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Your newsletter urgency index

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Hello newsletter friends,
it’s been kind of hard to tell which day of the week it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s Tuesday and time for The Week in Newsletters 📆. I’m Mark from Revue and will bring you the most important news from the newsletter world 💌.
This week I want to focus on the idea of an “urgency index” ⚡ for your newsletter. Media researcher Jay Rosen proposed the idea in the context of corona coverage. And newsletter author Casey Newton adapted it nicely for newsletters.
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Create an urgency index of newsletter topics
Jay teaches journalism at NYU and has a lot of great ideas about improving the media. He often publishes them on his blog PRESSTHINK about “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges involved in rethinking what journalism is today”.
In a recent post Jay proposed “Five improvements in the design of coronavirus coverage”. One of the improvements is an urgency index.
And so I propose the The Urgency Index. Think of it as an answer to the question, “what in the public realm should I be most worried about?” Or, “what do we need to be monitoring to stay reasonably well informed during this crisis?”
The index is actually a pretty simple top ten list, where each item is a topic with a headline, priority/rank, description and links to previous articles for that topic. If done right, the urgency index should be very specific to each publication and its audience.
I really like the idea and feel that it’s a great extension of the strategy frameworks for newsletter creators. The strategy frameworks are very helpful in planning a new newsletter and help you to think through objective, audience, frequency and format in steps. If you want to refresh your mind, you can check out my issue on newsletter plans for 2020, which covers NPR’s Newsletter Identity Exercise and the Opt-In tool developed by Crosscut Public Media and the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
These frameworks are great but a little static. An urgency index can help with that. It was designed to make you revisit and adjust your topics on a regular basis in response to recent developments of the subjects or industries you cover.
Urgency indexes can also work really well for newsletters as Casey Newton has shown us. Casey writes the amazing “The Interface” newsletter, an “evening newsletter about Facebook, social networks, and democracy.”
Casey realized that the current pandemic had a big impact on his newsletter. The focus and audience remain the same, i.e. there was no real change in strategy. But all recent issues were heavily influenced by corona coverage, which was nowhere in the original plan:
That doesn’t mean we’re changing our focus entirely — we’re still deeply interested in stories about privacy regulation, competition, and the role tech giants will play in the 2020 election. But over the past several weeks it has become clear how all of those stories are now, at least in part, pandemic stories. And a guide to what we cover ought to reflect that.
So Casey decided to create an urgency index for The Interface. He shared his initial urgency list with readers in his newsletter and asked for feedback.
I think maintaining an urgency index should be useful for most newsletters. I also love the idea of sharing the index in the newsletter and asking for input like Casey did, although that might not work for all audiences.
And I actually do something similar already with The Week in Newsletters. I send each subscriber a personal welcome message. I look up who they are, ask questions about the projects they’re working on, and then also ask them to reply to me with the topics they are most interested in:
It would be great if you could also tell me which topic you’re most interested in.
A quick reply to this email with just one topic would help me a lot in keeping the newsletter relevant. Could be list growth, list hygiene, engagement, monetization, curation, strategy, examples of great newsletters, sponsoring, deliverability, newsletter events, referrals, ads, metrics, or a super cool new topic that you care about.
I get a lot of great replies and feel like I have a good understanding of what my audience is here for (please do reply if you haven’t done yet or somehow didn’t get my message).
So I thought it would be helpful to turn these ideas into an urgency index for The Week in Newsletters, to make it more dynamic and get more feedback. Here it goes.
The Week in Newsletter Urgency Index
  1. Pop-up newsletters: How to start pop-up newsletters for acquisition of new audiences? How to convert pop-up readers to other newsletters or other products?
  2. Conversion to subscription: How to turn drive-by visitors into newsletter subscribers and newsletter subscribers into paying members?
  3. Ads and sponsoring: How to find advertisers and sponsors during a crisis? How to make sure ads and sponsored messages do not disturb readers and somehow add value?
  4. Monetization: What other forms of monetization are available to fund a newsletter or contribute to the funding of a publication?
  5. Growth: Where and how to promote your newsletter? What are the right CTAs? How to do a referral program? How to co-operate with other newsletters and cross-promote? If and how to do paid acquisition?
  6. Deliverability: How to make sure not to end up in spam? How to do list hygiene right?
  7. Engagement: How to onboard new readers? How to make existing readers click and reply?
  8. Metrics: What are key newsletter metrics? List size, open rate, retention, engagement, revenue? How to measure and interpret?
  9. Strategy: Frameworks to determine value proposition, measures of success, constraints, frequency, production process, design, branding, and tone of voice.
  10. Examples: What are examples of great newsletters? Which are the best in class ones? What are novel ideas? What formats are authors using to write and curate?
There aren’t a lot of truly new topics on the index, but several topics have risen in priority, such as pop-up newsletters and everything around monetization.
What do you think about my urgency index? Anything missing? Anything on it that is not urgent? Anything that should be moved up or down? Please reply to this email with your ideas and suggestions!
The week in newsletters
Here’s what I read last week - by order of priority on the new urgency index ↕️.
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