Who Should Own Email Newsletters -- Business Or Editorial?

Harvard’s Shorenstein Center has asked a question that should concern both marketers and journalists: Is the email newsletter a business product or an editorial responsibility?

That’s easy to answer: Editorial, right? But Caroline Porter, who wrote this report, might disagree.

“They are both editorial and business products, and unlike an advertisement or a news story, their place within news organizations is an open question,” she writes, according to the Nieman Lab.

Porter surveyed eight organizations, covering both editorial and business products. She found that:

Half of the organizations say their newsletters are owned by audience, engagement or digital teams.

The remainder cite “editorial “or “newsroom labels, Porter writes.

Each email newsletter must go through at least one editorial review, and in some cases require a sign-off by upper editorial management.

In smaller organizations, many people pitch in to produce a newsletter. In large firms, there is usually one person devoted to it.



News outlets spend between four and 58 hours per week producing newsletters. For three of the organizations, it runs to about 40 hours per week. We’ll refrain from comment on that one. Instead, let’s get back to objectives.

An editorial newsletter — like the dailies published by The New York Times and Washington Post — clearly belongs to the journalistic team, and is subject to full ethical rigor. That’s true even in smaller newsrooms.

At some B2B publishing outfits, the publishers are a constant presence, continually asking editors to meet or cover an advertiser and causing a ruckus when there is a negative story — say, that a client is getting sued over a regulatory issue.

It’s a stressful environment for an editor with a journalistic orientation.

Then there are brand newsletters. Shouldn’t the business side run those? Up to a point. But even there, editorial judgment must prevail. Readers don’t want sales pitches, or announcements that you’re celebrating the six-month anniversary of your latest software upgrade. Nor do they want turgidly written articles about some year-old “paradigm,” using worn-out buzzwords.

Brand newsletters should provide valuable editorial content. This could consist of anything from recipes to articles on how to avoid common problems when installing software. But they should be engaging, and neutral in tone.

When possible, email newsletters should also entertain, utilizing video technology to liven up what are often dull subjects. 

Porter urges editors to keep newsletters to a certain sizes and employ interactive elements.

Granted, the review process may be a little more complex for these types of newsletters: At the least, there may be a brand VP looking it over, or in some cases the CEO.

If the newsletter does happen to mention a company product, the beleaguered editor may even end up waiting on legal, PR and various technical experts to weigh in.

But that goes with the territory, and good content editors can handle it. In most cases, there will be a smooth workflow, with review time built in, unless the CEO is holding the newsletter as he travels to Brussels for a meeting. Then you’ve got a problem.


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