Lessons from 1000 editions of a links newsletter

Charles Arthur has aggregated links in 1000 editions of a daily newsletter. He's learnt a thing or two along the way.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Charles Arthur has put out a staggering 1000 daily(ish) emails full of links to interesting tech stories. I love them. The Overspill is one of the first emails I turn to every morning. Arthur has a great instinct for the stories that are the most interesting without being the most obvious, and a pithy (and often cutting) way of identifying the key points.

The mark the occasion, he's written a Medium post telling the story of the newsletter, and how it has its roots back in The Guardian's innovative coverage of the social web in the early 2000s. The story ends up being a potted history of how the tools that defined that age changed.

But the key insight (rightly derived from and credited to a mix of Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis) is still an important one:

In the online world it’s far better, I thought, to add in what you do best — which in the case of national news organisations ought to be “know more about the topic, or know the people who know more about the topic, or have previously written about the topic, so you can add context and understanding” — and link to all the rest of the content out there that you didn’t have a hope of getting around to. Just to point out that it’s worth noting, but you’re not going to rewrite it because there are better things to do with your time.

I agree 100% with Charles, but boy, the rest of the news business doesn't, does it? Those "write throughs" (which seems to be an appropriation of a term that used to mean "updating a story", and has become "doing our own zero-research version of someone else's story") that make up a huge chunk of many young journalists' days on the volume websites are a symptom of both the desperate search for scale, and a deep lack of understanding of the actual nature of the internet.

This observation, about the links that got the most click-throughs, also resonated:

I don’t take that to mean that I shouldn’t do links about tech anymore; rather, that people like stuff that really surprises them, and we tend to be most surprised by things outside our general area of interest.

There's an obsession with related content in digital journalism. Yet, sometimes it's the completely unrelated yet surprising and interesting content that does best. People like to be surprised.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 25. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.