Ryan Tuck is editor of NC Local, an email newsletter covering news organizations and trends across North Carolina. Tuck has worked as an editor at Bloomberg and as a user-experience designer at The New York Times. He started his professional career as an online editor at The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Tuck discusses his role at NC Local, shares tips about email newsletters and offers his views on the future of news in North Carolina.
Q. What is NC Local?
Informally, I view it as a roundup of some of the best and most interesting work, people, and discussions happening within the media and information ecosystem in the state. That’s why it’s consistently so long!!!
I view it as a one-stop shop to keep up with what’s happening in and around the state of journalism in North Carolina. I hope it helps pull people out of their silos and their narrow work and otherwise communities — and lets them catch up on all the things their busy schedules and work may have caused them to miss.
Q. You’re succeeding Melanie Sill as the newsletter’s editor. How will you build on what she did with NC Local? What changes do you anticipate?
A. Melanie was such a great steward and founder of this newsletter. And she has such a history of doing great work within this state (and beyond). So in many ways I’m hoping to just continue what she started and to honor the expectations that people have for the newsletter.
But of course, I am a different person from her, and I believe newsletters should reflect their editor’s personalities, so I already have started to rename and reframe some of the recurring features. And like all journalists, the stories I choose to cover will result from my “biases.” And those are slightly different from Melanie’s, mainly because of my work as a consultant and coach with many organizations inside and outside of North Carolina on everything from audience development to product/UX and revenue.
That’s why I’m starting new features like “Let’s talk revenue” where I’ll spotlight one organization and how they’re pursuing, and diversifying, their revenue sources (especially reader revenue). Other new ideas I have relate to how I frame what to read/catch up on to include podcasts and other “non-traditional” sources. I also really want to be sure to spotlight as diverse of content (and content producers) as possible, in every meaning of that word.
Part of my selfish interest in doing this newsletter was to connect with as many different people within this state’s media and information ecosystem. So I hope to really spotlight as many different people as possible.
Q. What tips do you have for editing an email newsletter?
A. Gosh, how deep do you want to go on this? I’ll highlight a couple of things that people don’t think about enough, in my experience:
- Pay attention to how email is displaying on different devices (including different email clients)? Is it displaying well on mobile as well as desktop? Gmail as well as an older Outlook client? This really matters and is something that people often overlook.
- Are you testing your subject lines and preheader texts? Are you optimizing those, again, for every type of email client and ensuring they’re not too wordy? Or that you’re not needlessly repeating information (such as sender name, which people often repeat in the subject line, one of my biggest pet peeves!)? Slight changes in subject lines, like send times, are some of the lowest-hanging fruit to improving open rates and engagement.
- As I mentioned above, too, I think that people don’t put enough of their personality into their newsletters (especially journalists who traditionally are afraid, at least as reporters, to show their personality). We live in the email age, and people have a LOT of newsletters flooding their inboxes every day. Why are they opening yours? Good content is king and queen. But another compelling reason is that they identify with you. Like I tell folks going into a job interview, that doesn’t mean pretend to be someone you’re not. Be you. But … be you. Let that come through. I love movies and my kids. If you read NC Local, you will know that for better or worse.
- And maybe finally I would say don’t be afraid of length, but like any other form of writing, be sure you’re curating the user experience with and through your depth. In other words, give them a sense of what you plan to cover and use different visual interruptors (bullets, GIFs, subheads, etc.) to make sure you’re not giving them a tome that is just … intimidating.
Q. What do you see for North Carolina news organizations in 2020 and beyond?
A. This is a state where so much amazing experimentation is happening and where we have a rich mixture of business models and ownership types, as well as funding sources.
We have lots of corporate properties and still some family-owned outfits. We have a growing nonprofit news sector, including most excitingly to me a bunch of properties that are focused on underserved and traditionally marginalized communities.
And although it’s been slower than I would like, we’re starting to see some real collaborations cropping up (including especially what WFAE and other folks are doing in Charlotte, as well as what the state’s largest newspapers just formed late last year). And UNC-Chapel Hill honestly has a big role in that with the Table Stakes program in which I coach (and which is in its third year here in the state). And what Bill Adair is doing with fact-checking especially at Duke is really exciting, too. And that doesn’t even mention what Elon and others are doing. In short, this state has a really great baseline for innovation and collaboration, which should be the twin pillars of operating in (and studying) this industry right now and going forward.
I don’t like to play the role of futurist, but there are really smart, passionate people working in this state (and in academia and philanthropy). So I think North Carolina is poised to join places like Philadelphia, Detroit and Colorado as places that are producing some of the next innovations within journalism that everyone will want to emulate (both the news itself, how we distribute our content, and the business model for how we sustain ourselves).
I moved back here because I thought, and think, North Carolina is as exciting an ecosystem for journalism as there is in the U.S. right now.