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Innovating Journalism by Going Back in Time? The Curious Case of Newsletters as a News Source in Belgium

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Among the slew of innovations piercing legacy news media in order to maintain their importance, relevance and financial viability, one notable shift in online newsrooms is the resurgence of newsletters as a controlled means of disseminating curated news content and controlling incoming traffic on news websites. This is particularly the case in Belgium, where nearly a quarter of the population indicated newsletters as their primary source of news in the 2018 Oxford Digital News Report. In this chapter, we establish three main reasons explaining the sudden rebirth of newsletters, and zoom in on one leading Belgian media player to show that, how and why (a) newsletters have emerged as bigger sources of incoming online traffic than social media and (b) newsletters have effectively altered the daily work of journalists in online newsrooms, as newsletters have become a focal point in the ‘digital first’ approach adopted by legacy media.
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Innovating Journalism by Going Back
in Time? The Curious Case
of Newsletters as a News Source
in Belgium
Jonathan Hendrickx, Karen Donders and Ike Picone
Abstract Among the slew of innovations piercing legacy news media in order to
maintain their importance, relevance and financial viability, one notable shift in online
newsrooms is the resurgence of newsletters as a controlled means of disseminating
curated news content and controlling incoming traffic on news websites. This is
particularly the case in Belgium, where nearly a quarter of the population indicated
newsletters as their primary source of news in the 2018 Oxford Digital News Report.
In this chapter, we establish three main reasons explaining the sudden rebirth of
newsletters, and zoom in on one leading Belgian media player to show that, how and
why (a) newsletters have emerged as bigger sources of incoming online traffic than
social media and (b) newsletters have effectively altered the daily work of journalists
in online newsrooms, as newsletters have become a focal point in the ‘digital first’
approach adopted by legacy media.
Keywords Digital journalism ·Newsletters ·Digital first ·Innovative journalism
1 Introduction
In recent years, the production of e-mail newsletters has sharply increased, both by
‘legacy’ print and newer digital media publishers. The trend mirrors the continued
strength of e-mails in daily life, and their widespread use in marketing, despite the
advent of more sophisticated and proprietary digital tools (Jack 2016). Written off
entirely a few years ago, and still threatened by social media and chat applications
such as Facebook and Slack, e-mails in general and newsletters in particular have
somehow managed to not merely survive, but even thrive in the era of endless supply
J. Hendrickx (B)·K. Donders ·I. Picone
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
e-mail: jonathan.hendrickx@vub.be
K. Donders
e-mail: karen.donders@vub.be
I. Picone
e-mail: ike.picone@vub.be
©SpringerNatureSwitzerlandAG2020
J. Vázquez-Herrero et al. (eds.), Journalistic Metamorphosis,
Studies in Big Data 70, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3- 030-36315- 4_5
57
This is the accepted, pre-edited version of:
Hendrickx, J., Donders, K., & Picone, I. (2020). Innovating
Journalism by Going Back in Time? The Curious Case of
Newsletters as a News Source in Belgium. In J. Vázquez-Herrero,
S. Direito-Rebollal, A. Silva-Rodríguez, & X. López-García (Eds.),
Journalistic Metamorphosis: Media Transformation in the Digital
Age (pp. 57–68). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-36315-4_5
58 J. Hendrickx et al.
of both news and news sources. Zooming out, the renewed adoption of newsletters
in newsrooms is also a compelling example of how certain media forms deemed
obsolete at one point can maintain or regain relevance when it ticks all the right
boxes.
The small, Western country Belgium always makes for interesting case studies
in media research due to its convoluted linguistic and political situations, effectively
yielding multiple media markets within one country (Donders et al. 2019). It is
therefore the more surprising that Belgians appear to be united when it comes to
consuming news via e-mail newsletters. According to data from the 2019 Oxford
Digital News Report (hereafter ‘DNR’),1e-mail newsletter or notifications are used
by 30% of Belgian news users to access news on a weekly basis. This however
hides a significant difference between Dutch-language northern region Flanders and
French-language southern region Wallonia: 38% and 23% respectively. Even if the
popularity of newsletters is slightly declining over the past years (down from 40%
in 2016), it remains a key access point to news in 2019 in Belgium. Especially in
Flanders, it forms a more popular way to access the news than direct access (34%),
social media (26%) and mobile news alerts (16%). A quarter of Flemish news users
even consider newsletters and notifications via e-mail their main way of accessing
news.
Again, these numbers conceal important differences amongst Flemish news users.
For 30% of news users above 35 years old, newsletters and notifications via mail form
their main way of getting the news. This drops to only 8% for those below 35. A
similar gap can be noticed in terms of people’s education: around a quarter of low-
and middle-educated Flemish news users report newsletters to be their main way of
accessing the news, while this is only 10% among the high-educated.
These important nuances can give us a hint as how to explain the popularity
of newsletters in Flanders. The prominence amongst older news users might point
towards the sustained centrality of mail as a means of communication within older
age groups. Older news users might have gotten accustomed to using newsletters
several years ago, developing into persisting habits. The younger generations how-
ever already seem to connect less with this form of news. The higher adoption across
low- and middle-educated news users might be due to the fact that over recent years
especially more popular news brands have invested in their newsletter offering. For
example, newsletters with the latest updates from one’s town or village formed a
key component of the renewed strategy to focus on local news a few years ago of
the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad’s, one of the four papers this chapter will
further discuss and analyse. Nonetheless, in no other country included in the 2019
DNR is e-mail so popular as in Belgium, with considerably lower popularity in key
media markets such as the US (21%), the UK (10%), France (17%) and Finland (9%)
(Nielsen et al. 2019).
In this book chapter, we aim to contribute to the thus far very limited amount of
available literature on newsletters in the 21st century. We do this by pinpointing three
1As the Belgian partner in the Digital News Report Consortium, we have accessed the primary data
to provide these numbers.
Innovating Journalism by Going Back in Time … 59
reasons explaining why editors are including newsletters in their offering, which will
be further elaborated upon in the literature review and analysis parts. We focus on (a)
dependence on social media’s algorithms and the power of platforms in regulating
web traffic; (b) attempts to regain customer ownership and returning to the gatekeep-
ing and agenda setting-functions of journalism and (c) the diversification of news
offers to increase the overall reached online audience. Our findings are based on
literature, ethnographic observations, expert interviews and traffic data analyses of
the Belgian popular newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, part of the Mediahuis media corpo-
ration which owns newspapers, radio stations and classifieds in Belgium (Flanders),
the Netherlands and, since 2019, Ireland. Through Het Nieuwsblad and its pivotal
role for newsletters in news dissemination and media innovation strategies, we are
able to construct the story of why and how this once considered antiquated means of
communication has against all odds become in vogue again.
2 Newsletters’ Rise, Fall, and Rise
The body of literature specifically zooming in on the resurgence of newsletters among
news media is as of yet peculiarly small and in desperate need for expansion, particu-
larly because of the widespread popularity of newsletters throughout both legacy and
online-only media. After a series of intense searches on Google Scholar and in Web of
Science, we found only a small handful of recent publications and reports scratching
the surface of newsletters as a verified news platform in the digital age of journal-
ism (see, among others, Jack 2016;SantosandPeixinho2017). This book chapter
therefore fills an existing gap in academic research into this small yet indispensable
part of media companies’ digital strategies.
The newsletter is older than one would think and was the precursor of regular
newspapers, and predates the term journalism by about two centuries as that term was
introduced in the English language only in the 1830s. Newsletters had first emerged
in the early 15th century as written and printed translations of foreign events, natural
disasters and supernatural occurrences (Rubery 2010). The notion of providing news
about the contemporary world at regular intervals eventually evolved into the current
multiplatform mass-media age. Interestingly, while being roughly 400 years old,
newsletters have far from disappeared as a useful means of disseminating curated
news content to audiences.
Just a few years ago, funeral services were held around the world to mourn the
demise of e-mails. The advent of instant messaging and social media apps would
logically lead to the end of e-mails, which had been considered an old-fashioned
technology from the early days of the Internet, and until recently most experts seemed
to agree that its death was nigh (Fagerlund 2016).
I thought newsletters were an outdated technology, something for old people. The Washington
Post was quite popular on Facebook, but suddenly they changed their algorithms and we lost
a lot of readers. I realized that I needed to find something where I can control the means of
60 J. Hendrickx et al.
production. Newsletters were one way of doing it (David Beard, director of digital content
of The Washington Post in Fagerlund (2016).
In a report for the LSE’s media think-tank Polis, Fagerlund (2016)describes
the change in attitudes towards e-mail newsletters, claiming that it was initiated
by individual American journalists who decided to reach their audiences directly
through their inboxes, exactly as early adopters of the 1990s had previously already
done through ‘Listservs’ (Jack 2016). Companies like Mailchimp facilitate sending
out e-mail newsletters and have replaced blogs as the main choice to reach (new)
audiences. Online-only media such as The Skimm,Quartz and Buzzfeed launched
their own e-mail newsletters around 2014, swiftly followed by major legacy print
media such as The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times (Fagerlund 2016).
The trend then rapidly spread to other countries around the world, in a similar vein
by first reaching online-only media and only afterwards established media outlets.
While gathering data for their case study of how a new Portuguese online newspaper
nationally pioneered and applied daily newsletters as a tactic to reach audiences,
Santos and Peixinho (2017)foundthatlegacynewspapersinthecountrytoohad
started sending out several newsletters a day, often at a set hour.
While newsletters are thus the predecessors of newspapers, it is noteworthy that a
study by Fredriksson and Johansson (2014) specifically found journalists who worked
for organisations producing newsletters to be more often female than male, and more
working as freelance journalists. They also found that this group of journalists is
typically less embracing of the traditional journalistic ideals and tends to promote
the amusement function of journalism.
3NewslettersResurgenceExplained
As discussed in the introduction, we pinpoint three key reasons explaining the ratio-
nale behind media’s increased newsletter output. These will each be discussed sep-
arately underneath. We will take a closer look at the power of platforms, regaining
customer ownership and the diversification of news offers.
In just over a decade, social media have effectively changed the lives of a few
billion people worldwide and the way in which they receive information and con-
sume media content online. News media quickly adopted to the sudden monopoly of
particularly Facebook in acquiring vast amounts of online attention time and engage-
ments by becoming active on them and posting their own content, in order to lure
social media users to news media’s websites. But a few infamous changes in Face-
book’s algorithm have turned social media into necessary evils for both legacy and
online-only news media. Sizeable parts of populations remain active on social media
on a daily basis, so it remains vital to maintain a strong and updated presence to
gain readership—but Facebook is keen on keeping its users inside its own network.
The renaissance of newsletters has thus been realised not in spite, but because of
social media. It is a means to direct traffic to news websites and to ensure consumers
Innovating Journalism by Going Back in Time … 61
are not locked into ecosystems of Google, Amazon and Facebook. Indeed, these
platforms integrate both intermediation and gatekeeping functions. In combination
with their economies of scale and scope, and diversification of activities, the ultimate
aim is to construct an online world where users move from one website to another,
and from one service to another, without actually leaving the platform’s universum.
This already happens from time to time, without consumers realising it (Moore and
Tamb i n i 2018)andwasrecognizedasakeyconcernbyseveralnewsmediaCEOs
in both Norway and Belgium (Donders et al. 2018).
The move from a media environmentdominated by direct discovery to one increas-
ingly characterized by distributed discovery has forced news organisations to succeed
their privileged and dominant position of gatekeepers to the likes of Facebook and
Google (Kalogeropoulos et al. 2019). The dependence of news outlets on social
media has become a thorny issue and has led to a myriad of attempts to regain con-
trol over the customer relationship. Email newsletters can form a key mechanism in
these attempts, as they offer news organisations a direct and unfiltered access to a
place where many Internet users reside and still spend a lot of time: their mailbox.
This feature makes them a key component of news media’s conversion funnel: they
form an attractive entry point for new readers, turn casual readers into engaged ones
by offering curated content, convert engaged readers into paying customers and keep
loyal subscribers interested to reduce churn (Boltik et al. 2017). However, in today’s
news economy, “the supply of public attention is limited, and, since the endless
number of claimants, scarce” (Webster and Ksiazek 2012).
By turning to newsletters, editors try to retain public attention by harnessing the
power of habits, which they once mastered to perfection. News habits have always
been an important aspect of news consumption. News users tend to return to their
favourite news sources throughout the day “to relieve their vague sense of unease
about not knowing what is ‘going on’ in the world” (Hartley 2018:7,buildingon
Diddi and LaRose 2006). Here too, news media face tough competition, again in first
instance by social media who with their features such as feeds, ‘likes’, comments,
tags, etc. seem designed to get users ‘hooked’ (Andreassen 2015: 179). Still, email
newsletters are one of the most reliable digital channels editors have to their disposi-
tion to build a ‘habit of news’. Not only are they delivered in mailboxes that are still
central to many people’s Internet use, but they also allow publishers to maintain the
customer relationship and, hence, to collect user data to build behavioural models to
maximize reader attention (Boltik and Mele 2017).
It becomes apparent that newsletter have the potential to help publishers regain
(some) control over the customer relationship and find new revenue streams, but
they are not a magic bullet. In order for newsletter to really convert casual readers
to paying subscribers, they need to be more than a simple collection of links. This
in turn requires newsletter to be given the necessary editorial attention, but on top of
that also synchronized production with the marketing team, testing, and analytical
work (Hansen and Watkins 2019).
Ultimately, the goal of retaining control over the flow of incoming traffic to online
platforms of news outlets is to enhance overall readership and revenue, which sub-
sequently leads to increased advertisement revenues. But journalism is no longer
62 J. Hendrickx et al.
a one-size-fits-all-solution in which one newspaper is printed for the entire popula-
tion. Personalised news is clearly here to stay, and newsletters have the opportunity to
play a key part in this approach. Newsletters can be tailor-made to cater to very niche
groups and communities, ranging from age groups, cities, towns and neighbourhoods
to interests and types of news content. Specific newsletters have millennials, women,
businessmen and-women, football enthusiasts and fans of lifestyle and/or fashion as
target audiences. They can be a complimentary service offered to subscribers by
providing overviews of articles behind paywalls, can contain coupons, discounts and
contests and can be curated by individual editors of journalists offering handpicked
selections of articles, just as the original online newsletters of the 1990s and early
2010s. This allows news outlets to diversify their output to the people who will most
likely read it, bringing their journalism closer to its intended core audience.
4 Newsletters and Mediahuis
Media users’ readership of newsletters is expected to be surprisingly large in Flanders,
as previously shown by Digital News Report figures. We therefore want to investi-
gate if this also shows in the ratio of incoming online traffic for legacy Belgian news
outlets and if and how this has impacted the daily work of journalists working in
Belgian newsrooms. For our study, we rely on ethnographic observations and expert
interviews inside the newsroom of Het Nieuwsblad,thesecondlargestandapopular
Flemish newspaper owned by the Flemish media conglomerate Mediahuis. Since its
inception in 2013 after a successful merger of two previously separately functioning
media companies, it also owns and publishes three of the other in total seven daily
paying Flemish newspapers: quality newspaper De Standaard and regional news-
papers Gazet van Antwerpen and Het Belang van Limburg.Weperformananalysis
on incoming traffic numbers of the websites of the four Mediahuis-owned papers
between January and March 2015 and 2019 (going back further in time was not pos-
sible) as found in Traffic,theinternaldataplatformofMediahuiswhereallavailable
user data and official figures regarding readership of online news are aggregated in a
user-friendly platform intended for usage by the journalists working for the company.
With the analysis, we intend to gauge the changes in incoming traffic sources and
try to see what they indicate for Mediahuis, journalism in Flanders, and beyond.
4.1 Newsletters and ‘Digital First’
Legacy newsrooms around the world are in varying stages of converting to a so-
called ‘digital first’ approach, overtly placing news posted on its official website and
app (and its social media accounts) as the key platform to post content as quickly as
possible. Older media (newspapers, TV channels) remain the driving forces, but are
no longer the number one priority in cases of breaking news; in such scenarios it is
Innovating Journalism by Going Back in Time … 63
of course much easier for one online journalist to quickly publish an article of a few
lines explaining the event and updating that article constantly than printing an extra
newspaper or getting an extraordinary TV news broadcast started up technically.
The ‘digital first’ wave sweeping newsrooms not only externally but also internally
wishes to put online news higher up the pecking order: journalists formally writing
for newspapers are encouraged to also write for websites, and in many cases, they
are more and more expected to become all-round journalists, providing self-created
and -edited pieces for the TV and/or radio news and an article for the website on
one given news topic. This is dramatically altering the daily work of journalists in
newsrooms globally and occasionally proves problematic.
Mediahuis and its four newspapers have been no exception. Its main newspaper,
Het Nieuwsblad, announced on its staff day in November 2017 that it had the ambi-
tion to become completely ‘digital first’ by 2020. After that announcement, it would
take nearly 1.5 years for the first fully-fledged trial version to come into effect: in
March 2019, the newsroom became more integrated. Journalists previously being
the only ones to write articles for the website were divided in a so-called “in” and
“out” team, with the former group still providing online news content and the lat-
ter becoming responsible for editing articles and disseminating them across social
media and newsletters. Print journalists are expected to contribute to the website as
well by providing unique news content throughout the day, with their output often
published online behind the paywall and, sometimes in an abridged and/or updated
form, republished in next day’s print newspaper.
Perhaps the biggest change of the ‘digital first’-tactic for Het Nieuwsblad has been
the increase of deadlines and their specific focus on newsletters. Currently, four daily
e-mail newsletters are sent out, each with their own content and focus, and three with
their own deadlines. There are also weekly and other extra newsletters, but for the
sake of brevity, we focus on the four daily ones here. Paying subscribers automatically
receive all newsletters, while non-subscribers can opt into receive separate e-mails.
The morning e-mail is sent out around seven in the morning and focuses on the
main stories of that given morning, both from Het Nieuwsblad and other media. The
second e-mail is due just before noon to give readers the opportunity to read it during
their lunch break, and has a slightly lighter tone. The third newsletter is usually sent
out around 4:30 in the afternoon and contains the biggest stories of the day and
afewmorearticlesbehindpaywallstolurereadersintoconsideringpurchasinga
subscription. Finally, the evening newsletter is sent out at 7:30, but is solely intended
for subscribers of the newspapers, and focuses on five or six main articles for next
morning’s newspaper. For all newsletters, a number of articles is ‘ordered’ to be
finished by then, so that they all have new and unique content to present to their
readers. The decisions on the content are made predominantly by the news editors
who decide what news to present where and when, instructing the online journalists
specifically designated to catering all news dissemination across social media and
newsletters, called the “out” team as they “push out” the news to media users, what to
put where in which newsletter. This highlights the in-between nature of newsletters.
They are both editorial and business products, and unlike an advertisement or a news
story, their place within news organizations is an open question. One could argue
64 J. Hendrickx et al.
this makes newsletters a convincing mirror of the state of the industry today (Porter
2018).
11:45 h, 16:30 h and 19:30 h have effectively become deadlines throughout the
news day at Het Nieuwsblad,atwhicheverydayafewarticlesneedtobefinished
to be sent out as key articles in the e-mails. The main deadline is still 22:30 h,
which is when next day’s newspaper is sent to the printer and needs to be completely
finished, but the advent of ‘digital first’ and the increased importance given to e-mail
newsletters have thus considerably changed the work of journalists as for many of
them, the only deadline they had was 22:30 h. They are now expected to provide
finished articles at noon or in the afternoon, greatly impacting their daily routine.
4.2 Newsletters in the Mediahuis Data
Have these changes in the daily proceedings of journalists in order to make newslet-
ters more present in their digital strategy and more topical and urgent towards news
users had any effect on readership of e-mail newsletters of said users? When looking
at the available data on incoming web traffic at the internal platform of Mediahuis,
Traffic,wecometoaninterestingfindingwhichgoesagainstthetrendofincreased
e-mail newsletter readership: the percentage of visits to the four Mediahuis news
websites through newsletters actually decreased over time. In the table underneath
(Fig. 1), we summarise figures applicable for the first three months of each given
year, in weighed percentages for the four newspapers together. Traffic makes a logical
distinction between direct traffic (e.g. people going straight to the website or app of
a newspaper), social traffic (through social media accounts—this includes so-called
“dark social” traffic which is impossible to trace back to its source and is likely shared
00
20
40
60
80
100
120
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Direct Social Newsletters Organic Referral
Fig. 1 Incoming traffic sources for Mediahuis websites (2015–2019). Internal Mediahuis data
platform
Innovating Journalism by Going Back in Time … 65
through chat applications such as WhatsApp which provide end-to-end encryption),
newsletter traffic, organic traffic (through unpaid search results at engines such as
Google) and referral traffic (through clicking links on other websites).
The curve for newsletter traffic is rather capricious, with 17.9% for early January
to late March 2015 to 14.7% for 2016, 15.9% for 2017, 17.7% for 2018 and finally
16.0% for the first quarter of 2019. The changes in the Facebook algorithm are clearly
reflected as well, as the percentage of social traffic plummeted from 29.0% in 2015
to just 20.9% four years onwards. All this is somewhat saved by the vast increase
in direct traffic, amounting for 35.0% in 2015 and nearly half of all incoming traffic
(49.5%) in 2019. Thus, even though there are of course other assessment factors in
order to gauge the success rate of e-mail newsletters, it appears from the raw user data
presented here that the popularity of newsletters among Belgian news consumers has
not (yet?) created many benefits or enhanced online traffic for the four Mediahuis
news websites.
It is also noteworthy that there are differences between the four different websites
(Fig. 2). Leading newspaper Het Nieuwsblad had the biggest increase in newsletter
traffic (17.9% in 2015 to 21.5% in 2018), but then saw it decrease again to 18.0% for
the first three months of 2019 (overall increase of 0.1%). The other three Mediahuis
papers saw bigger slumps for its newsletter traffic percentages over four years’ time:
De Standaard dropped from 15.4% to 12.3%, Het Belang van Limburg 19.5–12.8%
and Gazet van Antwerpen from 20.2% to 15.0%, respectively signifying 20.3, 34.5
and 25.2% drops in the overall share of incoming traffic sources.
For all newspapers, the share of direct traffic rose considerably over our given time
frame, in line with the numbers of the DNR. Interestingly, popular newspaper Het
Nieuwsblad is the poorest performer here with a 44.6% share for direct traffic in 2019,
whereas its three sister newspapers all exceed the 50%-mark with ease. This finding
00
05
10
15
20
25
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Het Nieuwsblad De Standaard
Het Belang van Limburg Gazet van Antwerpen
Mediahuis
Fig. 2 Share of incoming newsletter traffic on Mediahuis websites (2015–2019).Internal Mediahuis
data platform
66 J. Hendrickx et al.
is to be explained by the increased popularity of applications for mobile phones and
tablets, which allow users to enter the online version of the newspapers directly. We
cannot disclose detailed figures about this matter, but can confirm that daily usage of
the apps of the four Mediahuis newspapers has indeed increased substantially over
four years’ time, yielding much more incoming direct traffic.
5Conclusions
This chapter has discussed the unexpected increased popularity of e-mail newsletters
as a successful means for legacy and new news media outlets alike to disseminate their
content independently, without having to rely on algorithms of major social media.
We have show n h ow a lea d i n g Flemis h m e d ia compa n y, M e diahui s , h a s effe c t ive l y
applied the newsletters as an integral part of its ‘digital first’ approach, and how this
in its turn has altered the daily work of journalists working for its newspapers as new
deadlines for articles have been added throughout a given working day, deliberately
matching with the fixed points in time in which new newsletters are being sent out.
An analysis of internal and incoming traffic data of the four Mediahuis newspapers
has revealed that in spite of the attempts to put more focus on newsletters, this has not
translated in higher shares for them in the overall incoming online traffic. As a matter
of fact, the total share for newsletters has increased between 2015 and 2019, albeit
not as sharply as has the share for incoming traffic via social media, which confirms
the negative effects of Facebook’s algorithm changes enacted from 2017 onwards.
The share for direct traffic, on the other hand, has seen vast increases, which is to be
explained by the shift towards using mobile phone and tablet applications to enter
online versions of newsletters directly rather than through a social medium, a search
engine or a web browser.
Time will tell if e-mail newsletters manage to either become more popular among
media users and influential among media makers, or if their renaissance has perhaps
already passed its peak. Two lingering issues regarding newsletters arise and will
undoubtedly prove to become challenges for their future in the coming years. Firstly,
newsletters at Mediahuis, and at the overwhelming majority of news media, are at the
moment distributed entirely free of charge and considered as a complimentary service
that news organisations offer its users to attract larger online audiences to its content.
It is to be expected that newsletters will pass a stage in which their monetisation will be
questioned, as manpower is needed to create and sent out the newsletters. Particularly
when their effects on incoming traffic sources are not to be overestimated, as this very
chapter has shown, we gauge that media companies will soon start thinking about
ways to charge users for newsletters, by for instance promising more unique content
and tailor-made newspapers for smaller niche audiences currently un(der)served by
the bulk newsletters meant for all—considering they are not already doing so at the
time of writing.
The second issue endangering a healthy future for e-mail newsletters as a viable
distribution means is fatigue. Withmany legacy and new news media sending multiple
Innovating Journalism by Going Back in Time … 67
newsletters a day, we venture that media users will reach a saturation point after which
they will start caring less about newsletters because of their sheer abundance. Just as
there is no need to read the same news in four different newspapers, the same applies
to newsletters; a key task of news outlets is to distinguish themselves from their
competition, even within one media conglomerate such as Mediahuis, and present
their content in unique ways which continues to capture the attention and imagination
of its (potential) visitors. Here too, we propose focusing on personalised newsletter
experiences with offered content destined to persuade more receivers of newsletters
to start consuming news content.
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Jonathan Hendrickx Early-career Ph.D. Researcher, studying the effects of media mergers on
supply diversity as part of the inter-university DIAMOND project at the communication sciences
department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), imec-SMIT.
Karen Donders Professor in Policy Analysis, European Media Markets, and Political Economy
of Journalism at the communication sciences department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Bel-
gium). She is a senior researcher of imec-SMIT. She specializes in (European) media policy,
media economics, competition policy and media, and public service media.
Ike Picone Professor in Journalism and Media Studies at the communication sciences department
of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium). He is a senior researcher of imec-SMIT and is also
affiliated with the Data and Design research group.
... News organizations have responded in a number of ways. There has been a resurgence in news organizations' use of newsletters to keep readers loyal and increase subscriptions and readership in part because they become part of a consumer's news habit (Hendrickx, Donders, & Picone, 2020). Newsletters also provide a way for publishers to regain some control lost to social media by engaging with readers via their inboxes (Hendrickx et al., 2020). ...
... There has been a resurgence in news organizations' use of newsletters to keep readers loyal and increase subscriptions and readership in part because they become part of a consumer's news habit (Hendrickx, Donders, & Picone, 2020). Newsletters also provide a way for publishers to regain some control lost to social media by engaging with readers via their inboxes (Hendrickx et al., 2020). ...
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Daily and weekly newspapers are closing at alarming rates, leaving readers without local coverage in many parts of the country. More than 5,000 of the remaining newspapers in the United States are weeklies, providing meeting coverage, agricultural news and keeping small towns informed. Yet, not nearly enough research exists about the people working at those newspapers. More than 1,000 email surveys were sent in early 2021 to weekly news editors, publishers or owners in seven states seeking opinions on successes and challenges in hiring and retaining weekly journalists. Survey results and follow-up interviews revealed a number of insights including data indicating weekly newspaper leaders are challenged by lack of funding, lack of qualified candidates and candidates lacking an interest in living in rural America. The weekly newspaper leaders also indicated that staffing challenges have negatively affected local news coverage. Workplace culture and community engagement were two of the main reasons journalists stayed in their jobs.
... Last, readers who subscribe to newsletters and email updates have lower cancellation rates. We cannot pinpoint the exact reason why such briefings reduce churn, but future research could examine some plausible explanations: (1) they reduce negative experience from information overload (Savolainen, 2007), (2) they are site-initiated contacts that remind subscribers to read the news organization's original reporting and recognize the value of the subscription (Hendrickx, Donders, & Picone, 2020), (3) the "ritualization" aspect of newsletters and email updates positively influences audience loyalty (Santos & Peixinho, 2016). There could be other design aspects of newsletters that readers value. ...
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With the decline of advertising revenue, local newspapers must shift their revenue sources from primarily advertising to deriving a larger share from subscription fees. Although existing studies on willingness to pay for online news have examined the determinants of people’s paying intent, this study focuses on what factors drive digital news subscribers’ decision to cancel their subscriptions. We propose a framework that illustrates the sources of negative experiences on news websites—namely the inferior good hypothesis, ad-interference hypothesis, and newsletter intervention hypothesis—and investigate how these elements of negative experiences and news reading behaviors are associated with subscription cancellations. We analyze clickstream data merged with subscriber payment data to investigate these associations from three local news sites. Our findings indicate that regularity of news reading, local news content, using ad blockers, and subscribing to certain newsletters are negatively associated with cancellation. These results provide news organizations with a road map for managing the user experience so that consumers will be more willing to pay for the news.
... According to Carr (2014), in the fragmented and overabundant scenario of information, readers get tired of the infinite flow of content and see the newsletter as an opportunity to have order in chaos. Additionally, newsletters re-establish a closer contact with readers through email, potentially strengthening their engagement, as opposed to the intermediated environment of social media platforms (Hendrickx et al., 2020). Fagerlund (2015) has seen journalistic newsletters expanding since 2012, driven by digital natives. ...
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Email newsletters are increasingly popular delivery systems for legacy and digital-native news outlets. The newsletter embodies another level of gatekeeping, but little research has explored which stories make it through the email newsletter “gate” and into the subscriber's inbox. This content analysis of newsletter items ( N = 1,231) from select broadcast, cable, print, and digital-native news outlets provides a snapshot of the focus, subject matter, and style of daily newsletters. Newsletter subscribers generally are encouraged to link to the outlet's full-length online content on its website; however, not all outlets attempt to make personal connections with their newsletter readers. In general, the newsletters are largely filled with nationally focused stories on politics and government and mimic the style of their full-length counterparts.
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Most research on the changes affecting commercial media focuses on big markets and, except in some instances, fails to incorporate media managers’ views. By investigating perceptions of private media managers in two small markets, this article fills that void. It analyses how mainly legacy media managers view the impact of market and societal dynamics such as digitisation, internationalisation, and changing business models, and discusses the strategies and priorities they envisage to handle current challenges. Data collection rests on 20 expert interviews with high-level management in Flanders and Norway. The analysis builds on the main challenges identified in the literature, with a focus on the robustness versus fragility of small media markets. The main finding is that respondents do not go along with a doom scenario of their market, recognising though that the extent to which their companies and media ecosystems used to be shielded away from international trends and competition is over. Connecting with audiences is considered to be of pivotal importance in developing new business models.
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Audience fragmentation is often taken as evidence of social polarization. Yet the tools we use to study fragmentation provide limited information about how people allocate their attention across digital media. We offer a theoretical framework for understanding fragmentation and advocate for more audience-centric studies. This approach is operationalized by applying network analysis metrics to Nielsen data on television and Internet use. We find extremely high levels of audience duplication across 236 media outlets, suggesting overlapping patterns of public attention rather than isolated groups of audience loyalists.
Editorial email newsletters: the medium is not the only message
  • A Jack
Jack A (2016) Editorial email newsletters: the medium is not the only message. https://ora.ox.ac. uk/objects/uuid:8248179f-83e1-4bb9-81d1-6197d77900f3. Accessed 19 June 2019
News audiences and news habits
  • J M Hartley
Practice, research, & technology. In: Using data science tools for email audience analysis: a research guide
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Boltik J, Mele N (2017) Practice, research, & technology. In: Using data science tools for email audience analysis: a research guide. https://shorensteincenter.org/email-analysis-research-guide/. Accessed 8 July 2019