Former BuzzFeed reporter Alex Kantrowitz on why he started his own SubstackView transcript
Journalists have been flocking to Substack to write their own newsletters for a while now, either to escape corporate media or to hop on the newsletter bandwagon. Alex Kantrowitz, a former BuzzFeed tech reporter, is one of them, and according to him, writing a newsletter is full of advantages.
Kantrowitz is the creator of Big Technology, a weekly newsletter and podcast covering Silicon Valley’s tech giants and the ethical dilemmas they grapple with. He started Big Technology in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic and the first wave of Substack newsletters.
The conversation took place as part of a Business of Business panel about succeeding in the creator economy. Kantrowitz spoke about the advantages of writing his own newsletter, why he doesn’t need a growth strategy, and the value of communicating with an audience directly.
From BuzzFeed to Substack00:00:00
I think the cool thing about writing a newsletter is that the people you write to, you're not just throwing posts out onto the Facebook newsfeed and hoping they reach an audience. The fact that everybody who gets my newsletter has handed me their email address is big, because it means I have a direct line into their inbox until they tell me, “mercy,” and unsubscribe. I think that's pretty big.
As a newsletter writer, just being able to communicate with an audience, one to one like that, without worrying too much about being disintermediated by the platform, is pretty great. I think the same goes for podcasts. Podcasts are RSS subscriptions. I like the idea of like, I don't know who subscribes to me, but I know in their podcast app, they are going to get the show every week. So I find it's a pretty interesting way to build an audience very different from BuzzFeed, where I worked before, which heavily relied on social media algorithms to get to people.
"I don't have any secrets of growth. As far as I can tell right now, consistency and quality are number one."
Now in terms of growth, I don't know, honestly, I don't do any paid growth or anything like that. It's all organic for me. I think, at the end of the day, the two key things are, number one, be consistent. Both Megan and Keith have talked about that. You want to have people know that you're going to be there every week or every day or whatever cadence you set for yourself. So you become a behavior, versus just the thing that's floating around in the ether.
And number two is to be good. I mean, at the end of the day, I'll write every week, sometimes the stories are good, and they get traction. Sometimes the stories kind of suck and they go nowhere. And for me, my relationship with my audience is based off of, hopefully, a belief from them that they'll end up with a good newsletter more often than not, and are willing to open and give it a shot, and feel rewarded for clicking in and giving it some of their time, and they stay active. So that's really what it is. I don't have any secrets of growth. I am exploring, doing some sort of syndication program, like I have with Medium, just making the newsletter available to other platforms and finding ways to tap into new audiences. But as far as I can tell right now, consistency and quality are number one.