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What we can learn from Money Stuff
Plus, Press Forward launches with more than $500 million to support local news
I listened to an interview last week with Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine. A former M&A lawyer, Levine switched to journalism in his early 30s and today writes the daily-ish finance newsletter, Money Stuff.
Money Stuff is beloved, the rare media product that has attracted not only subscribers, but also dedicated fans. A 2020 NY Times profile put it this way: “The best measure of [Levine’s] audience’s devotion may not be his 112,000 Twitter followers, but rather the 3,000 that follow @MattLevineBot, a fan account describing itself as a bot that mimics his writing style.” At the time, Money Stuff had roughly 150,000 subscribers. It’s surely grown since.
What makes Money Stuff so compelling?
Here are a few insights from the interview:
1) An “art critic” mindset. Levine is, technically, an opinion columnist. But, in his own words, he approaches the job as an “art critic for financial deals” who has an “aesthetic appreciation for stuff that happens in the financial markets.” This lens gives Money Stuff a distinctly insidery feel, one that’s less adversarial than traditional journalism and more focused on appreciating the daily successes and absurdities that finance colleagues might talk about over lunch.
2) Embracing weird, complex niches. When Levine first started writing, he thought that “weird complicated niche topics have only weird niche audiences.” But he quickly realized that there was an audience hungry for writing that embraces the more complex, technical aspects of finance. Money Stuff reflects this approach – while it will sometimes cover a piece of trending financial news, more often it focuses on esoteric stories, which Levine animates with clear, humorous prose.
3) Recurring bits. Money Stuff has several topics and ideas that Levine returns to consistently. One is that “everything is securities fraud,” which is the idea that companies are increasingly sued for “random stuff that has nothing to do with their financial statements… but gets characterized as securities fraud.” These bits serve as inside jokes for readers and provide Levine a way to tease out a thesis across multiple news stories.
One way to summarize: Money Stuff feels personal. It’s clearly the product of a smart, idiosyncratic individual, even though it’s distributed under the Bloomberg brand.
And while there’s only one Matt Levine, other publishers can learn from Bloomberg’s approach of highlighting individual writers as part of their newsletter strategy. A quick count shows more than 15 Bloomberg newsletters that feature an individual author or author pair.
To go deeper:
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
A new local news initiative, Press Forward, launched with more than $500 million in funding from a coalition of 22 donors. It’s the largest single philanthropic commitment to journalism ever.
The Boston Globe is expanding its coverage of the Boston suburbs.
Axios is relaunching its daily news podcast Axios Today as a weekly show.
URL Media secured a $1 million grant from Knight Foundation.
The Daily Mail’s parent company is in talks to bid on rival Telegraph Media Group.
Jeff Jarvis is leaving CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the end of the term.
Substack is “leaning into politics” and hired a WaPo comms professional to lead political outreach for the company.
Spotify is planning to offer its paid subscribers up to 20 hours of free audiobook content a month, as part of a trial.
Amazon is requiring writers who sell books through its e-book program to disclose the use of AI-generated content.
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