How I find and process and select five outstanding links to share every week
February 11, 2022 (updated on December 15, 2022)
Every week, I scan (more or less) the entire web to find five outstanding links to share with my newsletter readers. How does the whole process work? This post details the individual steps, and the tools and services that help me along the way. If you’re a newsletter writer yourself, you’ll probably want to read to the end. If you aren’t, the first two sections are for anyone who is looking to improve how they consume content from the web (the most effective way, obviously, is to let me do all the work for you and sign up to the Weekly Filet like thousands of other curious minds).
I currently subscribe to 104 newsletters. Some of them general interest curation newsletters, some news briefings, lots on specific topics and covering interesting niches. For an extra pinch of serendipity, I have meta-newsletter The Sample forward to me a random newsletter every day. I don’t read all newsletters every week, but I usually get around to scanning most of them (which means opening the email and spend ~10 seconds figuring out if there’s something interesting in there). I’ve tried a number of dedicated newsletter reading apps (I liked Meco best), but keep going back to my own inbox. The Spark Mail client keeps newsletters separate from other types of email, and I use filters to keep things tidy.
(Yes, I know that RSS exists. Don’t @ me)
I subscribe to 175 podcasts, around 100 of which publish new episodes in any given week. They range from general news to nerdy niches. I use Pocket Casts for my podcasts. I like its inbox for a quick glance at all new episodes across all podcasts I subscribe to. In a good week, I get to scan most of them by looking at episode titles. In the average week, it’s rather serendipitously which episodes I see and decide to listen to. Pocket Casts also does a good job at helping me discover new podcasts I might like.
Twitter is a major source, too. By function of me spending basically my entire day on it — and having a meticulously curated list of accounts I follow — I find a lot of interesting, relevant stuff in my timeline. Curating content is also about curating good curators.
With Twitter in turmoil, I’ve started using Mastodon — mainly as a backup plan to Twitter, but it has already estabilished itself as a source of input that is somewhat different from what I find via Twitter.
Usually, that makes for more than enough raw input. Every now and then, I know that I want to include a particular topic in my newsletter, but haven’t come across something really good via the above sources. That’s when I actively search for a piece that’s a good fit for my audience (no special tricks here, googling and jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink).
Oh, and sometimes my readers send me links that they think might be a good fit for the newsletter. Doesn’t happen super often, but when it does, it’s almost always a great link.
(A little helper worth mentioning: 🗑 Dustman helps me keep my browser tidy by automatically closing tabs I haven’t used for 60 minutes)
I hardly ever read, listen to or watch something the moment I discover it.
I save every article that looks interesting to Readwise Reader, which has firmly established itself as my favourite read later app. It’s built for power users and offers a clean and efficient interface for the different usecases of mobile (reading) and desktop (revisiting and organising). They’ve recently added an AI-powered «Ghostreader» which looks very promising.
I queue up podcast episodes in Pocket Casts. I save videos to Instapaper, too (and end up watching them in the browser later), or save them to YouTube’s Watch Later list (and end up not watching them at all).
Finally, there’s Audm. It allows me to listen to a selection of feature stories (mostly from American publications), giving me a break from reading. The articles are read by human narrators, not text-to-speech algorithms. Articles that are available on Audm typically say so in the web version, so I will queue them up in the app and listen to them later.
I keep a longlist of everything that I can imagine going into the newsletter. I have no thematic boundaries, I’m looking for anything that will tickle and delight a curious mind. The longlist is a collection in Raindrop. I’ve used a number of bookmarking services over the years for this, and bookmarking is the layer of the stack I’m least opinionated about. Raindrop does one thing and does it well, so that’s good enough in my book. In a typical week, 10-20 articles, videos, podcast episodes make it onto the longlist.
Everything that I highlight while reading gets synched to Readwise. This is largely unrelated to the newsletter, but to build up a collection of relevant quotes and factoids I want to remember.
When I’m ready to select the links that will go into the next newsletter, I take things offline. From memory, I write a shortlist in a paper notebook. Using memory makes for a good filter — if I can’t remember a piece after a mere couple of days, it’s probably not good enough for the newsletter. Only after making the first shortlist, I open the longlist on Raindrop to double-check.
Once I have my shortlist of about 6 to 10 pieces, it’s time to decide which five to use, and how to sort them. There are always pieces that select themselves, because they are too good to be left out. For the rest, it’s about finding a good mix. Longer and shorter pieces; lighter and heavier topics; things to read, watch and listen to; diversity of authors and publications; etc. This process takes anywhere from 1 minute to 1 hour.
Final step: Writing the actual newsletter. In my case, that means: Write a snappy introduction for each link I’m sharing. I want it to provide readers with value even if they don’t have time for the recommended piece — but also convice them that it’s worth their time.
I started with Mailchimp when I launched my newsletter in 2011, moved the Substack in 2019, and switched to Ghost in 2021. I couldn’t be happier with my current publishing platform. Ghost is independent, keeps evolving, offers fantastic support when I need it, and writing newsletters in Ghost just works. (When I switched to Ghost, I wrote about my reasons for doing so. Still hold up.)
Once I’m done writing, I switch roles and become my own producer and copy editor. In do this in two steps: 1. I send the newsletter issue to myself and read it in my inbox, usually on my phone. Does it sound like I want my newsletter to sound? Does everything look alright? Do all links work? 2. I paste over the entire newsletter copy to Writer and check for style and spelling. Why use a separate text editor? The monospace font makes me look differently at my own copy, and allows me to see things I miss when reading it in Ghost or my inbox. While I’m at it, I kill a handful of filler words at this final stage, thanks to iA Writer’s style check.
And that’s it. Another newsletter issue ready to send.
Disclosure: Some links above are affiliate links and might earn me a commission. However, no product is mentioned for this purpose. I use and wholeheartedly recommend all of them.