The battle of the daily news digests

Why it seems like every media company is launching a morning newsletter or podcast

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:

Let’s jump right into it…

Digiday: CNN is turning its 5 Things newsletter into a franchise that spans podcasting and TV

From the article:

5 Things is CNN’s largest newsletter, capturing more than a third of CNN’s total newsletter subscriptions, according to Alan Segal, vp of audience development and analytics at CNN Digital. The newsletter puts together the five biggest stories of the day, and presents them in a simple format: a topic headline, a video and a paragraph describing the news story, with links to CNN articles for more information.

CNN, which has about two dozen newsletters, declined to share its total newsletter subscribers. Launched in 2015 as a weekday newsletter, 5 Things began also publishing on Sundays in July 2018 and now has a team of about eight writers and editors working on the newsletter.

In the pre-internet days, people oriented their mornings around print newspapers. Today, they're increasingly orienting their mornings around news digest newsletters and podcasts.

It’s not that people no longer click on news stories throughout the day, it’s just that they enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they can spend roughly 10 to 20 minutes every morning with a single product and come away with the confidence that they’re caught up on the most important events.

Not only do consumers love these news digests, but so do advertisers. What they lack in targeting they make up for in engagement. A native newsletter ad that’s sandwiched between two editorial sections attracts a lot more attention than a programmatic display ad. Daily podcasts, on the other hand, not only feature great native ads, but also offer much more inventory than weekly shows.

That’s why we’re seeing more and more media companies launching these daily digest products. At the national level you have newsletters like Morning Brew, TheSkimm, and CNN’s 5 Things. At the local level you have companies like 6AM City, WhereByUs, and Axios’s new local newsletters.

In terms of daily podcasts, The New York Times’s The Daily reigns supreme, but everyone from Vox to the LA Times to CNN is getting in on the action. I think the goal here is to own the daily commute, whether it’s on the subway or being beamed through a person’s car speakers.

Daily local podcasts are harder to come by, mainly because most local businesses don’t yet advertise on podcasts. I recently profiled a podcast called Daily Detroit, which has seen some success through a mixture of advertisers and paid memberships. Then there’s Dave Plotz’s new City Cast, which is still in the early stages of testing its model in a few cities. But I think overall we still have a few more years before the podcast advertising market can support a robust ecosystem of local shows.

My latest: How Joe Pulizzi helped shape the modern content marketing industry

Joe Pulizzi was one of the leading figures who convinced thousands of corporate executives that the frictionless distribution of the internet allowed virtually every company to become a media outlet.

An update on my ebook experiment

Longtime readers of this newsletter may remember that a few months ago I experimented with ebook publishing. The idea stemmed from emails and conversations with readers who told me they weren’t ready to commit to a paid subscription but wanted to support the newsletter in some way. They asked to donate via Paypal, but I was reluctant to establish a system where there wasn’t a clear value exchange. Ultimately, I’m trying to build a scalable business model, and so I want there to be some kind of product at the end of each purchase.

So that’s how I landed on the idea of ebooks. For the past year, I’ve been publishing evergreen case studies and sending them to paid subscribers. I’d built up a large enough library that I could package some of them into a PDF and sell them on Gumroad. So that’s what I did. The end result was called “The Next Media Moguls, Volume 1: Lessons from 10 successful media entrepreneurs and executives.” I put a $15 price tag on it and then plugged it in my newsletter.

How did it work out? It actually generated a couple hundred dollars in additional revenue. It was nothing to retire on, but it opened my eyes to the idea that this could be a real source of revenue diversification — a standalone product that’s actually useful to someone with a tablet or e-reader who wants that leanback experience.

So I’m continuing with the experiment. I just published my second ebook in the series:

The Next Media Moguls, Volume 2: Lessons from 10 successful media innovators

If you’re someone who’s been unable to subscribe but want to support my work, this is the best way to do it. This PDF is packed with actionable insights from some of the smartest people working in media. There’s a lot of value packed into those 48 pages.

Protocol: Facebook cracks down on misinformation superspreaders

From the article:

Facebook announced Wednesday that it will now limit the spread of all posts from individual Facebook users who repeatedly share content that's been debunked by fact-checkers.

That's right, all posts — even the cat pictures. Facebook already limits the reach of individual posts that contain misinformation and levies various punishments on Pages and Groups that are havens for misinformation. But it hasn't so far cracked down on individual Facebook users.

This is a really good policy. If someone is sharing lots of content that's been debunked by fact checkers, then they're probably also sharing plenty of misinformation that hasn't yet been fact checked. By cracking down at the individual user level, Facebook will slow the spread of fake news that isn’t caught by its fact checkers.

Twitter should adopt this same policy.

Guardian: A real turn-off: are celebrities ruining podcasting?

From the article:

Right now, it is almost easier to count the actors, comedians, influencers, musicians, reality TV stars and retired politicians who do not have a podcast than those who do. Along with Barack and Bruce, recent converts to the audio cause include Louis Theroux, Jeremy Paxman, Bill Clinton, Katherine Ryan, Julie Andrews, Minnie Driver, Gary Kemp, Rob Brydon, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Joss Stone, Paris Hilton, Rob Lowe, Jason Bateman, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Their all-new adventures in audio join more longstanding projects from the likes of David Tennant, Oprah, Jessie Ware, Chelsea Peretti, Kate Hudson, Snoop Dogg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lena Dunham and many, many more.

For podcasting networks looking to turn a profit, this all makes perfect sense. Big names equal big audiences, and advertisers are more likely to throw cash at a podcast with an A-lister attached, as opposed to a niche series on the delights of pens or chameleon ownership (yes, both of those exist). Renay Richardson, the founder of Broccoli Productions, a London-based podcast production company, observes a “laziness” in terms of commissioning.

I think there are a couple reasons for why we’re seeing a sudden glut of celebrity-hosted podcasts:

The pandemic shutdown: This is the most obvious; with TV and film production shut down, actors suddenly have plenty of time on their hands to take on extra projects.

Low hanging fruit: Podcast discovery has always been a major problem for people who want to break into the industry, but celebrities can leverage their own fame to overcome this hurdle. Not only do they have their own major social media audiences at their disposal, but they can even attract press coverage of their show launches. Also, their celebrity clout makes it easier for them to get other celebrities to come on their shows, thereby improving the discovery factor even more.

I’m fairly convinced this is why Marc Maron saw so much success. When he launched his podcast WTF, he was by no means an A-list star, but he had just enough of a foot in Hollywood that he could convince comedians who were more famous than him to come on his show. With each successive episode his stature was raised, and he was able to get bigger and bigger star to come on, and so today WTF is a pit stop for every major celebrity who’s on a press tour.

Audience touchpoints: A celebrity’s ability to get new roles and gigs is tied to their public appeal — the thinking is that more people will go to see an action movie if it stars The Rock, for instance — and yet with so much time passing in between TV seasons or films, it’s incredibly easy for a celebrity to start falling back into obscurity, especially if the one film they star in during a given year is a box office bomb. A podcast is an incredibly intimate medium that allows a celebrity to easily spend between a half hour and an hour each week in someone’s ears. It’s a high quality, low effort interaction that helps a celebrity maintain their public profile.

Ed Zitron: Silicon Valley's Social App and Teen Obsession

Every few months we find ourselves reading an article about what is supposedly the hottest new app for teens, but more often than not these apps shoot to the top of the app store and then are all but forgotten within a few months. But why were they popular in the first place, if only briefly? This piece dives into that phenomenon.

One of my favorite passages:

It is very much a case of people in their 20s and 30s being funded by people in their 30s, 40s and 50s trying to make products for people who are 12 to 17 years old, while also creating a product that appeals fiscally to the 30-50 crowd with all the money. There has been a desperation since the Instagram acquisition within the tech sect — especially in the media and investment circles — to be “first” to the next big consumer app, which brings with it a pathetic sheen of “how do you do, fellow kids?”

On a related note, Ed also wrote another fantastic essay about how so many social media apps offer the promise of virality so that you constantly feel like you’re on the verge of being famous, if only you just produce one more video. From that piece:

TikTok is merciless —it is a constant, unending flume of new posts, of new features, there is no breathing room, there is only more content, with seemingly everybody blowing up and going viral except you …

… There are entire communities that exist trying to go viral constantly by making videos about how to go viral on TikTok, a nightmarish social media ouroboros built for multiple generations obsessed with being famous for the sake of being famous.

CNBC: Amazon’s ad revenue is now twice as big as Snap, Twitter, Roku and Pinterest combined

From the article:

The major growth in Amazon’s advertising unit means its revenue contribution is now 2.4 times as large as Snap, Twitter, Roku and Pinterest combined, and it’s growing 1.7 times as quickly, according to Loop Capital.

Amazon’s “Other” unit, which is primarily made up of advertising but also includes sales related to other service offerings, grew revenue a whopping 77% year over year to more than $6.9 billion in the first quarter, the company reported last month.

This is just an incredible stat when you consider that Amazon was barely in the advertising game just a few short years ago.

Vox: The influencers are burned out, too

From the article:

[TikTokers are] afraid of branching out from whatever the algorithm decides it likes for fear of becoming a has-been, and they’re burned out by the churn of endlessly creating content they barely even like.

Nieman Lab: The Binders isn’t a secret anymore. Where does the giant Facebook group go from here?

As Facebook groups get huge, even moderators with the best intentions have difficulty maintaining the quality of discussion.

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.