The email newsletter is one of those formats that can be wonderful or terrible, depending on how it's used. At its worst, it's just another form of advertising, another thing to clog your inbox with offers and promotions. Many, like our own L.A. Weekly newsletters, provide a convenient aggregation of the day's or week's content. And some go beyond that model, providing added content you can't get elsewhere.
It's perhaps unsurprising that, on a national level, the folks doing the best job at this are professional media organizations. The New York Times has great newsletters, including its cooking newsletter, which delivers recipes and smart, fun commentary from food editor Sam Sifton. I've been particularly enjoying the newsletters from the folks at Eater National: Both national restaurant critic Bill Addison (full disclosure: He's a friend of mine) and editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt have their own newsletters that offer original content not available elsewhere. Addison might muse on the best things he ate in Mexican wine country, while Kludt often takes on important issues in the restaurant world, such as the struggles new mothers face when they work in the bar industry, or why Eater continues to cover the World's 50 Best Restaurants list despite the fact that she wishes it didn't exist. Kludt's newsletter also offers a ton of links to the most notable food stories of the week, from both Eater sites and other media outlets.
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It's not a stretch for professional writers and editors to create decent extra content in the form of newsletters. What's more impressive is when folks in the industry itself take the time to create newsletters that go beyond marketing, or at least make that marketing personal and enjoyable.
A great local example of the latter is the newsletter for the Culver City wine and liquor shop Bar & Garden. While almost all of what's in the newsletter relates to news of an event or product at the store, the tone is fun and personal and includes asides on everything from Holly Hunter's character in Broadcast News to the 219 B.C. attack on Saguntum by Hannibal of Carthage. It feels like a conversation, not just advertising.
Then there's the newsletter from the Park restaurant in Echo Park, which really is a conversation — with very little marketing at all. Yes, it lists the weekly specials and advises of upcoming events, but the meat of it is the writing of chef-owner Joshua Siegel, whose musings provide a rare window into the life of a restaurant. A recent newsletter was a heartfelt ode to a longtime server who was leaving to pursue other opportunities. Another dealt with two recent restaurant meals Siegel ate, and the reasons why one felt authentic and engaging — from a thoughtful business owner's perspective — while the other felt forced and unsatisfying.
The Park's newsletter does triple duty, by acting as advertising but also as entertainment, and by creating a personal rapport with customers. It's impressive that Siegel finds the time to cook and operate a business and write as much as he does. I think others would do well to follow his lead.