You might have already stumbled upon The B-Side, the innovative newsletter that is rapidly taking root within the Boston Globe Media. The newsletter, created by Andrew Grillo, is charting an exciting new course for local news consumption. As the reverberations of its influence extend beyond Boston, capturing the attention of national figures, you may find yourself wondering about the enigma surrounding The B-Side's rapid growth.
How is this burgeoning newsletter becoming a formidable player in local news? What is the secret behind its ability to distill complex narratives into easily digestible insights? Perhaps The B-Side is spearheading a seismic shift in how we consume local news.
While these questions may silently brew in your mind, we recently had the privilege of speaking with Emily Schario, who is at the forefront of shaping The B-Side's content strategy.
1. What inspired you to jump on the B-Side project? Can you share the story behind the newsletter’s inception?
B-side is essentially a startup within the Boston Globe. It was launched about 8 months ago and was created by Andrew Grillo thanks to this Globe concept called Innovation Week, where employees get the opportunity to pitch a new idea, on which the other employees then get to vote. Whichever idea gathers the most interest gets to create a proposal around it. This gave Andrew the opportunity he needed to create the newsletter.
My part started when I saw the job posting to be the lead writer for the project. I just turned 27, and the offer was this incredible opportunity to speak to the next generation of news and information consumers and this creative agency and autonomy.
2. What exactly is your target audience for the newsletter?
I would say the target is the under 35s, who make up about 60 percent of our readers. About 40 to 50% of our readers are between 24 and 34. Then the sweet spot is anywhere from like 25 to 32. But we do have many college-age readers, as Boston is a huge college town. And, because we've promoted the newsletter on a couple of other news outlets, Globe properties, we have a small chunk of people who are 55+. This audience is particularly interesting because I get a lot of emails from them saying how much they enjoy it.
It made me realize that the idea of having a piece of information that just gives readers what they need in a breezy format is utilitarian and serves a purpose for all ages.
3. What is the gap in the market that was aimed to address?
In the Boston area right now, there are about four newsletters, including ours, and two of those are venture capital funded. Obviously, newsletters are today a very popular mechanism through which people are consuming information these days. For B-side, the space we saw in the market was that as the Boston Globe, we’ve had a stake in this game for 150 years, and we needed to be in this space as well.
We attempted for our newsletter to find a middle ground between the existing ‘newsy’ newsletters and the lighter lifestyle ones. And people really like the fact that they can get an essential piece of information, know what’s going on when something ‘big’ is happening, but at the same time they're also learning about this new restaurant opening or something to do this weekend.
4. What are according to you some key factors to your success?
Media always talk about wanting to meet people where they are, and I think a big part of that, is meeting them with a person that they can relate to and understand. That’s where we're finding some success, in we're trying to meet younger people with a younger person. For the newsletter, we tried to play on the factor of relatability, where the reader can connect with the person who is talking to them. The newsletter has a very casual conversational tone to it, it doesn't feel like you're reading a news article but rather is meant to feel as if a friend was explaining it to you.
I have also found that sometimes in the media, there is a very narrow view of what it means to be informed and ‘in the know’. And I think especially in this post-Covid world, where people are just craving to feel connected to their community, to try new things to do, and new places to go, being informed can be so much more.
5. As part of the B-Side project, can you share the editorial vision that drives the newsletter's content strategy?
Our tagline is ‘A daily dose of news that you want to hear’, so when brainstorming I always try to think about what is top of mind for the average 20-something-year-old. When it comes to our lead story, we usually seek this balance between news and lifestyle stories. Whenever we're doing a news story, it's something happening in the news that we unpack in a digestible format, and how can we explain it in a way that's not being explained.
On the lifestyle side, it's about profiling businesses and openings, and providing roundups. Overall, it's about providing utility to our readers in some way.
6. As a digital newsletter today, how does B-Side leverage technology and digital platforms to reach and engage with its audience?
We're a small but mighty team of two, and we've discovered that TikTok and vertical videos are game-changers for us. Among young people, particularly Gen Z, TikTok is where our audience is.
We aim to be conscious of algorithmic trends and leverage them in our editorial focus, particularly focusing on lifestyle topics that perform well on TikTok. We try to stay updated on trends and incorporate them into our storytelling by fitting news stories into trending sounds, combining fun and information for our audience."
7. Measuring Impact: What metrics or indicators do you use to assess the impact and success of B-Side?
We launched in October and our open rate is consistently 60 plus percent, and our click-through rate is consistently around 10%. So, it's been a quite high-engagement project. And obviously, when you first launch, if friends and family are reading it, you have a very inflated click-through rate. But, I think we just passed over 12 000 subscribers, and the rates remained at the same levels.
8. Future Expansion: What are your plans for the future of B-Side? Do you envision potential growth beyond the newsletter format or expansion into other cities or regions?
In terms of plans within the next year, we'd really like to become a convener. We're very much an online product but part of our goal is helping people feel informed so that they can connect with their community. We want to be more in-person: I think that would manifest through in-person gatherings and partnering with local businesses for events.
We also started to bring on local influencers and content creators to generate content for us, which helps us reach their own audience as well.
The dream would be a B-side in every other major city, like a B-side in Portland, or one in New Hampshire. However, I think that's way down the road.
9. What advice would you give aspiring local journalists who want to positively impact their communities through innovative approaches to news delivery?
If your goal is to go after young people, be present where they are, particularly on social media. Embrace formats like vertical videos and prioritize relatability to connect with your target audience. While local journalism faces challenges, starting on social media platforms can provide an opportunity for growth. Whether an individual or an established institution, meeting people where they are and fostering genuine connections is key to success.
Beyond its online presence, The B-Side aims to foster community engagement through in-person gatherings and partnerships with local businesses. It serves as a catalyst for real-world impact, connecting people and sparking conversations. For aspiring local journalists, The B-Side's success offers valuable lessons. Embracing social media platforms, leveraging technology, and prioritizing relatability are key to engaging younger audiences and reshaping news delivery.