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The email newsletter in 2017 is a core product for national newspapers, digital media brands, platforms, and local news because it’s simply the best available channel to directly reach users on a daily basis.

But how to fill a newsletter with content is an open question. Do editors or algorithms work better? Is a personal touch better reading than a list of headlines? Do you empower users to choose their interests or deliver a curated product?

Over the last year Tracy Clark has run an experiment to help answer these questions in partnership with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Austin American-Statesman. We published her findings on Friday, but I had more questions for Tracy so I called her up. Here’s our conversation. 

Q&A

How does your research — in which personalized newsletters performed better — fit with the trend of hyper-voiced newsletters, with an editor and a point of view?

Tracy Clark: That’s an interesting question to start out with. Because with the whole Trump-questioning-media thing, it’s a debate whether journalism is the voice of the media or the voice of the people and who’s telling the truth. So that’s why I almost felt with people mistrusting media these days or the hype around that, that the personalization is important. They’re able to get the information they want so they have the power. They’re actually taking ownership over their news so hopefully getting a more trustworthy relationship with media.

Going to your specific questions, there’s definitely that trend of publishers today having dozens of different newsletters on different topics written by specific editors. That’s why I want to figure personalization out because the more newsletters these people are deploying the more time and effort to get it all done. They’re trying to deploy these different newsletters on different topics, which in essence is personalizing the newsletters to try to get more niche audiences, what if a platform could automate that?

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