5 things about how to create (and maintain) a successful newsletter

Saeed Ahmed
3 min readApr 16, 2021


As I get ready to say goodbye to CNN, my home of 13 years, one of the things I have been most proud of my years here is how we grew 5 Things into the most successful newsletter in CNN’s portfolio — in subscriber numbers, open rate and money it brings in.
Here’s how we did it, and how you can too:

The note that appeared in today’s 5 Things newsletter.

1. Start with a clear vision: This Tumblr post (Yes, Tumblr) is an amusing read. This is the very first 5T mockup I ever drew up. It’s incredible how the product today still looks so similar to that original idea. Of course, we should iterate as we go along — but if you start with a well-conceived vision, you increase the chances of your product’s success.

2. Pick the right people : A vision without the right people to execute on it is just an idea in your head. We were fortunate that every person who’s served as the editorial brains has been top notch — from Steve Almasy and Ed Payne as we tweaked and tweaked the style in the early days; to Doug Criss who perfected it; to AJ Willingham and Michelle Krupa who have OWNED it and grown it without ever, ever compromising on the standard and fiercely protecting the brand. (Also, Sundy writer Faith Karimi and fill in writer Harmeet Kaur who have done the same).

Clockwise from top right: Faith Karimi, Michelle Krupa, Harmeet Kaur and AJ Willingham

3. Don’t forget the forest for the trees: It’s easy to sometimes neglect the big picture as you tackle the day-to-day demands of putting out a newsletter. Don’t. Find someone who makes it their mission to keep thinking about how your newsletter can grow and expand — and how to do so. For us, it was the indefatigable Amy Langfield.

4. Strategize, monetize, evangelize: A successful newsletter needs both kick-ass content and a super-tuned strategy. We were sputtering along as the “little newsletter that could” until our friends in audience in audience development came along and really helped rocket 5Things in the stratosphere. Find an Alan Segal.

5. Never, ever forget who you’re doing this for: An email newsletter is the most intimate connection a news site has with its readers. Listen to them. Interact with them. Address their concerns. Act on their suggestions. Do this even as you grow and grow and the volume of their responses can sometimes feel overwhelming.

I wish this team all the luck in the world. For readers: Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe here. For other journos, especially my journalist of color friends: My Twitter DMs are open to talk about whatever — newsletters, careers, representation.



Saeed Ahmed

I Snack. I Snooze. I Repeat. On Instagram, I'm @writerdad. At work, I'm @saeed_ahmed