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Revue Creator Highlight: Julia Angwin and Rachael Berkey from The Markup

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Thanks for joining me for another Revue Creator Highlight. In this series, we’ll hear from brilliant authors on Revue — and talk to them about their experience of newsletter creation.
Today, we’ll get the chance to talk to two people who do fantastic things with email: Julia Angwin and Rachael Berkey from The Markup. The Markup is a nonprofit organization focusing on data-driven journalism, covering the impact of technology on society. Oh, and they don’t track any of their subscribers’ Open or Click data. Here’s what their Insights dashboard looks like:
Julia is The Markup’s Editor-in-Chief and Founder, and Rachael is Director of Audience, and they each bring some fascinating insights into the email tracking discussion that has recently been thrown back into the spotlight due to Apple’s privacy changes in iOS 15.
Find them online:
You can also meet Julia and Rachael in person by tapping in to our Twitter Space — you’ll be able to ask your follow-up questions. Follow me @aemelliott or our official handle @revue to join, or sign up to get a reminder here. We’ll go live on Wednesday July 28th at noon ET, 6pm CET. See you there!
Let’s dive in.
First things first: you run a number of newsletters on Revue. What purpose does each of the newsletters serve for The Markup?
RB: Our newsletters are for different audiences and purposes. Julia’s newsletter, Hello World, was our first newsletter before the newsroom even started publishing. It’s an excellent way for her to maintain a direct line of communication with our core audience and share her thoughts on what is happening in the industry, both tech and journalism. 
JA: I started Hello World when The Markup was just emerging from a period of management turmoil, and I wanted to be able to speak to our audience directly. I wanted to assure them that we were back on track with our mission unchanged. The newsroom was not yet up and running and we were not yet publishing articles, so the newsletter felt like the best way to reach people interested in our mission. Since then, it has evolved into a mix of highlighting our investigations, behind-the-scenes looks at our reporting processes and Q&A’s with people who are thoughtful about the impacts of technology on societies.
The other newsletters emerged organically from our work. We started Klaxon — which simply emails readers whenever we publish a new story — because we figured that there were people who might just want links to our stories rather than hearing from me. And we started the Citizen Browser newsletter to highlight the findings from our pioneering investigation into Facebook’s algorithms. 
RB: Our Citizen Browser newsletter is a chance for us to have a direct conversation with people specifically interested in the Citizen Browser project, a first-of-its-kind custom web browser designed by The Markup to audit Facebook’s algorithms and track what information it serves its users, what news and narratives are amplified or suppressed, and which online communities those users are encouraged to join. 
Why did you decide on newsletters as being a good method for sharing The Markup’s journalism?
JA: We are a news outlet that covers technology — our website says at the top of the home page: “Big Tech is Watching You. We’re Watching Big Tech.” So we always want to find ways to reach our readers that don’t rely on the social media algorithms of big tech companies. Email is a great way to reach our readers directly without much algorithmic interference (although Gmail still does interfere a bit with deliverability, as we showed with our investigation into how it curates the Promotions inbox). 
RB: We want to meet our readers where they are. It’s 2021, and people are on the move as the world reopens. We can’t expect them to find and engage with just a website, or just social media timelines. If the fastest, easiest way for some of our readers to access our reporting is through their inbox and a single clickthrough to our website, we want to make that happen easily for them.
A core part of The Markup’s promise is that you don’t gather any tracking data on your readers. Why is privacy so important to your brand?
JA: I’ve been reporting and writing about digital privacy for more than a decade, but at my past employers I would often find that the creepy technique I was writing about was also being used by the publisher of my articles. When I started The Markup, I really wanted to be able to assure readers who cared about digital privacy that The Markup would be a safe space for them. After all, as Nabiha Syed, president of The Markup, often says: “You can’t report on the data exploitation market if you are also participating in the data exploitation market.”
RB: I don’t know about you, but ads follow me everywhere. I search for one dress, and all I see is Modcloth in my side banners for 3 days. I open a single email from TOMS Shoes, and my Insta-stories are filled with sustainably-minded shoes and fashion for a week. It doesn’t have to be this way. At The Markup, you should be able to get the latest news on how Big Tech is affecting society without sacrificing your information, your experience, or your privacy. 
How do you measure success/audience engagement without access to metrics like Open Rate?
JA: As a nonprofit newsroom supported by donors, we measure our success by the impact of our work, not by clicks. So we don’t need to track our readers’ every move — whether they opened an email or not — in order to know if we are successful. We know we are successful when our investigations prompt questions from Congress or changes in corporate behavior.
Of course, we still want to hear from our readers, and we do that by engaging with them on social media channels, responding to their emails and asking them to fill out the occasional survey.
RB: We measure success through conversation and a feedback loop that lets us understand what is and is not working more deeply than a simple Open Rate would. Those exchanges — through email, social media, private messages and surveys — are more valuable than knowing where, when and if someone has clicked the unread email that just hit their inbox. If you have feedback, we want to hear it directly from you, not from a cookie or other automated method of tracking your every move.
Apple’s recent announcement that it will make Open Rate data effectively obsolete has concerned many in the newsletter industry. What would your response be to those who are worried about this? 
JA: I think it’s great that the industry is no longer normalizing something as creepy as embedding invisible trackers in people’s email so that corporations can snoop on people reading their email. Imagine if bookstores or libraries tried to track how long you spent reading their books? As a society, we have allowed far too much surveillance to creep into our everyday activities, and I’m glad to see some of it rolling back.
[Ed note: Revue allows its users to track engagement on email, disclosing opens and clicks in reports. Check out our issue of this newsletter from the week Apple made the announcement for more info.]
How are you communicating with your audience?
RB: We communicate through our site, email, social media, and surveys. As the world reopens, we hope to again be able to meet our audiences in person at events and conferences as well, but that all depends on the pandemic.
What would be your number one subscriber-growth tip?
JA: Growth for growth’s sake is not our goal. We are only interested in growth if it helps us achieve greater impact in the world. So I spend most of my time thinking about impact and very little time thinking about growth.
RB: Your audience needs to know you have a newsletter to follow that newsletter. Make calls to subscribe or share your newsletter with their friends a regular part of your messaging strategy. You can’t expect them to show up if you’re not asking them to do so.
Thank you, Julia and Rachael, for such an interesting discussion — it was great to get answers from both an editorial and an audience perspective. I can’t wait to discuss these points further in our Space on Wednesday 28th July (you can sign up to get a reminder here!).
I’d love to hear what you all thought of this Creator Highlight. Is there anything you wish we could dive into more deeply? Let me know in a reply and we might be able to talk about it in the Space.
In the meantime, check out the sections below to get your creative juices flowing, and to get clued up on what’s going on in email this week. 👇
Newsletter inspiration
We’ve loved the first four issues of The Motherhood Sessions by Nathalie Marquez Courtney, a newsletter about motherhood and creativity — and everything that entails. It’s full of inspirational resources, and works as a community for creatives with children. Nathatlie’s empathy and experience shine through in each issue, and the combination of personal anecdotes and carefully curated research is pitch-perfect.
The colors and branding are also just lovely. Check it out and sign up below:
The Motherhood Sessions
Feeling inspired? Awesome. Let’s move on to other goings-on in the newsletter industry…
The week in newsletters
July’s edition of Not a Newsletter landed
DuckDuckGo launched a new Email Protection service to block email trackers
Case Study: How Block Club Chicago built a robust newsletter advertising operation
That’s all for today! As ever, if you have any questions or feedback feel free to reach out by replying to this email.
See you next week,
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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