If you go to Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s office, you can get a bicycle pin. BYOBB means “bring your own brass band,” maybe. There’s a (partially corrected) typo in the Lincoln Memorial.
These are all things I’ve learned through 730DC’s daily newsletter, and that’s only in the past couple of months.
730DC originally launched in October 2013 with a “staff” of three. “And by staff I mean dedicated volunteers doing this on the side,” Colleen Shaffer, a current editor, laughs. For the volunteers, all of whom hold down separate day jobs, this is a labor of love — none have been paid at all for their work to date.
The original listserv boasted just 25 subscribers — mostly friends and family. Now, two and a half years later, the daily morning newsletter has 5,700 subscribers and a volunteer staff of 15, split between contributors who write entries and editors who run the operations. The team is also just starting to experiment with monetization — “there’s a lot of potential here to partner with up-and-coming companies,” Shaffer said. 730DC debuted its first sponsored newsletter on July 1. The first title sponsor? #DCtech’s very own Quorum Analytics.
Hayden Higgins, another editor, told Technical.ly the sponsorship revenue will (at least for the first couple of months) go toward out-of-pocket expenses the volunteers have covered thus far, some basic expenses like upgrading the 730DC website and “event expenses as appropriate.”
“Once we’ve hit a glide path on those, we’ll assess how to reinvest further,” he wrote in an email.
730DC hits your inbox, as the name suggests, every weekday morning at 7:30 a.m. It curates local news highlights at the top, aiming to give readers “the most relevant local news” in an information space that Shaffer views as pretty fragmented. The newsletter also surfaces upcoming events — brunches, lectures, concerts and more.
“We do all the hard work,” Shaffer said, to bring readers interesting, relevant stories and events.
But beyond a social-calendar-filling public service, 730DC is also an experiment in civic engagement. The newsletter’s primary demographic is, broadly speaking, 18 to 34 year olds who may be new to the city and considered part of its continued gentrification.
“We give you events,” Shaffer said, “but also help young people find things they can be passionate about.” How can a young, well-educated and relatively wealthy transplant to the District (and we know there are a lot of them) learn to think about their role in this city? 730DC hopes to help them begin that process.
But perhaps the most distinctive thing about 730DC is its tone — a tone I’d characterize as forthright bordering on irreverent.
“It’s so fun to write,” Shaffer said, of the newsletter, because all contributors get to use their own voices. “We try to pretend we’re speaking face-to-face with someone,” she added. Is this issue especially important to you? Highlight it! Does that event sound silly? Say so!
This kind of intimacy has its benefits. Shaffer told me that in a recent reader survey the team found that 85 percent of their subscriber base reads the newsletter every day, and a good portion of those do so in bed in the morning or on their commutes.
“We’re really happy to have earned that place in people’s routines,” she said.
The team is far from braggadocios about their own successes, though. While 730DC presents a unique curation experience for readers, all that content has to come from somewhere. “We really rely on the incredible talent of local journalists,” Shaffer said. “We’re only as good as our sources.”
Knowledge is power!
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