It’s no secret that more and more people are questioning the direction of news media. Outlets face more and more pressure to publish stories that create buzz, inspire re-posts, and ultimately drive site traffic. Marooned in this sea of news stories is you, the reader—confused, overwhelmed, and short of time.
Recognizing this trend, a group of three entrepreneurs have cast a new line, and they’re ready to reel you in.
The creators of the Daily Pnut distill the top news stories every day into an easy-to-read morning email, which offers key facts and satirical takes on current events. The creators recently sat down with IVY Magazine to discuss how they feel about the troubling state of journalism today, and how it might ultimately be saved.
Read their story below, and sign up for the Daily Pnut here.
IVY: Studies show a significant proportion of people believe journalism is headed in the wrong direction. What are your opinions on the direction of journalism?
Yes and no (always a helpful answer). A lot of “journalism” has evolved into the repackaging other people’s stories. For example, the day after a John Oliver show, every news site has a story that is basically an embedded video clip of the show with some text (full disclosure, we embed his videos in our emails often). To make matters worse, the headline is usually something like “What John Oliver Has To Say About The Cops Will Blow Your Mind!” With a headline like that, it’s hard not to be cynical about the news.
But there are some organizations that have really raised the bar in terms of how and what they report. Old school favorites like The New York Times have churned out some spectacular stuff in the past 12 months. New players like VICE have really pushed the envelope in what they are reporting (they strap a GoPro onto a reporter’s head and parachute him into somewhere dangerous). Journalists take great risks to bring us the news, so we respect the profession.
There are also other trends that give us hope. Humor is moving from satire to mainstream. John Oliver is one example with what is being dubbed the “John Oliver effect.” But there are regional examples too. Bassem Youssef in Egypt helped end Morsi’s political career. Satirists in the Middle East have taken on extremism. For years, Jon Stewart could hide behind the fact that he was a comedian, I don’t think anyone would allow him to do that anymore. We believe that satire is the future.
IVY: So what exactly is the Daily Pnut? How would you describe it to the IVY Community?
The Daily Pnut is a staple in your morning routine – a daily newsletter, primarily aimed at busy young professionals, that will make you laugh and sound marginally more intelligent throughout the rest of your day. Through a satirical lens, the Daily Pnut brings to you the most critical international stories of the day. If nothing else, it’s a nice complement to your morning commute or coffee.
IVY: What “gap” are you filling and when did you see it?
At some point it hit us that you shouldn’t need to read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal every day to feel informed. It can be kind of boring and is often a long read… who has the time for it? And given that reality is so absurd, then why is the news so stiff?
The Daily Pnut fills that void with informative news, sprinkled (doused?) with your daily dose of satire. When you’re done reading the Pnut, we want you to be able to charm a date with your knowledge about the world (five fun facts about the Euro crisis sort of thing).
So we started just summarizing what we saw going on in the world in our own satirical, ironic, dry tone and sending it out to our friends, and it sort of took off from there. We knew we were onto something when we were at dinner once and someone repeated one of our jokes… that was a great moment.
IVY: News is communicated in so many different channels these days: paper, web, social media, etc. How do you distill stories from all these sources? What balance do you look for in your communication?
We’re an international team (US, UK, and Egypt) and that’s reflected in our sources. Tewfik likes the paper (old at heart) and his Facebook feed. Alex checks New York Times, Politico, Huffington Post and 15 political and cultural blogs daily (she is a former media brain). Fred is all about his British sources (he’s got some weird ones). None of us watch TV because let’s face it, it’s dead for our generation, but if a clip of CNN is going viral because, I dunno, Donald Trump starts yelling at everyone or reading out his opponents cell numbers, then we will see it and share it.
Each medium offers its own flair. Your Facebook feed is a good place to get human-interest pieces because you can see what people are interested in (apart from Kardashians, ice buckets and cat videos). The front page of a newspaper tells you what serious people think you should read, but it’s tricky to read on a commute without poking people in the face… and it’s long. The homepage tells you what people are clicking on. Some sources are more discounted than others (e.g. Russia Today or Al-Jazeera). All of this goes into our internal chaotic multi-time zone Google chat conversation. And somehow the Pnut comes together.
IVY: What are (5) tips or sources a well-informed person should visit everyday?
Well, we definitely believe in the Daily Pnut, but also:
The New York Times
The Financial Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Telegraph or Politico depending on your area of interest
The Daily Mash – this just makes you laugh
IVY: Do you think that the Internet is changing the fundamental values of journalism?
Yes, but it can be fixed. A lot has to do with how the lines between the “business” side and the “editorial” side are being blurred. Incentives for journalists are changing; they are now responsible for driving traffic to their stories. It is hard to imagine that being the case for an old-school paper. A lot it has to do with growing pains of a new medium, and I think it will be settled as people gravitate to the brands they enjoy and new distribution channels settle.
There is also the flip side of the Internet, the ability to hold reporters accountable. The Internet holds journalists to a level of scrutiny they’ve never before experienced (see the discussion around The New York Times’ Clinton emails fiasco). I think that makes it a very powerful force of good for the industry. There is also the ability to find new and great talent through it. We found most of our writers (for our Sunday long reads) through Facebook, Medium, and other channels.
IVY: What can the IVY Community do to help support you?
Spread the word! Read us, enjoy us, give us feedback, sign up, and tell your friends to sign up. If we get 75K subscribers then we will be in a position to really grow exponentially and realize our vision to make news relevant and engaging for our generation.
Also, we are always looking for good “long reads” to push out on Sunday after you’ve been out and need something to read over brunch. See this one from Greece and this one from Iran. If you think you can write one of those send them our way!
IVY: What are some unexpected challenges you’ve experienced when building The Daily Pnut?
Well, for starters two of us couldn’t get visas to get back to the US for a while… It also took us a while to nail our tone and we’re still refining, but other challenges included Alex having to learn British English, stopping Tewfik from writing only about Greece, and teaching Fred to stop being so British and socially awkward.
Also, the world is quite complicated, and it’s tough to cover so many different topics (some of which we have no idea about) well. Yes, we are funny, but at the end of the day, we are competing for your very precious 5 minutes in the morning. So it’s not enough to be good sometimes, we have to be great all the time. Or else you will switch back to whatever you read before the Pnut!
A sample from the August 11, 2015 Daily Pnut. Sign up for your dose of Daily Pnut here and stay informed!