New Washington Post newsletter delivers optimism to readers' inboxes
Washington Post photo of Whitney Paxson and daughter Madeline, 6, who were featured in a story about the transformation of alleyways in D.C. The story appeared in the Post’s new newsletter, The Optimist. Photo taken by Bill O’Leary and used with permission.
By Mike Wallberg
Move over, blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter. You too, Reddit, Tumblr, and Instagram. The Washington Post is bringing back the email newsletter. And it’s also turning the “It leads, it bleeds” mantra of traditional reporting on its head.
A collection of stories that’s part feel-good, part success-against-all-odds, The Optimist aims to find stories of hope and what the homepage dubs “pluck.”
“It’s an artisanal, made-with-love weekly mix that might bear some similarities to that of a show such as ‘CBS Sunday Morning,’” said David Beard, Optimist editor and Post director of digital content. “Our hope is that it offers a reflective, inspiring experience that will help readers consider new things and gear up for the week ahead.”
And yes, there is a permanent online home for the weekly stories, although both the email and Web access are available only to Post digital subscribers.
It’s been just over a week since the weekly newsletter made its debut, but already Beard is, well, optimistic.
“We published it for the first time [last] Sunday,” he told ivoh via email. “We were really excited to see how popular it was, with a very high open rate. And people went deep, from story to story. It may help that it appeared after a summer of unrelenting news from places like Ferguson, Gaza, and Ukraine.”
The Optimist is only the latest in a series of email newsletters to come out of Beard’s team. The curated collections are sourced from the thousands of stories filed weekly by Post staffers, and they cover everything from politics to sports to business to entertainment.
“We’re focusing topics with the customer in mind – saving them time by gathering the topics they expressed an interest in,” Beard wrote. “The hope here is that our readers will begin to rely on – and look forward to – our topics, such as The Optimist. Is that optimistic?”
What sets The Optimist apart from its Post peers, and the deluge of gloom that so often defines newsworthiness in the wider media landscape, is its focus on the good that people are committing in the world.
“Day to day, the bad news often seems to dominate, but we’ve got plenty of hopeful, ambitious, look-ahead-to-the-future stories,” Beard says. The trick is balancing the content so that it is uplifting without being Upworthy, which mostly features aggregated content.
Recent research shows that, increasingly, people want a break from the devastation and despair they hear about in the news.
TIME Magazine reported last August:
“Researchers are discovering that people want to create positive images of themselves online by sharing upbeat stories. And with more people turning to Facebook and Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world, news stories may need to cheer up in order to court an audience. If social is the future of media, then optimistic stories may be media’s future.”
Beard points to a handful of articles he has in his sights to illustrate the tenor and type of articles they’re looking for.
This piece about a “super banana” offers up a solution – a new genetic modification – to the persistent scourge of vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Similar, this article suggests new in-vehicle typefaces may help mitigate distracted driving accidents.
“Once dreaded, D.C. alleys become fun, even chic” challenges points of view by discussing the transformation of the District’s side streets from crime scenes to places of “communal whimsy.”
Social science journalism like this story, which is about raising kinder kids, inspires change in both parents’ behavior and, ultimately, the next generation’s treatment of one another.
And human-interest stories like this lovely article about home-team ball players in Major League Baseball bringing Tupperware containers of delicacies for their visiting Dominican opponents, will have a home.
Beard has a passion for alternative storytelling, so newsletter readers can expect to be informed and entertained in unique ways. He points to this infographic video about trends in male and female child-rearing, as well as this series of charts describing the life of the average centenarian, as examples.
The Optimist will also be home to what Beard calls easy science lessons like the one explored in this piece, which suggests the simple act of smiling makes you look smarter to others. Rounding out the list are articles that offer helpful tips and celebrate joy.
“I think [The Optimist], like much great journalism, will be at its base the kind of story you would tell or listen to from family members across a kitchen table,” Beard said. “You can see it in your mind. The words are clear. The people in the stories are trying their best to get by. Enduring, and sometimes prevailing.”
An optimist, indeed.