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Pagella Politica

CHAPTER 4

NEWSLETTERS

«Newsletters create habits, which is good for engagement, but the key is to hear from your community, respond to their doubts, and be useful»

Beatriz Lara, Community Coordinator at Maldita (Spain)

Thanks to the latest marketing tools, creating a newsletter and organizing mailing lists is a relatively simple task which can be performed  by both individual, amateur users and large publishing organizations.

Fact-checkers haven’t passed up the opportunity, and today several publications use this tool to share their content with a larger audience. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most popular formats, and how fact-checking newsletters can be made part of larger editorial projects.

Fact-checking newsletters

A widespread tool

One of the most popular formats among the international fact-checking community is arguably the weekly newsletter, which recaps the main analyses of the past week, and informs readers about relevant new projects and initiatives organized by the outlet.

Pagella Politica and Facta (Italy), Full Fact (United Kingdom) (Figure 1), and Newtral (Spain) have adopted this weekly newsletter format. PolitiFact (United States), instead, gives users the possibility to choose between a weekly or a daily newsletter.

Figure 1. Full fact Facebook post sponsoring the newsletter

While newsletters are generally open to anyone, some outlets decided to include them in a broader engagement strategy. Maldita (Spain), for instance, manages a number of different newsletters, and in order to receive them, readers must become malditos,” meaning that they have to subscribe to the outlet’s community and, at their discretion, make a donation. We’ll talk more about Maldita’s newsletter strategy shortly. 

An opportunity for
fact-checkers in larger
editorial projects

Some examples from around
the world

It’s quite common for large news organizations, such as TheQuint (India) or  Observador (Portugal), to have a specific fact-checking section as part of their general offer.

These organizations can sometimes decide to invest in the fact-checking efforts of their journalists and create specific newsletters to share their content.

Some examples can be USA Today (United States), which among its almost 30 newsletters also features one called “Checking the Facts;” the Washington Post’s (United States) “Fact Checker” (Figure 2), or 20 Minutes’ (France) “La Fake Off”.

Figure 2. Header of the Washington Post newsletter – Click to enlarge

Maldita, instead, started a specific newsletter to debunk and verify the false information about the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, while the Kenyan project PesaCheck sends out weekly newsletters using Whatsapp instead of more traditional emails. 

Special initiatives

Presenting
what’s new

Newsletters also open the way for fact-checking outlets to start special projects in a channel that is separated from their main website and social media accounts.

PolitiFact, for instance, teamed up with MediaWise (Figure 3) – a project of the Poynter Institute, which also manages PolitiFact – to create a daily newsletter about the misinformation and disinformation that circulates around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Figure 3. MediaWise Facebook post sponsoring the newsletter

Maldita, instead, started a specific newsletter to debunk and verify the false information about the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, while the Kenyan project PesaCheck sends out weekly newsletters using Whatsapp instead of more traditional emails. 

CASE STUDY

Case study: newsletters at Maldita

Maldita is a Spanish non-profit officially founded in 2018. The website  currently presents multiple sections specialized in different topics: Maldito Bulo (Damned Hoaxes), Maldita Ciencia (Damned Science), Maldito Dato (Damned Data), and others about technology, immigration, and feminism.

The outlet is quite active on social media, with accounts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Telegram. It also regularly publishes a weekly podcast and several newsletters: the latter format is the one we are going to analyze in this case study with the help of Beatriz Lara, Community Coordinator at Maldita.

Maldita’s first and most popular newsletter presents a summary of the weekly articles published in all of its sections. Here, however, fact-checkers aim to «explain the week in a close tone and not only collect or make a list of links».

The outlet also manages a number of thematic newsletters: one for Maldita Migración, one for Maldito Feminismo and another for Maldita Ciencia, which «started last year, just before the pandemic», Lara clarified.

The Community Coordinator explained that «the tone of these newsletters is more specialized, but they let us explain some interesting topics that we touch upon in our weekly summary in more detail. Also, in these newsletters we recommend some articles from other media outlets which we have found interesting».

Maldita also manages an educational project called Maldita Educa, through which it organizes media literacy courses and fact-checking workshops. «Last year, Maldita Educa launched its own newsletter with educational resources, media literacy studios, fact-checking tutorials, and so on», said Lara. «When we launched it we were thinking mostly about teachers as our target population, but the newsletter can also be interesting for researchers, or people who are concerned about misinformation and want to know more about the phenomenon».

All the newsletters are accessible for free, but they require users to register as “malditos,” meaning that interested readers must join the Maldita community in order to receive them. Registration can be free of charge, but people can also support the outlet by making regular (either yearly or weekly) or one-off donations.

Maldita also launched “special and limited-in-time newsletters” about sensitive topics, such as the last Spanish elections or the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. Lara explained that with these special projects the team aims to experiment with new formats, in order to reach new audiences and cover different topics: the U.S.-focused newsletter was in fact combined with a special podcast, a landing page, and live streaming videos.

According to Lara, these “pop-up newsletters” result in better engagement levels than the regular ones. Furthermore, general interest toward this format increased during the pandemic.

Maldita’s primary goal is to be read and to reach the largest possible audience: «Maldita’s objective is for verified information to be available as much as, or even more, than misinformation. For us, the important thing is to be read: if people read and share our content, we are useful». Therefore, the outlet also uses newsletters to promote other initiatives they manage, such as podcasts, and to ask for feedback from members of the community.

Finally, Lara  considers that the newsletters positively impact Maldita’s overall engagement strategy, even though the ultimate objective is to create a strong bond with readers: «Newsletters create habits, which is good for engagement, but the key is to hear from your community, respond to their doubts, and be useful».

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