The i paper has adapted its daily round-up newsletter to build a more personal dialogue with readers during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown – and has seen subscriber growth as a result.
Where before the briefing would go straight into the news headlines, since 18 March it has taken on a community feel, talking directly to readers and asking what they want to see covered.
Part of the change involved giving the newsletter a regular picture byline – that of engagement editor Sophie Murray-Morris – who talks directly to readers in a less formal tone.
It has also been “guest edited” by various section editors, such as education, technology and consumer affairs.
A prompt in the first of the new-style newsletters for readers to get in touch with what they would like to see covered led to a flurry of emails, many from readers aged over 70.
It resulted in an article from a local GP including advice on how older people can keep healthy and connected as they stay at home to avoid the virus, in line with Government advice.
The piece was the most-clicked story on the newsletter the following day.
So far the i has received more than 100 responses from newsletter readers.
Murray-Morris said: “It’s very important for us to show our readers that we are listening to them and responding to them directly. Feedback on that has been very positive.”
She said older readers were using the newsletter “as a way to stay in touch and up-to-date” with news on the coronavirus and more generally.
It is important to have a “familiar face” that leads the newsletter and responds to people, so readers feel they have a “one-on-one connection with us”, Murray-Morris added. “It’s much more of an open dialogue.”
‘It builds on our reputation as a trusted publisher’
Although precise numbers of email subscribers are a closely guarded secret, the team says its newsletter growth rate per week is more than a third (35 per cent) higher than on average.
Newsletter open rates on the main newsletter increased to 14 per cent above the media average (via Sailthru) after the shift to a more community focus.
And page views at inews.co.uk are up by a fifth (20 per cent) on the four-week average, while the number of “loyal users” is up by 29 per cent against the same measure.
“It really builds on our reputation as a trusted publisher,” said Murray-Morris.
“We are a place where people can find trusted news and expert analysis and the newsletter is a very good way of directly showing that to readers.”
‘I have never been prouder to be a journalist’
The i has focused on boosting its newsletter offering since September, doubling sign-ups. It has launched a further four in the last six months and now covers politics, education, opinion, TV and fantasy football tips.
Head of digital Daisy Wyatt said: “For our older readers who might not have Whatsapp, email is a way that they do consume information.”
The i has also seen higher demand for its page-turning digital edition. The paper is carrying more puzzle pages during the coronavirus lockdown, with some people even printing the paper out at home.
Its print edition has joined a scheme, along with a number of other national titles, providing free delivery to homes for six weeks.
Journalists at the i are now working from home in the main, producing the newspaper and website from 97 different locations.
Wyatt said the lockdown had forced some of the news industry’s “outdated procedures into the modern era” and, looking ahead, said she thought employers would be more flexible about working from home.
“But there’s so much camaraderie in journalism I can’t see us working from home all the time,” she said.
Wyatt added: “I feel like we are providing a really important public service and speaking personally it sounds a bit trite, but I have never been prouder to be a journalist working through this.
“We are key workers and I think everyone feels like the work we are doing is really important and people are relying on us to provide them with trusted news during this quite scary time.”