How Substack works for local news and other media notes

by Carl Natale on March 20, 2022

I am somewhat obsessed with how Substack is giving journalists new business models. Add local news to the mix, and it becomes even more interesting.

For example, Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson started The Arizona Agenda about six months ago. It’s a Substack newsletter about Arizona government and politics. They wrote a quarterly report about how it’s going.

Which is OK. They reached a plateau and are on track to make the bare minimum to sustain their jobs. Their business model seems to be based on voluntary subscriptions. What I found interesting was they (the only two employees of this operation) took about a month off during the holidays. No daily newsletters and no subscriptions for that period. 

And that’s the rub. These small subscription-based businesses rely on consistent updates. And without support, there’s pressure to publish or die. So I am happy these two journalists were able to take time off to recharge. But then when they came back, they had to work through constant illness.

Plan your vote

NBC has a nice interactive tool that tells you what you need to know about voting this year. The candidates aren’t set but it does inform you of voting laws and key deadlines. It’s a nice example of service journalism.

Election coverage gets real

Christopher Baxter, executive director and editor-in-chief of Spotlight PA, explains how his organization is going beyond stories and guides to help voters and protect democracy:

“That includes considering more direct services to voters, such as helplines and training people on the things we as journalists do so often, like requesting and understanding campaign finance reports, filing public records requests, backgrounding candidates, and more”

It’s a bit out of traditional newspapers’ comfort zone and resource intensive. It will be interesting to see how it works. 

Figuring out Netflix

Lucas Shaw and Yasufumi Saito did a lot of work to figure out some metrics that Netflix won’t share. They analyzed a ton of top 10 emails from the company to approximate how much time was spent viewing shows and movies. 

Which is somewhat interesting and arguably less important than a new Olive Garden restaurant. But you have to admire the work that went into it. And sometimes there are ways to figure out what organizations don’t want to tell the press.

Is that what you’re going to wear on Instagram?

Michelle Ruiz of the Wall Street Journal writes a guide on how to dress for social media. It’s supposed to help you pick the right outfit for profile pictures, selfies and live video. Personally, it’s a bit too much to worry about but useful if you want to add influencer to your resume.

Twitter moderation is tricky

Shraddha Chakradhar of Nieman Lab writes about a study that looked at how Twitter labeled President Trump’s tweets. Before it banned Trump, Twitter put labels on tweets when it found he was not sharing accurate information. The study found those labels increased engagement in those tweets.

This could be a side effect of polarization. That people would share and comment on tweets just to stick it to the liberals trying to silence Trump. Maybe non-Trump tweets that are labeled won’t get the same engagement bump. I wonder how much of that engagement was done by Twitter bots to counter the moderation.


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