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What to do when there's no news to cover in your newsletter?

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Hello newsletter authors,
This is Mark from Revue with your weekly update on everything newsletters 💌.
Do you also have those days when it’s time to send the newsletter and you have absolutely no clue what to write about? 😰 It always scares me but then I luckily manage to come up with another issue ✉️.
But what about situations where there is literally nothing to write about? This has happened to quite a few publishers and indie authors during the corona crisis. For example in sports 🏟️. No sports, no sports news, nothing to write about. So today we look at some cases where this happened and how the editors responded. It’s really hard and I hope you don’t end up in that situation.
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Sports newsletters without sports
The chart below from the latest issue of AngelList Weekly perfectly sums up the challenge that sports media is faced with at the moment.
While some media thrive, sports publishers have seen a majority of their daily visitors disappear as all major sports events around the world have been cancelled.
So what do you do if you are ESPN and governments around the world have released orders to suspend all sports events while you spent billions to acquire the coverage rights and have built up distribution capacity of 200 hours of TV daily. You try to come up with alternative content to keep going, but it’s really, really tough. Kevin Draper summed it up nicely for the NY Times:
When Coronavirus Turns Every Sports Channel Into ESPN Classic: Replays of games that already happened. Documentaries that you might have missed. Yipes, no wonder the few dozen sports-only channels have a problem.
One example of ESPN succeeding in the current situation is the release of its documentary “The Last Dance” about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls basketball team. The documentary was planned for June 2020 but fast-forwarded to 19 April and seen by millions of viewers.
A lot of sports newsletters are facing the same problem.
Sports-news subscription service The Athletic was on a tear throughout 2019 and 2020, hitting 500.000 paying subscribers and attracting a fresh 50 million in venture capital. Now they’re struggling to retain subscribers and keep acquisition humming.
Patricia Nilsson summed up their strategy for the FT:
Last week, it said it would extend a free trial period for new readers from 7 to 90 days. Instead of providing coverage of the latest fixture, it is asking readers to “find comfort and entertainment in the nostalgia, culture, and people behind the games we love”.
It’s probably the best they can do right now, but clearly not great.
One of the most popular newsletters on Revue was also affected. Pit Gottschalk writes Fever Pit’ch, a daily newsletter about professional soccer in Germany. Pit had quadrupled his audience to 25.000 readers in 2019. When the corona crisis hit, he inevitably ran out of news to cover. He chose a different strategy than ESPN or The Athletic and decided to pause his newsletter while there are no sports events.
It’s interesting to look at the last few issues that were sent. In one issue, Pit covered one of the last soccer matches that took place in Germany while other countries had already suspended their leagues. Then he wrote issues speculating about the possibility of matches without spectators and assessing the risk of bankruptcy for clubs.
Then comes the last issue so far, in which Pit announces that Fever Pit'ch would go on a hiatus [German]:
So hopefully everyone understands that the newsletter starts the Easter holiday a little earlier than planned. But don’t worry: if important things happen, I’ll report in between.
Germany has started easing the anti corona measures and there is discussion about possibly allowing soccer matches without spectators sometime in early May. Let’s hope Pit will be able to continue his amazing newsletter soon.
Another example is Kevin Kaduk’s newsletter Midway Minute, which covers sports in Chicago and was started just a month before the corona crisis hit. Very unfortunate timing.
While Pit’s newsletter was well established with more than 350 issues sent and a loyal audience of some 25.000, Kevin was confronted with the interruption right in the middle of the initial post-launch growth phase.
Kevin has done a great job coming up with interesting background stories and kept his daily newsletter humming. The last issue of Midway Minute coincidentally talks about ESPN’s “The Last Dance”.
From what I see it’s simply tough to continue a newsletter (or website, TV station, podcast, …) when your primary topic of coverage disappears. You might, however, have to protect income or keep growth momentum going. In that situation you will have to get creative and hope that readers are understanding of the situation.
Newsletter authors helping each other
Hope it’s OK to throw in a quick this little tidbit totally unrelated to sports media. It’s a great example of two of my favorite newsletters helping each other with friendly shout-outs, which I had to share.
Earlier this week, Morning Brew recommended Casey Newton’s The Interface as a newsletter never to be missed.
Yesterday Casey returned the favor with a thank you and shout out to Morning Brew’s new corona newsletter The Essentials.
This is a great way for newsletter authors to reach a new audience. I highly recommend you trying it. And also subscribing to both Morning Brew and The Interface.
The week in newsletters
I’m fortunate enough to still have enough news about newsletters to share here. Enjoy 📬.
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Prediction: The future of newsletters
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