Hyperlocal, constructive journalism — that is how the founders of the newsletter start-up 6AM City want to fight against the death of local news in the U.S. And they have generated a multimillion-dollar business from it.
6AM City is now one of the largest newsletter publishers in the U.S. In 2016, Ryan Johnston and Ryan Heafy — neither are journalists, but instead one is an entrepreneur and the other an engineer — founded the company in Greenville, South Carolina. Six years later, newsletters from 6AM City flutter into inboxes in a total of 25 American cities at 6 a.m. every day.
The strategy: In media markets in which the few remaining local media concentrate primarily on crime and police reporting, 6AM City creates a counter offer. Their newsletters encourage local communities to engage with their lifestyle, food and event reporting. Over a million people currently subscribe to the daily newsletter. It’s a growing trend.
In August and September 2022, I was a Burns Fellow on the editorial board of PDXtoday, the 6AM City’s Portland outlet. Two city editors and one sales person have been responsible for day-to-day business there since November 2021. As a writer, I supported the editors there, wrote city guides and lead articles on the history of the city and, above all, exchanged a lot of ideas with those responsible for product and corporate strategy.
I would like to share the following five lessons with you after my stay there — about working on a small newsletter team and about the newsletter business in the U.S. in general.
Go where there is no information available
“Filling the void” is one of the strategies for success that newsletters in the U.S. are pursuing. In concrete terms, this means identifying communities without robust local news sources, because in some cases print media have cut back their reporting or have folded. Even more than in Germany, there are veritable “news deserts” in the U.S. — places and regions where there is little or no local media. Both 6AM City and Axios, a highly-successful newsletter publisher in the U.S., have identified these gaps and are consistently filling them by increasingly putting out feelers into the regional and local areas and establishing newsletters there.
Know what NOT to do
At 6AM City there is a clear vision for the product: Reach users in a constructive, emotionally positive way with daily stories and news that should arouse a sense of pride in where they live (“pride in place”). What 6AM City explicitly leaves out: national politics and crime reporting. This first seemed strange to me as a journalist from the German public broadcasting system (with the clear mission to serve every audience and not make money from it), but 6AM City has recognized it as a clear user and market need.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash