Research-driven communications isn’t journalism. But research-driven organizations still need consistent content production practices. High-quality content produced at a regular cadence creates anticipation. It creates an audience.
Given that, here’s one way to uncreate an audience — the opening of the latest newsletter from American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks:
I’ve loved Brooks’ opinion columns for The New York Times. I’m an old lefty who disagrees with his politics, but for me, Brooks’ writing for the Times became an occasion. Brooks says he wants to help heal what he calls the culture of contempt besetting the United States. And in his Times columns, he comes across as a philosopher-physician — mixing studies, a dash of self-effacement and a careful reasonableness to argue that polarization (political and otherwise) is killing us (individually as well as collectively). In the end, despite our differences, he’s convinced me: If the levels of demonization of our political opponents in the United States exceed those shown by the Palestinians and the Israelis (and they do), our country isn’t going to work.
His AEI newsletter, though, is a different animal.
It reads like a note for close friends only: breezy, unfocused, full of bad jokes.
It updates you on Arthur’s podcast, his book tour, the music he’s listening to, curates a few links.
There’s nothing urgent about it. Nothing you must read.
And, apparently, Brooks feels the same way.
To be fair, AEI’s description of Brooks’ newsletter is: “A personal, biweekly note from Arthur Brooks, keeping you up to date with his latest thinking, travels, music recommendations, and unconventional wisdom.”
So I was warned.
And Brooks has been on book tour, as well as promoting a new film. Who has time to do a newsletter?
Having worked with researchers for over two decades, I know they can be casual about deadlines for communications stuff.
However: tone and cadence are critical, when you’re an expert trying to expand your authority. When you’re trying not just to speak to closely held audiences, but to new ones.
It’s not that you can’t be personal. Brad DeLong is personal, and funny. Zeynep Tufekci is personal, and often anguished.
But: you want to create a sense of anticipation in old and new audiences alike. Not deflate it.
I unsubscribed from Brooks’ newsletter the moment I saw that line atop his latest. Not only because the AEI newsletter Arthur Brooks isn’t the New York Times Arthur Brooks that charmed me. But because the newsletter Arthur Brooks clearly doesn’t give a damn about his newsletter or its audience — not even close to the way that the New York Times Arthur Brooks gives a damn about reestablishing civility.
He’s got more important things to do — he just told me so. And so do I.