Wednesday, 13 January 2016

If something returns this slowly, does that mean it never died?

Every morning I start my day with my version of reading the newspaper: firing up The Dowse's facebook account, my Twitter and my Feedly RSS subscriptions and spending about an hour over breakfast catching up on the overnight posts and clicking through to various items.

One of the links I paused over this morning from Twitter was from Fiona Romeo, to this LinkedIn post on the return of email newsletters (weird Venn diagram right there) by Warren Ellis. In it Ellis lists all the email newsletters he currently follows. These are not all digests (such as that published by Brain Pickings) but rather old school email newsletters, like blog posts sent to your inbox, many powered by Tiny Letter.

The resurgence of the email newsletter has been well covered over the past few years: even a lazy google brings up Wired in September 2013, the NYT in June 2014, this roundtable on Medium in June 2015 and the Harvard Business Review in October 2015.

I currently subscribe to a number of email digests (mostly to generate leads for items for my Nine to Noon spots) and exactly one email newsletter of the kind being described here: Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's 'Lenny'. In fact, it was the first thing I read this morning.

Described by the Guardian at its launch mid last year as a 'lifestyle mailout ...following in the digital footsteps of lifestyle gurus Gwyneth Paltrow and Blake Lively', the newsletter has a strong girl-power message, impressive access (this morning's missive included an interview with the Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz), and an overall confessional tone (matching up with Dunham and Konner's Girls). I don't *enjoy* reading it, exactly - that tone is so ubiquitous in my online sphere right now that I struggle to stay engaged - but I feel like it's important to pursue, partly to be part of this newsletter trend, partly exactly because it rubs against my grain, and partly because I'm trying to read more online writing by women, because most of the bloggers I follow are men.

My career and my intellectual life has been so strongly shaped by the free publishing of people's advice, insights and instructions to the internet. I'm immediately averse to all kinds of walled gardens, and thrilled to see a faint green haze like a freshly seeded lawn appearing over some of the blogs I used to follow, as people begin to publish in a longer format again. Warren Ellis introduces that list of newsletters with this observation: Everyone's gone to the mattresses in 2016. You need a map to find all the players, because they're all firing from cover. What he means by that by their very nature, these email newsletters are not easy to stumble upon. A Tiny Letter-powered newsletter homepage is basically a heading, a line of text, and a sign-up box. All that delicious content goes directly to people's inboxes, making it somewhat intimate ... but also invisible. And that makes me a little sad.

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