asked for his time and he was kind enough to offer it. It was sometime around the 2004 election and we talked about his 1981 book, The Changing of the Guard. I had been wondering what the book would look like if it were a series on about yet another generation of political advisers and candidates. We talked about how it could be interactive and multimedia. He let me ask questions and make statements that alternated between naive and presumptuous. But he never checked his Blackberry, never looked around the room and never interrupted.

Mr. Broder had so many wonderful characteristics that I try to emulate. Being a great journalists is just one, and far from the most important. He was a great journalist because he was so much more. And I hope that the future of journalism can yield many more in his mold.

The Non-Linear Inverted Pyramid

This post is excerpted from Chapter 12 of “Producing Online News“,  from

When news producers begin to get into “that data state of mind” they are trying to achieve both a business goal—ubiquity of their news organization’s information and influence, and a social goal—efficient use of information. If one person has a piece of information and can share it at no cost to everyone else, other people shouldn’t have to repeat the work that went into acquiring that information. The DRY principal of programming when applied to news creates a sustainable news ecology. The energy that is used to gather a fact needs to be expended only once. After finding information from a trustworthy source, journalists can spend all of their energy on analyzing and providing relevant context that adds value to the piece of information. Within a news organization, journalists can also reduce, re-use and recycle content. Consider the way that hyperlinks in a story make news consumption and news production both more efficient.

Often in news stories the audience wants to know more about specific people or organizations than just their names. In print journalism, reporters provide this information in an appositive immediately after the name of the person or organization. For example: “Irwin Collier, an economy expert for North American at the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Free University, pointed out that [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, who has backed the package, holds a majority in parliament.” Online, by linking the words “Irwin Collier” to a biographical page about the expert—a page that would not be limited to the cursory information presented in the appositive example—the sentence would be almost half its original size.

Once you begin thinking of facts as pieces of organized data, you are ready to start thinking about how you might “program” information as a nonlinear narrative, one that doesn’t proceed in the usual order from top to bottom, but instead might update or rearrange pieces of information dynamically depending on the conditions and context of the audience.

The inverted pyramid has long been used in journalism as a metaphor to describe the traditional structure of a basic news story—the most important information is summarized in the lead, with details of decreasing importance following in each subsequent paragraph or section. For an audience that skims articles rather than reads them, the inverted pyramid remains one of the best ways to construct a news story for the Web. But by using links, online journalists can turn a news story built as an inverted pyramid into a story presented as several inverted pyramids. While printed inverted pyramids are linear, online inverted pyramids can be nonlinear.

In a linear inverted pyramid, every reader starts in the same place—the first paragraph—and ends at the last paragraph, taking the only logical path between those two points. This is a perfectly accept- able way to write news stories both online and off.

But some news events lend themselves to a nonlinear story structure, which breaks apart the traditional news narrative and creates several paths of links the audience can choose to follow. By establishing links from the lead to various elements of the story, and also links among those story elements, journalists can craft a nonlinear narrative that helps each reader more quickly find the specific information he or she wants.

Adrian Holovaty, a pioneer of online news, wrote in 2006 that for journalists to take full advantage of the Web’s hypermedia, they first needed to abandon what he calls “the story-centric world view.” Using as his example a newspaper story about a local fire, Holovaty wrote on his blog:

“[W]hat I really want to be able to do is explore the raw facts of that story, one by one, with layers of attribution, and an infrastructure for comparing the details of the fire— date, time, place, victims, fire station number, distance from fire department, names and years experience of firemen on the scene, time it took for firemen to arrive—with the details of previous fires. And subsequent fires, whenever they happen.”

By breaking down a story into its atomic pieces and using hyperlinks to reconnect those pieces, readers can explore different aspects of the story, each at a level of detail chosen by the visitor. In nonlinear storytelling, journalists gather the input and information as usual, but then tell the story using links that allow the audience to drive the experience.