The rise of newsletters, which has been underway for several years now, is finally on the media’s radar. They’ve become a legit path for journalists to pursue their own beats at their own pace while building their own audiences. The latest is Casey Newton, longtime technology reporter for The Verge and writer of The Interface. Newton recently announced he would launch a newsletter on Substack called Platformer on October 5.
Something special happens when a publication shrinks down all the way to a single reporter’s point of view. The publication feels more trustworthy: you know who the writer is, and where they’re coming from. It promotes expertise: the reporter is free to explore their given subject at great depth, sharing what they learn in an iterative way. And because their publications are about something specific, they can create real communities. Intimate, fascinating, generative communities.
No doubt Newton has the chops to pull this off. He has the name recognition, deep knowledge of his subject area, a great network of contacts, and the dedication and discipline to make it a success. Then there’s the matter of timeliness: Newton says the newsletter will focus on the intersection of social networks and democracy, something not well understood yet critical to elections and the long-term sustainability of democracy.
I heartily support journalists who take this step, and have long admired and subscribed to two of the best who helped blaze this new path to profitable newsletters: Ben Thompson from Stratechery and Bill Bishop of Sinocism. That said, it feels like there is a clear limit to how many newsletters people can — or would want — to subscribe to. There will be a point at which it will be exceedingly difficult to break through if you don’t have name recognition already. I don’t know where that point is, but it’s possible we’re already at it.
Regardless, I’m rooting for Newton. I’ve signed up for the annual plan and already look forward to his first installment next month.