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Tufts alumna Danielle Weisberg finds success with news source, theSkimm

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 06:02


Courtesy Danielle Weisberg

When Danielle Weisberg (LA ’08) graduated from Tufts, she didn’t expect she would be her own boss just four years later. In July of 2012, however, she did just that when she co-founded theSkimm, an online newsletter that sends daily news updates to its subscribers. theSkimm breaks down the most important national and international news, delivering content in a witty, easy-to-read way.

The process of creating theSkimm began a year after Weisberg’s graduation from Tufts. Upon reconnecting with Carly Zakin, an old friend and University of Pennsylvania graduate, Weisberg discovered that they were both working for NBC News and shared passion for news and media. 

Although both Weisberg and Zakin — who met while studying abroad in Rome — loved their respective jobs at NBC, they felt there was something missing.

“Like many people in the [news media] industry, we saw that it was changing,” Weisberg said. “The career path that we thought we would have when we started — we didn’t really think would be there in the next five years. So we were at a loss.”

Self-proclaimed “news junkies,” Weisberg and Zakin were unwilling to give up on the news industry as a whole. Fortunately, they recognized a gap in the industry that had yet to be filled.

“Our best friends, predominantly our girlfriends, were highly educated, super smart, leaders in their respective industries, making money or on the path to making money — and really short on time,” Weisberg said. “They would consistently come to us ... in order to get them up to speed [on the news] before that meeting, that interview [or] that family event they had.”

When Weisberg and Zakin looked at what current news media outlets were offering, however, they discovered there was no product that would easily fit into their friends’ fast paced lives.

Although the two women were excited about the concept of inventing a new product to fill this void, Weisberg said she realized they would need to leave their jobs to fully commit themselves to the project.

“It was the scariest thing that we’d ever done, quitting our jobs,” Weisberg said. “It was really hard to leave — our coworkers had really become like family at NBC — but we closed our eyes and we quit.”

That decision certainly paid off, as theSkimm quickly gained a following. Though theSkimm does not release subscriber numbers, its growth has outpaced that of both DailyCandy and Thrillist, two of the most popular email newsletters, when comparing their respective growth stages, according Weisberg.

Additionally, according to a Nov. 4, 2013 Business Insider article, the average user open rate for media-related emails is 16.4 percent. In comparison, theSkimm has a daily open rate that exceeds 45 percent, with 80 percent of its readers opening it immediately in the morning.

For Weisberg and Zakin, it was obvious that the easiest way to attract their target audience would be through their email.

“We looked at how we consume information first thing [when we get up in the morning], and we roll over and we check our cell phones, “ said Weisberg “Why not deliver news [to others] in a way that was fitting in with their lifestyles?”

Director of the Communications and Media Studies Program Julie Dobrow emphasized the importance of adaptation to the ever-changing nature of the media industry.

“Social media of different types have given us different platforms on which we can consume news,” Dobrow told the Daily in an email. “The 21st century journalist really needs to be a cross-platform content provider.”

Weisberg and Zakin have embodied this new type of journalist, finding a way to deliver news in a way that Nan Levinson, a lecturer in the Department of English, agreed is a reflection of our changing lifestyles. 

“I think it’s maybe not so much that we don’t have time to read,” Levinson, who teaches courses on journalism and fiction writing, said. “I think we don’t have time to read sitting down with the newspaper over the morning coffee.”

Because Weisberg and Zakin’s main concern was the time constraints of their readers, they created what they call “the voice of theSkimm,” and focused on making the newsletters more easily digestible.

“It’s really the voice of your best friend sitting next to you on the couch telling you what you need to know to get through your day,” Weisberg said.

Their newsletter embodies this best friend persona with snappy headlines like “What to say when your co-worker cries after you ask about her weekend.” The Jan. 23, 2013 newsletter featured a section on the continuing protests in Ukraine that read, “Last week, Ukraine passed an anti-protest law. That didn’t go over too well.”

According to Levinson, in current day media there is an overload of information and no way to sort through it all. 

“There’s just too much coming at us,” she said. “It does lead to superficiality and it leads to a fabrication of information.”

In order to avoid these potential problems and deliver accurate, important stories, Weisberg and Zakin sort through dozens upon dozens of news sources each day in order to condense the essential news into a one-page newsletter. Their efforts are encapsulated in theSkimm’s slogan: “We read. You Skimm.”

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