This year, the NC Insider newsletter celebrates 25 years of publication. We caught up with editor (and 2017 Rising Star winner) Colin Campbell to learn the secrets behind the publication’s longevity.
The Insider State Government News Service offers the most comprehensive suite of products available to government affairs professionals in North Carolina. It is a compilation of original reporting by NC Insider staff, wire services, the Raleigh News and Observer, and the Charlotte Observer.
NC Insider started in the early 90s as a fax newsletter. Each night, the newsletter would be printed up and put through a row of fax machines, providing government affairs personnel with a daily digest of all the news they needed to know for the day.
Currently, the NC Insider has five employees. Colin joined the staff by moving from the N&O’s main newsroom. “I was looking for a bit of a change and a bit of a new challenge,” he said.
He oversees the publication, writing and editing to hit the Monday through Friday midnight deadlines. “A fun part of the Insider is that we can grab stories from major news outlets in the state. We’re not obliged to chase the same story that four other reporters are chasing. I can go find a story that nobody else is chasing, maybe a little wonkier,” he says. He also writes a weekly column for the Insider that is picked up and published in several newspapers across North Carolina.
A typical newsletter has 20 to 25 news items, edited down to a couple of paragraphs. Colin estimates that it averages four staff bylines. The audience is primarily lobbyists, lawmakers and business leaders.
“It’s for insiders, and of course the subscription fee is not something a casual subscriber would go for,” he says.
Subscriptions to NC Insider start at $1,169 per year, with additional users costing almost $400 per head. They also offer a legislation tracking tool that starts at $1,800 per year.
For this fee, users get a detailed profile about lawmakers and bills; the inside scoop on what’s happening. Colin says the team prides itself on the breadth and depth. “We go through every night to make sure we’re able to run any reference to a story [of interest], so at no point does our subscriber say, ‘I need to know about it and you don’t have it.’ If someone reported it, we’d have some reference to it,” he says. “We have to make sure we’re the most comprehensive out there, [so that] once they’re hooked on the Insider, they’re not going to reevaluate their subscription when it comes up every year.”
Compared to popular newsletters like The Skimm, the Insider looks text heavy.
“It contains professional news stories with not a lot of personality thrown in. [Consumer newsletters are] a completely different model than what we’re doing. It’s not conversational about the news of the day,” he says. Online, the Insider content lives behind a hard paywall (with no tricks like incognito mode), with only headlines and the first two sentences showing.
Switching from his job as the state government and politics reporter for the N&O to working for the NC Insider made Colin’s writing briefer. Articles are only 300-400 words long. “We’re recognizing that most of our readers are looking at this on their phones or laptops early in the morning,” he says.
It was also a change to start writing for a niche audience.
“I don’t put in nearly as much context as I did for the News and Observer,” he said. “I don’t have to explain how a state budget works, since the readers already know the ins and outs of it… I can get into wonkier stuff and not have to try to make sure it’s really interesting to the general audience. The audience really, really cares about the subject we’re writing about.”