A Letter, Not a Newsletter

You might not know this, but I (used to) send an email letter to a handful of subscribers every Wednesday. Almost from the beginning, I referred to it as a letter rather than a newsletter.

Over the life of that letter, more than a few people have asked me why I call it that. To me, there’s a distinction between a traditional (if you want to use that word) email newsletter and what I’m trying to do.

Newsletters are often put out by people who are reporting to their followers — what they’re up to, what they’re thinking about, what they’re selling. Often, those newsletters include more than a few links. Others are purely linkstations, consisting almost entirely of outgoing links. All in small, bite-sized chunks.

With my past, and current, experiments in email publishing I took a different tack. I used George Orwell’s “London Letters” to the magazine Partisan Review, Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America” on BBC Radio, and Harlan Ellison’s “An Edge in My Voice” column in LA Weekly as my models. No, I’m not comparing myself to Orwell or Ellison or Cooke — I have nowhere near the skill and talent they had as writers or communicators.

But like Orwell and Ellison and Cooke, my goal is to share a moment in time. To share ideas, often partially formed or still gestating, that have grabbed my attention. To present what I hope is an informed opinion on a subject. To share my interests with others.

Admittedly, it takes a bit more patience, concentration, and attention to engage with what I send out each Wednesday than it does to, say, engage with a linkstation newsletter. In that way, what I write and send is more like a personal missive rather than the breezy copy found in many a newsletter that lands in someone’s inbox.

Does that format work? I’m still trying to figure that out, to be honest. But it is a format that I enjoy and which challenges me. And, I hope, one that challenges that people who stick with my letter.

Scott Nesbitt