The Wall Street Journal has launched a new newsletter…with a difference. Rather than a regular publishing schedule, WSJ News Debrief will only be sent when big news events happen.
Leigh Kamping-Carder, The WSJ’s Head of Newsletters, came up with the concept after the publisher saw initial success around special editions of newsletters, and were exploring using pop-ups. “Every time there was big news, the newsletter team would get asked, are we going to do a pop-up?” she explained. “Pop-up newsletters are really valuable, but for us they’re a big investment in time and resources, not just in the newsroom but in engineering and marketing and design.”
“We were always wrestling with the question of whether it was worth it to start a pop-up for certain events. So the idea I came up with was, why don’t we do an ongoing ‘pop-up’, and just have one list that we can keep building.”
So the WSJ News Debrief was born. The newsletter will focus on making sense of not just breaking news events, but planned ones too like the Oscars and Midterm elections. Its first edition, which went out on Tuesday, was focused on Biden’s State of the Union Address.
— Robin Kwong (@RobinKwong) January 24, 2023
“For readers it’s really valuable because there’s a lot of newsletters out there, there’s a lot competing for people’s time,” Kamping-Carder outlined. “This can be something where it only shows up for those really big news moments, and that could really serve people.”
Crucially, it won’t be sent the instant a story is breaking. Instead it is aimed at making sense of big news events, not being first to them. “It’s for when you have time to actually catch up, digest, and try and understand what this news event is,” Kamping-Carder elaborated.
But rather than being an antidote to push alerts, Kamping-Carder sees the WSJ News Debrief newsletter as serving a different need. “Push alerts and email alerts are really important to give readers information right in the moment, this is what you need to know right now,” she explained. “We see the WSJ News Debrief being for a moment a little after the breaking news happens, where we can give people a more comprehensive view.”
A growing portfolio
The WSJ News Debrief joins the publisher’s existing stable of nearly 50 other newsletters, covering topics from venture capital to politics, economics and climate. The other newsletters are a mix of paid and free, with their flagship newsletter ‘The 10-Point’ included as part of a WSJ subscription. There are then four other newsletters on topics from Central Banking to Venture Capital which are included as part of a separate WSJ Pro subscription to each vertical. The WSJ News Debrief, like the remaining newsletters, will be free.
The team plan to include not just articles in the WSJ News Debrief, but videos, podcasts and live coverage if relevant; a way to give readers more than just the headline. Kamping-Carder did want to highlight that the newsletter itself is an experiment. “We haven’t done this before, and I don’t know of anyone else who has done something like this,” she said. “We’re going to learn a lot, and we might adapt as we go.”
Although news avoidance wasn’t mentioned as a specific driver for this launch, products which take a step back from the overwhelming news cycle will almost certainly be welcomed by consumers. It perhaps goes against many of the otherwise appealing features of newsletters for publishers, with predictable publishing times credited with building habit and loyalty. Even the tagline for the newsletter – ‘Cut inbox clutter’ – shows the appeal of subscribing to something without a set frequency.
This certainly isn’t a newsletter for news superfans. But for those overwhelmed and increasingly switching off over the last few years, a newsletter for ‘only the biggest news’ could just be the thing to keep them engaged, even if it is infrequently.