editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Newsletters – your secret to developing sources

January 13th, 2008 · 6 Comments

OK, so enough talking about ways to save the newspaper industry or the local newspaper. How about spending some time on something way more important, like how to save and advance your own reporting career? Well I’ve got an idea that will impress your editors, make your colleagues jealous and even make your job easier.

One of the challenges reporters face in covering any beat, be it municipal or specialty, is developing sources and proving to the people you cover (who increasingly don’t read your newspaper at least not the print version) that you actually DO write about them. An approach that I’ve encouraged my reporters to use is to publish their own email newsletter, call it “[insert reporters name]‘s Weekly Update.”

To me a solution a that incorporated a technology that reporters are already using makes the most sense. Additionally, I thought that we needed something that allowed us to leverage the newspaper’s website and that would increase the lines of communication.

The idea is really simple. Most reporters already have a source list that hopefully includes some email addresses. Additionally, here’s a great opportunity to reach out and get the addresses they don’t have. I don’t advise that you blindly harvest emails from the Internet as it will likely violate your paper’s email policy. You should send your Update at the end of the week (the exact day is up to you, but stick to it) and include:

  1. An introduction that includes an overview of the week, including any big events that occurred.
  2. A list of the articles you’ve written including links and a summary of each piece (heck, grab your lede or the top few graphs).
  3. A numerical count of all the times the town, institution or agency appeared in the paper. Most people don’t have the helicopter view that would include news, sports, features, communities, etc.
  4. A sampling of events in the upcoming week that you’re planning on covering.
  5. You can also use this to ask a question of the group or look for people to interview about a specific topic.
  6. All of your contact information. This should include your phone numbers, email address, and social network site profiles.
  7. And most, most importantly, encourage people to forward the newsletter to other interested parties or to provide you with the email addresses and you’ll include them in the next mailing.

Key to this effort is, like many other things, consistency. You have to do it every week regardless of what else is going on. People will come to expect it. They still might not read the print paper, but they will read your email. Keep in mind that you may have new readers so make sure that your introduction every week explains who you are and what your are trying to do. I think you’ll find that the newsletter will help build trust and respect with sources and increase your reach in your beat.

Do these actually work? I have seen reporter’s newsletters start with a few dozen recipients and grow into the hundreds. People will forward it along to others and new email addresses will be passed along to you. As a result:

  • your editors will like your newsletter because you’ll be increasing the number of sources and as a result deepening your ties to your beat.
  • your publisher will like you because you will be helping to grow the newspaper’s brand.
  • your sources will like you because you’ll be helping them stay abreast of the news they need to know.
  • your Online Director will like you because the links in your emails will help drive people to the website.

This is an approach that can work for a junior, senior or even a freelance reporter. A great side benefit is that help reporters keep track of their own productivity, keep their tickler list up-to-date and even stay on top of stories that need follow-ups.

I encourage you to give it a shot. I think you’ll find it both satisfying and rewarding and please, include me (yonigre (at) gmail dot com) on your list.

NOTE: I’m proud to be participating, along with fellow journalism bloggers from around the world in the Carnival of Journalism. In addition to reading my post please visit the Carnival host site and see what my colleagues are writing about. Not sure what a blog carnival is? Check out this entry on Wikipedia.

Tags: Audience Development · Beat Development · Best Practices · Branding · Innovation · Reporting

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Charlie Beckett // Jan 14, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Yoni,
    That’s a great and simple idea. I particularly like it because it appeals to the self-publicist lurking within every great reporter.
    Do you know anyone who is doing it? and if so, whether it works?
    cheers
    Charlie Beckett
    Polis, LSE

  • 2 shawn smith // Jan 14, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    And the sales people will like you because you are giving them something else to sell! One item of note, promote your newsletter! We redesigned our newsletters about two months ago, and then we slapped newsletter signup boxes on a number of our pages. Within a month, some newsletters were up 50-120 subscribers.

  • 3 Yoni Greenbaum // Jan 14, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    @Charlie – Thanks. I’ve had reporters who over the years have used the technique and actually enjoyed it. In addition to appealing to the “self-publicist,” it plays right into many reporters love of email.

    @Shawn – Do you produce reporter-specific emails or just topic-specific ones? If you wouldn’t mind forwarding one or providing a link if there’s an online equivalent I would appreciate it.

  • 4 shawn smith // Jan 15, 2008 at 6:19 am

    Here’s a couple:
    Daily stories from The Grand Rapids Press
    http://www.mlive.com/grpress/newsletter.ssf

    Stories primarily by one reporter for environmental news: http://www.mlive.com/watershedwatch/newsletter.ssf

    Home and Garden news: http://www.mlive.com/homeandgarden/newsletter.ssf

    Reporter specific emails could be good. We do use feedburner off individual blogs which do offer email updates. We haven’t yet created any single-reporter newsletters, except for the environmental one I mentioned, but that’s not a bad idea.

  • 5 Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Tuesday squibs // Jan 16, 2008 at 2:09 am

    [...] Newsletters – your secret to developing sources. One of the coolest ideas I’ve read in a while is this advice for beat reporters. Multiple advantages for a little work. [...]

  • 6 Carnival of Journalism 2 (Gnostic edition) | Adrian Monck // Dec 20, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    [...] Yoni Greenbaum at Editor on the verge tells reporters to start developing email newsletters to help build contacts. [...]

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