This post is a summary of the ONA presentation by Caroline Porter, Faye Teng and Emily Roseman.

Why should you care about newsletters and audience research? 

Newsletters are a tool for journalists to use in order to deepen their relationship with an audience. 

They give the journalist complete ownership and control over user experience and helps newsrooms gauge the news preferences of their audience.  This is an easy way that newsrooms can act as loyal service to their audience, while also building their reputation as a company.

Once you start learning about your audience through research, while devoting time and resources towards developing a newsletter, you begin to gain new insights on the audience as they change. For beginners, starting a newsletter may sound intimidating, but the whole process isn’t as daunting as it seems.  This intimidation is further diminished once newsrooms realize just how useful a newsletter can be as a measuring tool for the future.

Lenfest Neighborhood project

Lenfest sent out a neighborhood survey project in order to record demographics, news/information needs, current consumption habits, and other open-ended questions. They started by analyzing the responses and then deciding what their next steps would be.

In this case, they decided to create a neighborhood newsletter. This newsletter will include headlines, public data, hyperlocal curated social media streams, neighborhood photo galleries, messages from local businesses, and a poll. This neighborhood newsletter also gives your local audience a way to ask questions. According to Faye Teng, a UX Designer of The Lenfest Institute of Journalism: “From the survey, we could start to see some general trends in their behavior and news consumption habits.” Faye and her team then began building various prototypes of different newsletters, which included real stories and actual data. These prototypes were then sent out to their audience for reactions and feedback. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer COVID-19 Newsletter

In March 2020, the Philadelphia Inquirer started a COVID-19 Newsletter. Since then, they have personalized the newsletter by adding content blocks and then guaging the audience’s reception of each one. The blocks that were successful with the readers were then integrated into a standard part of the newspaper.  The success of this newly added content naturally led to the need for sponsorships, in the form of advertisements within the newsletter.

Leading up to March, The Inquirer had tested many different types of stories at different times of the day and was able to review what their audience liked and disliked. 

Philadelphia Inquirer Newsletter sign up 


If your newsroom decides to run with a strategy such as a newsletter or a survey method, be sure to let you audience know why you are choosing to collect data in order to improve their experience. Tell them how their feedback can be used to put relevant and interesting news right into their hands.

Ultimately, it is the user’s choice on whether or not they subscribe or unsubscribe to your newsletter. If a user is ever unsubscribing, always ask the user for both the reasons for their unsubscription, as well as how your newsroom could do better. In most cases, you won’t be winning that user back over, but instead figuring out how you can better maintain your current users.


Working with what you have

Simply starting with an email newsletter could yield huge results your newsroom. Companies such as Mailchimp offers free email newsletter templates that will save your team vast amounts of time. They also offer audience management tools, such as segmentation and behavorial targeting, which allows for newsrooms to curate content that’s more applicable to the users.

Better News offer a quick guide to starting out and list questions that need to be asked before creating an email newsletter. Better News provides 3 simple steps and a plethora of educational briefings that can be used to help create an effective email newsletter. This is one of the most quick and powerful resources to help your team take control of the audience’s engagement with your content.  This resources also enables newsrooms to reach new audiences and hold onto old ones.

Trent Tarantino  
RJI Student Innovation Fellow


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