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Monday, February 24, 2014

‘theSkimm’ Founders Try To Change How Millennials Read The News

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg are the co-founders of theSkimm. (theSkimm)

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg are the co-founders of theSkimm. (theSkimm)

Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin were working for NBC News when they decided they wanted to create their own news source — one more in tune with the lifestyles of millennials.

They quit their jobs and launched “theSkimm,” a daily email newsletter that arrives early in the morning and gives subscribers a few major news stories covering a range of topics.

“We wanted to fit in with the routines of the millennial market we were going after, so Carly and I just looked at what we did every morning and that was roll over and check our phones,” Weisberg says.

The two women join Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss theSkimm.

Interview Highlights

Carly on how the idea of theSkimm was developed

“theSkimm is really your secret weapon of the day. It was really inspired by — you know Danielle and I are long time friends — and it was inspired by the role we were playing for our own friends, given our backgrounds working in news. We saw that they didn’t have a news source that they were engaging with or that fit into their lives and routines, so we launched theSkimm as a way to really deliver a product that fit into their routines… Our goal is that you finish reading theSkimm in under five minutes and you can go to any professional or social event and you can talk to anyone about anything.”

Danielle on their experience at NBC News and the decision to leave

“We loved NBC News. It was the hardest decision I think we’ve ever made, was to leave. At the same time, we saw that the media landscape was changing and the career paths that we aspired to have didn’t really exist in the same way. So we started thinking about what the next steps were for our careers. What does it look like five years down the road or ten years down the road. But we began to see a void in the marketplace.”

Danielle on why they decided on a newsletter format

“We saw that we wanted to fit in with the routines of the millennial market we were going after. So Carly and I just looked at what we did every morning and that was really roll over and check our phones. And we would read emails and the ones we read first were the emails that came from our friends. So we thought in order to get this demographic, first thing they wake up, it should come in an email and it should read like it’s coming from your friend.

Carly on whether theSkimm encourages readers to read more deeply

“We come at this as two people who lived and breathed the news. We choose it not only a hobby, but as a profession. What’s so great about theSkimm is that we are catering to your routine and that you have no time, but also really making you engaged and making you informed about topics you might not seek out or might not be exposed to on a daily basis. I think one of our favorite anecdotes we get from our readers is when they write in and they kind of have coined the term a ‘Skim moment.’ They’ll say ‘I was at work and talking and literally all of a sudden I was talking about North Korea and saying things I never really knew I knew about because I read it at 6 in the morning from theSkimm.'”

Guests

  • Danielle Weisberg, co-founder of theSkimm, which tweets @theskimm.
  • Carly Zakin, co-founder of theSkimm.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW.

Imagine getting your daily dose of news with headlines like this one, quote, "The U.S. is having a hard time in the relationship department lately. Germany is the latest to be mad at the U.S. over trust issues and, yes, it has to do with Edward Snowden." Well, that headline is from the email newsletter theSkimm. Its creators, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, got their start working at NBC. But the two women, now 27 years old, left those jobs and raised $1.1 million in seed funding for their new project.

Now, this might be the future of news and how millennials especially consume it - maybe. And joining us to tell us more about it are Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg. Welcome to both of you.

DANIELLE WEISBERG: Hi. Thank you so much for having us.

CARLY ZAKIN: We're so excited to be here.

CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, I just read that very snappy headline from a recent Skimm newsletter. Tell me a little bit about the newsletter and what it's trying to accomplish here.

ZAKIN: So theSkimm is really your secret weapon of the day. It was really inspired, you know, Danielle and I are long-time friends, and it was inspired by the role that we were playing for our own friends, given our backgrounds working in news. And we saw that they didn't have a news source that they were engaging with or that fit into their lives and routines. So we launched theSkimm as a way to really deliver a product that fit into their routines.

And oftentimes, our readers will write and then say, you write how I talk or you sound like my best friend sitting next to me on the couch. And really, that's what it is. It's meant to be conversational. Our goal is that you finish reading theSkimm in under five minutes, and you can go to any professional or social event and you can talk to anyone about anything.

CHAKRABARTI: So under five minutes. I'm going to come back to you and talk to you about just that issue in a minute. But I want to learn a little bit more about what it was about your experience at NBC that really made you decide, you know, to leave a major news organization and go the route of media entrepreneur.

WEISBERG: Well, we loved NBC News. It was the hardest decision I think we've ever made, was to leave. At the same time, we saw that the media landscape was changing, and the career paths that we aspired to have didn't really exist in the same way. So we started thinking about what the next steps were for our careers; what does it look like five years down the road or 10 years down the road. But we began to see a void in the marketplace as Carly mentioned. You know, we are playing the role of an information concierge for a very valuable demographic that we saw firsthand through our friends who weren't connecting with a news source in a way that they really kept on coming back to in a way that fit in with a routine.

CHAKRABARTI: This is something that I often wonder about because people in the news business are, like, marinated in the news. And it may come as a surprise sometimes that, you know, your very best friends maybe aren't as plugged in, you know, as someone who - that's their job. So, I mean, was that what you were seeing, that the people your age and your friends, even though that they were alert and aware individuals, weren't quite absorbing or digesting the news?

ZAKIN: I mean, we found - that's exactly it. I think everyone, no matter who you are, everyone can relate that they're short on time. We found our friends have great educations, are incredible smart but just didn't have enough time to be as well-rounded as they wanted to be.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, why did you decide to go with a newsletter format?

WEISBERG: That was a very easy decision for us. We saw that we wanted to fit in with the routines of the millennial market we are going after. So Carly and I just looked at what we did every morning and that was really roll over and check our phones. And we would read emails, and the ones we read first were the emails that came from our friends. So we, you know, thought in order to get this demographic, first thing they wake up, it should come in an email and it should read like it's coming from your friend.

CHAKRABARTI: It just sound like it's coming from your friends. So at this point in time, how many subscribers do you have?

ZAKIN: We don't release our numbers. It's the million-dollar question. But we have become one of the fastest-growing newsletters on the market.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. Well, the reason why I asked here is because, basically, from what you were saying - and other people have said this too - is that there is this underlying truth that the millennial generation, first of all, gets its information almost exclusively digitally, right? No, I mean, nobody watches conventional television anymore. And second of all, there's just this supposition that they're disconnected from the news. And I wonder what you think about the notion that - does your product help change that because - is there anything about theSkimm that makes someone want to read more deeply instead of just, you know, continuing to just skim the surface?

ZAKIN: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, we come at this as two people who lived and breathed the news. We chose it not only as a hobby but as a profession. What's so great about theSkimm is that we are catering to your routine and that you have no time but also really making you engaged and making you informed about topics you might not seek out or might not be exposed to in a daily basis.

I think our favorite anecdotes we get from our readers is when they write in, and they kind of have coined the term a Skimm moment. They'll say, you know, I was at work and talking and literally, all of a sudden, I was talking about North Korea and saying things I never even knew I knew about because I read it at 6 in the morning from theSkimm.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, theSkimm feels like one of a number of, you know, increasingly popular digital news products. And I wonder what do you think these products are getting right that traditional media is getting wrong when it comes to reaching out to millennials beyond the fact that millennials say they don't have enough time to sit down and really absorb something.

WEISBERG: I think one of the things we looked at was something that Carly touched on was just cutting through the noise. And it was something, you know, we did by going through all the news sources out there that we read and we come through on a daily basis and just making sure that we were giving them the best and longer material that we were sourcing from the best places and, I think, delivering context.

If you are talking about Syria and you have three minutes in your day or probably less than that - let's say you have a 30-second break - and you see a headline about Syria or you see a tweet and you haven't really kept up on what's going on, it's not going to really make sense for you. So we try and deliver a broader sense of context so that you feel free to learn more or to jump into a conversation to learn more.

CHAKRABARTI: I wonder. So you've just raised the $1.1 million in seed funding, which makes you not just launching a new business but now the CEOs of that business as well. What's been your biggest challenge so far?

WEISBERG: Well, it's been a big year so far, and it's pretty early in the year. We just moved theSkimm out of our apartment - Carly and I are roommates - and into our first office. And with that comes hiring. So until - up until January 1st, Carly and I were the only employees of theSkimm. We now have, including us, five full-time employees and are looking to hire a few more.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg are co-creators of theSkimm. It's a daily newsletter that summarizes the day's news and targets specifically, if I could say, millennial news readers. Carly and Danielle, thank you so much.

WEISBERG: Thank you so much. And everyone, go sign up at theskimm.com.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAKIN: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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