The Manchester Mill’s Joshi Herrmann on why newsletters are exploding and print is (mostly) dead

  • Joshi Herrmann, founder of The Manchester Mill, tells Multimedia Journalism students why newsletters build trust and how he’s disrupting local news
  • The Mill reaches 10,000 subscribers and over 700 paid subscriptions
  • NQ reporting team: Phoebe Rawding, James Swindell, Zain Abeden, Timothy Jeeves, Benjy Golaub

Joshi Herrmann, founder and editor of The Mill, joined first year Multimedia Journalism students to share his experiences of launching a digital newspaper in the middle of a global pandemic. What does the future hold for publications in the digital era?

Joshi hit the nail on the head when choosing to produce his news content in the form of an email newsletter. Answering student questions, he said:

“Newsletters are exploding,” Joshi said after gaining 10,000 subscribers and 700 paid subscriptions to The Mill.

“The point of The Mill is to try and find a new way to do journalism that doesn’t look and feel like the kind of local journalism we have at the moment, and it’s funded in a different way so it’s more sustainable in the long term.”

Joshi founded The Mill in the midst of the pandemic last year and found his subscriber count increasing far beyond his expectations over the past seven months. He decided to dedicate his news content to issues and events that his local readers would value and enjoy, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic, in the form of a daily email newsletter.

“Newsletters are really good for building trust – it becomes more personal,” Joshi said when explaining why he chose to publish his news content in this form.

His instinct appears to be borne out by research elsewhere, too. 

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report (DNR) 2020, more people are paying for online news. In the USA, 21% (one in five) read a weekly newsletter. In the UK, this figure stands at 9% but is growing.

This research also shows that distinctive content and convenience or price are two of the reasons why people subscribe to online news. 64% of people in the UK subscribe to a publication for distinctive content and 58% of them enjoy the convenience or pricing of online subscriptions.

The Mill provides its thousands of subscribers with in-depth reports on topics with a unique perspective that can only be found within The Mill digital newsletter.

Before deciding to publish a story, Joshi says he asks himself: “Will my readers think I’ve given them something they couldn’t find anywhere else?”

Reporting locally, crowdsourcing stories

The Mill not only receives story pitches from its multiple journalists and freelancers but also from the readers through the newsletter’s response feature. This allows Joshi to build a closer connection with his readers and personalise the content he publishes.

Joshi’s focus is to report stories which cannot be found anywhere else on the internet. He said: “The benefits to the approach we are taking is it’s about focus and it’s about quality”. 

Comparing The Mill to mainstream news, which Joshi dubbed “a volume game”, he said: “We are only going to do a small amount of stories and we are going to do it really well.”

As well as acting on tips from subscribers, inspiration also comes from the community, he said: “Some of our best stories on The Mill have come from me deciding there’s a neighbourhood or estate to visit and chatting to people, we did a long read on a council estate in Rochdale recently by walking round and talking to people we met and it turned into a good piece.”

Goodbye print?

Joshi’s comments about print provoked the biggest reaction from students. Responding to a question, he said:

Print is dying, readership has been going down for a long-time and it won’t recover. It’s a massive time suck and waste. Too much attention is given to things that don’t matter and it detracts from the story.

This trend can be seen in the decline of national newspaper circulation figures over the past two decades. In 2000, The Sun had circulation of 3,557,336, however this dropped by almost two thirds. In 2020, they reported a circulation of just 1,250,634.

The drop in circulation figures is tied to an increase of technology, with The Sun reporting that it now receives over 40 million users per month, with over 17 million on social media sources.

Not everybody agreed with Joshi’s comments on the subject of print decline, but it was certainly the biggest talking point of the day.

“We need to get rid of [print] because it’s killing the industry,” Joshi said. 

“There’s some areas where print will stick – like football fanzines and Vogue because things like glossy fashion mags are a good fit for print and there’s still a lot of advertising in it, but otherwise it won’t come back.”