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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Politicians’ newsletters, reviewed

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As the editor of POLITICO’s Brussels and London Playbooks, I know a thing or two about political newsletters. This is why I’m shocked that politicians across Europe have been launching their own inbox gazettes, but seem to have forgotten to ask me for some guidance.

So let me offer them something an editor does best: feedback, with a side of sass (while making clear that a newsletter is a mighty tough thing to get right).

Viktor Orbán — ‘The Viktor Brief’

Overview: The newest newsletter on the bloc, seeking to circumvent all us pesky journalists and speak directly to the (Anglophone) people. The first edition of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “The Viktor Brief” came out Monday. Billed as a weekly update “with exclusive contents on a regular basis” there’s no evidence of any “exclusive contents” just yet — or an editor. Nice job on the vague, threatening subject line though — “A nation without a purpose will fade away” may not relate to anything in the rest of the newsletter, but it sure is catchy.

Title: More Scandi underwear brand than prime ministerial newsletter. Disappointing missed opportunity for puns — “To the Viktor go the spoils” or “Get Viktimized” would have gotten my attention.

Design: Baffling design choice: The version of the newsletter that arrives in your inbox has no actual text, but is a series of photos of text boxes, which are sneaky hyperlinks to Orbán’s website.

Rating: 2 out of 10 — and my finger is hovering on the unsubscribe button. Don’t quit your day job, Viktor — writing legislation that squeezes press freedoms.

Charles Michel — ‘A Word from the President’

Overview: Mysteriously appearing in inboxes every few months, and then disappearing again, European Council President Charles Michel’s newsletter tends to be a bit tl;dr. “A Word from the President” has had a somewhat patchy record. On the eve of a high stakes leaders’ summit in July 2020 to negotiate the EU’s new budget, for instance, Michel’s newsletter unexpectedly wiped €75 billion from the package, sending diplomats and officials into a panicked frenzy.

Title: Personal, authoritative, takes liberties with the meaning of “a word” and “the president.” Interested to hear what the EU’s other presidents think of it — my DMs are open.

Design: Presidential portrait shots? Tick. EU color scheme? Tick. Audiovisual element? Tick. Wouldn’t say no to some hyperlinks — or some consistency in those font sizes.

Rating: 5 out of 10. Real chaotic neutral vibes here.

Matteo Renzi — ‘Enews’

Overview: Full disclosure: I have to use Google Translate to read the former Italian prime minister’s “Enews,” which may not do it justice. Regardless, what it lacks in mellifluousness, it makes up for in quantity — we’re up to the 732nd edition. “Before making judgments, think for yourself, friends,” Renzi writes in his latest missive, linking to a YouTube video. “Listen to the contents, not just the banal thoughts of some aspiring politician who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Preach.

Title: Enews? ENEWS? Are you serious? Has no one in Camp Renzi ever heard of search engine optimization? Now granted, my ideas probably wouldn’t work in Italian (Matteo of Fact, anyone? … Renzi Frenzy?), but anything would be better than “Enews.” Well, almost anything … I’m looking at you, Dominic Cummings.

Design: Lots of links. Nice use of bullet points to break up the walls of text. Doesn’t waste an opportunity to flash a little ankle. Signs off with “A smile.” Nails it.

Rating: 6 out of 10. Loses marks for all those requests for donations.

Dominic Cummings — ‘Systems Politics’

Overview: A blogger from way back, British PM Boris Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings has latterly taken to Substack to share his musings with the masses — and to settle scores, burn bridges and rewrite history. Should be taken with a big pinch of salt … for your bucket of popcorn, natch.

Title: Lord almighty, Dom, we get it, you’re ever so smart. But have you considered a slightly punchier title? Almost makes one yearn for the simplicity of “Enews.” Point deduction for the criminally missed opportunity for puns — what’s even the point of being named Cummings, mate?

Design: Liberal use of bold text. Needs to take more screenshots and fewer screen photos. But I am living for all that political payback.

Rating: 9 out of 10. Best read as political Mary Sue fan fiction.

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