2020: The Year of the Newsletter

Your inbox may be the last place to find focus on the internet.

Photo by Rinck Content Studio on Unsplash

2020 has been a year of many things: disease, political awakenings, financial destruction. But, on a smaller note, I think it’s also the year of the newsletter.

I’ve been a newsletter junkie for about a decade now. A couple years ago, a friend confided that he loved his job but really, “All I want to do is stay home and read newsletters.” I nodded vigorously. Who doesn’t love an email full of personal confessions, carefully curated links, and good-mood gifs without interruption? This year it seems newsletter fever has spread and my friend’s dreams have come true: Everyone is staying home… and reading newsletters. Or writing them. Why? NPR’s Bobby Allyn described the medium as uniquely positioned to ride out a perfect storm of “frustration with social media algorithms, people hunkered down in the pandemic staring at their screens, and a media industry hammered by the economic downturn.”

But, if you’re not a journalist, you probably aren’t familiar with the pivot to Substack, or how Mailchimp first dominated the medium, or why Axios based its business model on email roundups. You probably have a reasonable relationship with newsletters and think my list of faves (see below) is a recipe for information overload. And you might be right. While I love my weekly mix of corporate and indie newsletters, this year I finally felt like my inbox overfloweth. Do I read all these digests? I try. Do I pay for the ones that have recently gone behind paywalls? Some. The inbox may be the last place to find focus on the internet, but even it needs pruning. You may see me and many others rein in our subscriptions in 2021, which would confirm there is indeed a newsletter “bubble,” as Michael Waters recently wrote in Wired:

Take the blog boom, which is in some ways the most recent precedent for what we’ve seen with newsletters. The early-00s blogging moment fell apart, and many outlets were bought up by companies like Gawker Media. One can imagine that phenomenon repeating itself. What happens, for instance, if a corporation comes along looking for talented Substack writers, then buys up the rights to their newsletters, or poaches them for other projects? Newsletters were corporatized once before, and they could be once again.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful to all the journalists and writers who pour their hearts into these emails, whether they’re on a corporate payroll or trying to go it alone. And, as a thank you to all the newsletters I’ve loved before, here are my recommendations, curated by category. My list only includes newsletters that have regular commentary and writing, not just listings or updates. I’ll be sure to include it in my own newsletter, which you can sign up for here. (What?! Of course I have a newsletter too!)

NEWS

NextDraft
Washington Post Daily
New York Times Coronavirus Briefing

LOCAL

Brooklyn Based
Councilman Brad Lander
EpiCenter
WNYC Morning Brief
NYC School Help

WOMEN

The Cut
Reshma Saujani
The Broadsheet
Ashley Milne-Tyte
LZ Sunday Paper

MEDIA

Nieman Lab
Poynter
Axios Media Trends
CNN Reliable Sources
NYC Media Lab

TECH

Axios Login
Garys Guide
New York Times On Tech with Shira Ovide
New_Public by Civic Signals
Wired’s Steven Levy
Platformer
Mozilla News Beat

BUSINESS

The Sociology of Business
Scott Galloway
Axios Future
Andreesen Horowitz
Benedict Evans
Sentiers by Patrick Tanguay

PODCASTING

Hot Pod
Inside Podcasting
The Listener

CULTURE

Medium Weekly Digest
Laura Olin
Dense Discovery
Haley Nahman’s Maybe Baby
Pocket
Stacey-Marie Ishmael’s The Main Event
The Ann Friedman Weekly
Ageist
Rowdy Kittens

There are likely gaping holes in this list, so please suggest your favorites in the comments. You can’t do THAT in a newsletter.

I‘m writing here every week. Please follow me and tell me things. To hang out even more, find me on Twitter, sign up for my newsletter, and listen to NPR’s TED Radio Hour.

Journalist, mom, Swiss-Persian New Yorker. Host of @NPR’s @TEDRadioHour + @ZigZagPod. Author of Bored+Brilliant. Media Entrepreneur-ish. ManoushZ.com/newsletter

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