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The 1440 Daily Digest (In-Depth Review)
First, the news
Regardless of political affiliation, most Americans can agree that democracy is at a crossroads. Our system of governance requires an informed and engaged electorate in order to function for the benefit of all. But when we can’t agree on what the basic facts are, there’s little hope of coming to the table in good faith to bridge the partisan divide with constructive compromise.
Of course, traditional news media outlets tend to garb their slant in the mantle of objectivity. After all, who wants to feel pandered to? But nevertheless, the vested interest is there, and it’s trying to bait your click by striking at your biases.
And let’s be real, we’re all biased in some way. It comes from our real-world experiences, fueling our passions and defining our identities. It’s human nature–a survival instinct.
The trouble is, it’s big business to play on the emotionality of these experiences–effectively priming targeted market segments with the language of division. Under these curated conditions, it takes just a spark of partisan outrage to ignite viral tribalism, rocketing KPIs all the way to the bank. It’s intentional, and it works.
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How 1440 breaks the mold
The above model is at categorical odds with the media’s popular designation as the unofficial fourth balancing pillar of government. Fortunately, mass disenfranchisement and civil unrest aren’t inevitable endpoints; you’d definitely be doing yourself a disservice to fatalistically write off all journalism as fake news.
1440 is an excellent example of a media company that gets it right. They pass up the low-hanging fruit of clickbait and sensationalism in favor of just the facts, ma’am. You’re not getting a pandering algorithm; you’re getting a Santa’s Workshop of talented, dedicated, and exceptionally well qualified people hailing from every corner of the political spectra. The editorial staff’s diversity of opinion works as a natural check on bias, distilling events down to the essentials. Automation is minimal, and we suspect “algorithm” is a dirty word at the 1440 office.
Hardly sounds scalable right? But 1440 has embraced the ardor of their processes as a feature, rather than a bug. And it seems to be working.
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Proof the big tent is still a viable meeting ground
Who reads the 1440 newsletter?
Currently, over 700,000 subscribers do. Once or twice a year, 1440 conducts a reader survey to see who they’re attracting. The result is a beautiful bell curve which closely mirrors Pew’s estimation of American political affiliation as a whole. It roughly breaks down like this:
- 10% far-left
- 20% left
- 40% independent
- 20% right
- 10% far-right
Clearly, they’ve achieved a service model adept at avoiding partisan alienation. But don’t mistake 1440’s coverage as milquetoast, unengaging, or accidentally successful.
1440’s starting point was a tiny group of 78 friends, family members, and colleagues. That crucial first year of life was met with minimal budget, limited manpower, and revenue figures unnervingly close to zero. But, the newsletter tenaciously survived off the strength of its concept and execution (with credit given to enthusiastic word-of-mouth). All the while avoiding the temptation of more immediately profitable models in favor of integrity’s slow burn.
1440 removes punditry from the equation, trusting instead in the intelligence of their readers interpret the facts as best as can be told, then engage accordingly. The newsletter’s ~55% open rate is proof that readers are hungry for objectivity. In return for our interest, 1440 delivers content free from the burden of spin and vested interests.
To wit, the founders of 1440 left high-octane roles in Washington and Wall Street to see the project through. Their vision to foster conversations between a bitterly divided America, rather than wedging it further apart, was then (and now remains) ambitious. Nevertheless, 1440’s meteoric growth speaks for itself.
To illustrate this in more human terms, here’s a direct quote from one of their readers:
“We have an EXTREMELY divided house of 10: from ultra-religious conservatives to democratic socialists. 1440 is our meeting place.”
…Or enlightened centrism?
In our interview with 1440, we tried baiting them into a devious trap:
“In pursuing neutrality, have you come to view centrism as virtuous? Is the truth of the matter generally in the middle?”
They didn’t fall for it. In fact, they demonstrated admirable self-awareness that objectivity (re: the truth) can be equally incriminating for left, right and center alike. In the pursuit of reader empowerment, 1440 deftly avoids exerting a gravitating force in any particular direction.
The 1440 news content strategy
Apart from their multidisciplinary team of diverse political associations, 1440 has a few guiding principles that have allowed them to stay the course and retain their objectivity. Where other publications might be tempted to “shift gears” as they achieve a certain scale, 1440’s priorities have remained the same.
First and foremost, they curate content that is consequential. How many times have you clicked on a news article, only to find it’s little more than a series of tweets with a feeble narrative sheen as the sole “value-add”? 1440 seeks to impact and relevance–not gossip from the geopolitical water cooler.
Indeed, action speaks louder than words; and this is especially true in the news. When the focus is on opinion, hearsay, and posturing, there’s really very little on the table beyond confirmation bias. To expound upon another cliché, 1440 shows what happened, offering nothing in the way of subjective analysis to tell you how to interpret events.
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1440’s editorial staff manually picks through well over one hundred different sources to curate their daily digest, but you won’t find them attempting to persuade you these are all unbiased paragons of objectivity. In fact, they trust you to exercise critical thinking sufficient to recognize the context of a given article. And it doesn’t require you to return the trust–articles are picked which speak plainly for themselves.
If statistics are available, they work in service to nuance, accuracy, and depth–rather than reinforcing a specific editorial viewpoint. 1440 lives and dies by their ability to avoid shaping your opinion for you, favoring policy over politics; representation over abstraction; and the absolute over the conditional.
Anatomy of a newsletter you’ll actually read
1440 knows its readership: Educated, achievement-oriented professionals with little time to waste on media which, whether by intention or incompetence, blurs the line between fact and fiction.
Need to Know
As such, they’ve structured their newsletter with the most pertinent information at the top, appropriately labeled “Need to Know”. This is where you’ll find topics of equal import to the rollout of a new COVID-19 vaccine, Trump’s acquittal, or the Perseverance landing. Topics typically procure several links to offer both proof and a deeper dive.
Without fail, 1440 hits our inbox at breakfast, usually around 7:30 EST on average. Thus, it’s well-positioned to be the first place you read breaking news–making you a more informed individual well before you get into the office.
In the Know
For those with the time or interest to scroll further down the page, there’s the more topical “In the Know” section. Here, you’ll generally find four well-populated content categories:
- Sports, Entertainment, & Culture
- Science & Technology
- Business & Markets
- Politics & World Affairs
Smart visual design and text blocking allow you to easily scan for items of interest and guiltlessly pass over everything else. Short blurbs allow you to quickly get the gist, but always link to further reading.
What follows in many issues of 1440 is a loose rotation of specialty content, grouped into categories like “Weekend Reading” or “In-Depth”. Articles that appear here won’t be trivial, but they’re very much optional reads. These sections of the newsletter aren’t permanent fixtures, and will come and go as the 1440 staff sees the need to feature them.
The final section, Etcetera, is for general interest stories. It’s here that you are most keenly reminded that 1440 is staffed and governed by human beings, rather than algorithms.
Etcetera stories are any combination of trivial, absurd, inspiring, intriguing, or flat-out hilarious. There’s even a clearly labeled “Clickbait” story to keep the tone lighthearted and honest. Here’s a sample of what you might find:
- Police intercept Cornflakes laced with cocaine
- Bomb squad called to disarm a package filled with kittens
- Stunning examples of drone photography
- A story on chicken diapers, titled “Cluckbait”
It might be a section you skip most days, but you’ll always be rewarded with something for scrolling so far down the page. Etcetera adds a breath of levity to an otherwise straight-faced publication.
Readers before revenue
Remember how we said 1440 was profitable? This hadn’t actually been the case until relatively recently. It’s not that they lack an engaged user base–in fact, they’re likely to break a million subscribers in 2021, with huge prospects for growth owing to their broad political appeal.
It’s been a bit of a grind, primarily because of 1440’s staunch devotion to curating a reader-first news publication.
Yes, there are ads, but the noise is minimal. They’re highly selective of their promotional partners, and most ads will be on-brand and relevant. Issues which feature more than one or two ads are the exception, rather than the rule. Ads appear as sensible punctuation between major sections, rather than obnoxiously interrupting the flow of vital information.
Any clickbait is purely for fun, rather than affiliate dollars. Moreover, 1440 has actively avoided pursuing revenue streams which would incentivize them to obligate, trick, or coerce readers to linger on the page long enough to fulfill impression targets.
1440 does run a Patreon, but they’re good about not ramming the fact down your throat. Actually, we had to dig for their page, as it hadn’t garnered a mention in any issues we’ve received thus far.
The only calls to action made by the 1440 editorial staff are single lines gently suggesting you forward the email to someone if you liked it, or to apply to become a paid sponsor. It’s pretty much the bare minimum needed to sustain a free publication, evidenced by the fact that these scant bits of copy are buried beneath all the incredible content we reviewed above.
Overall, 1440 is consumer-friendly, perhaps to a fault. And all signs point to it staying that way–no wonder 50% of daily readers aren’t afraid to open their emails!
Who is 1440?
So far, we’ve painted a picture of a reader-focused, human-powered newsletter. But who masterminds 1440? Given its bespoke, intentional feel, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a handful of people really drive 1440’s content.
To wit, Editor-in-Chief and Cofounder Dr. Drew Steigerwald is responsible for writing about 85% of the daily newsletter, including the Science & Technology and Politics & World Affairs sections of In the Know. While his academic background in physics lends massively to the overall objective tone of 1440, it’s his experience translating scientific white papers into Plain-English for the US House of Representatives that makes his coverage so approachable and salient.
Cofounder Tim Huelskamp draws on his 11 years of experience in the Private Equity and Venture Capital space to deliver authoritative coverage primarily in the Business and Markets section. He’s also their fearless CEO, managing the institutional complexities of 1440 as a matter of course.
Cofounder Pierre Lipton is 1440’s renaissance man and COO, primarily tasked with (tastefully) monetizing the 1440 newsletter, performing analytics, and occasionally PR. He also writes the ad copy, ensuring that messaging remains on-brand and on-point. This review was made possible in large part to Pierre’s willingness to field our relentless questioning, as well!
Bobby Adelson is yet another of 1440’s cofounders who contributes directly to the newsletter, primarily via the Sports, Entertainment & Culture section. There is perhaps no one better suited to the task, considering his bona fides as a cultural attaché, currently to Jamaica.
Copy Editor Ashley Latta scours the daily briefing for errors–no small task considering the publication’s scope and frequency. Moreover, she is extensively versed in AP convention, regularly flexing her journalistic muscle to enforce the consistent, objective voice that is a hallmark of 1440.
Of course, there are many others whose invaluable work makes 1440 what it is. But, the house of 1440 is a a relatively small one; it’s a testament to the quality of their people that they continue to do the unscalable while scaling.
Wrapping up our review of the 1440 newsletter
If it weren’t already obvious, we categorically recommend the 1440 newsletter. Yes, it’s a crowded field of publications vying for a place in your equally crowded inbox, but 1440 has mastered the art of the value-add. They’ve structured their daily briefings in order of priority, with the goal to inform you first and entertain you second–and only if you’ve got the time.
What 1440 doesn’t do is sugarcoat the news. Their modus operandi is purely representational, rather than interpretive. You don’t come to 1440 for soundbites and talking points; they bring the most important facts and events to you, trusting you to make your own decisions about what to do with the data. The assumption is that you’re seeking fuel for intelligent, rational reflection on the world around you, rather than doom- or outrage-scrolling.
1440’s service model is deliberately resistant to bias and perverse advertising incentives, and this is reflected in the diversity and engagement of their readership. No matter your position on the political compass, you’ll find the lack of vested narrative refreshing and perhaps even addicting. And when you need a load off, 1440’s Etcetera and special interest content will give you more than enough reading to slake your thirst for miscellanea.
Are you currently subscribed to 1440, or do you plan to sign up? What is your experience with their newsletter, if any? Do you have reason to vouch for or criticize their claims to neutrality? Share your thoughts in the comments below!