Sam Johnstone

Three Newsletters

In 2015 it seemed like the idea of newsletters as a writer’s distribution was coming back in a mean way. I was constantly being turned towards really interesting daily or weekly snippets that I could herd into my inbox. It was a cool idea. It felt like bloggers had abandoned their fortified homesteads and taken to the seas for a rocky, untethered adventure in the face of established distribution platforms like Medium and Facebook. But like anything that quickly swings into style, it quickly swung out of style, and with it went some newsletters that were simply too beautiful for this world (for posterity, I am referring to Matt Braga’s deep yet accessible security & technology newsletter The Dot Digest, and Robin Sloan’s wonderfully arrhythmic recommendation newsletter PRIMES). However many have still stuck with it, and every few days I’ll open up my inbox to find treasure mixed in with my receipts.

Three newsletters that I get joy out of have a lot in common. The first is Pome by Matthew Ogle. It’s a daily delivery mechanism for short poems, and is simultaneously the most impactful thing you could invite into your inbox and the least invasive. The poems are from established writers, usually contemporary, and are often the size of a tweet. The second newsletter is along a similar vain, in that the writing is often very brief, but in a less structured way. Matt Sheret’s Bureau of Small Observation is a short description of a physical scenario, usually provided without context. Think of it as Georges Perec with less personal commitment. The reason I think this newsletter is valuable is that it’s a small way of exercising your imagination. Sheret gives you a scenario, you picture what he sees, and you both move on. Exercise is healthy. The third newsletter  feels like the evolved, chronicled form of the Bureau of Small Observation. Jack Cheng is a novelist and designer, and writes a weekly dispatch every Sunday night. Personal, but not overly vulnerable, he records what he has been processing, either physically or emotionally, for the last 6 days and articulates those feelings in roughly 400 words. I love his style, and am always impressed with what he is able to emotionally digest over the course of a week. I know that newsletters as a medium have severe limitations, but if email isn’t going anywhere, I want to at least use it the way that feels the most in-line with the rest of my internet use. So for me it’s a tiny RSS reader, dependant on a select few who wander uncharted territories.