Top European editors are writing letters to their subscribers about the war
Readers First Initiative Blog | 13 March 2022
Many top editors decided to send extraordinary e-mails to paid subscribers, in which they explained their newsrooms’ reporting effort on the war in Europe. “Your support as a subscriber helps make this essential reporting possible,” wrote The Washington Post.
I am subscribed to more than 200 news sites, and browsing the thousands of e-mails received in the past two weeks, I saw broadly two approaches: letters to be read and letters to be clicked.
Some letters read like columns about the war and its implications, and they linked to the Web site in a subtle way. For example, David Walmsley of The Globe and Mail in Canada, started like this: “Dear Reader, There is something about journalism that makes those observers of the human spirit head toward danger and not away from it.” He continued with an inside story of his foreign desk and introduced subscribers to its correspondents.
Roula Khalaf of the Financial Times explained the financial and economic implications of the war in Europe and referred to the breadth of its reporting, mentioned its live blog, data visualisations, and invited to join a subscribers-only Webinar with the FT’s global affairs commentator, a world news editor, and a Moscow bureau chief.
Other letters focused just on telling a story. For example, Zanny Minton Beddoes of The Economist described a step-by-step thinking and design process behind its iconic cover. It showcased only a bleeding Ukrainian flag and a logo of the newspaper. “Each time we took something away from the design, it became stronger. All that was left was the suffering,” she wrote.
I also saw e-mails optimised for clicks rather than reads. They started often with short notes in the beginning and then a list of links followed. In one such letter, The Washington Post promised its subscribers 24-hour coverage, presented its foreign desk team and their contact details, and recommended five must-read stories, such as, “A visual timeline of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unfolding on the ground.”
Some letters were very personal. Matus Kostolny, editor of Dennik N in Slovakia, wrote: “Putin started the war in Ukraine on Thursday morning. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for the first hour. My colleagues Mirek Toda and Vlado Simicek sat on the train from Kiev to Kramatorsko on the Donbas. They didn’t report. I didn’t know if they were OK.”
Bartosz Wielinski, deputy editor of Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland, described his daily life in the recent weeks: “I go to bed at 1 a.m. I jump out of bed at 6 a.m. I reach to a tablet, which I keep below the pillow, and I check the news from Ukraine. Kyiv is holding up. Kharkiv bombed again.”
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