Apr 13, 2022

A year ago, I went all in.

A year ago, I went all in.

Plus, we're taking a brief vacation.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 7 minutes.

The month of April is a special one for me and for Tangle.

Not only does it mark two years since we launched paid subscriptions, but it is also the month that I quit my job (one year ago) to work on this project full-time. That means, for me, it is a month of reflection.

But before we jump in, I first want to let you know that Tangle will be off from tomorrow (Thursday) until Monday. We'll be back on Tuesday, April 19.

With Passover and Easter weekend approaching, this felt like a great time for our own little "spring break" and an opportunity for me to reconnect with loved ones away from the news. As I've written before, taking regular breaks is an important part of my own stress management and part of a larger goal to make sure I don't burn out from doing this newsletter (as many other writers have). I want to do this work for decades, not years. And, as always, I encourage you to take a few days off from political news when you can. It's good for you.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to pause and talk about where Tangle is, what you're a part of, and how special some of the things happening here really are. To do that, in a moment, I’m going to reveal the survey results from Monday’s poll.

But first: it has been an exhilarating year since I quit my full-time job. Working solely on one project that I truly love has helped me improve my output in both quality and quantity, and it's also improved the business. In the last year, we went from 22,000 daily readers to 35,000. We now have readers in all 50 U.S. states and over 50 countries. We went from 3,300 paid subscribers to over 5,500. Our podcast was in its infancy a year ago and is now fully operational, with unique original content, pending sponsors, and close to 2,000 listeners every day. We also moved off of Substack and built our own website on Ghost, making our newsletter 100% independent in every sense of the word.

In addition to expanding our reach, we've also expanded our team. When I started Tangle, it really was just me: I woke up at 5 a.m. every morning, scoured the news, prepared a newsletter, then ran off to my day job and finished it up before lunch — then started all over again when I got home from work.

Now, there are seven other part-time employees working on Tangle: a social media manager, three editors for the newsletter, two interns, and a podcast producer. I've moved into a shared office space where I have my own desk and even a dedicated room to record our podcasts — meaning I'm no longer working from home, or recording podcasts in my bedroom closet (my wife thanks you for your support).

With the help of our growing team, our content has taken leaps and bounds forward. Newsletters are longer, the topics we cover are more diverse, and we have fewer corrections than we did a year ago, all of which is a reflection of more in-depth research and the work of the editing team. The interns and additional editorial staff have expanded our research capabilities and allowed us to feature occasional writing from other authors. With the boost from our podcast and growing social channels, our reach is expanding rapidly, reaching more people every day.

Obviously, the last year has also been monumental in terms of world events. The Afghanistan withdrawal, inflation, the infrastructure bill, the omicron variant, the war in Ukraine, and the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson have defined the past twelve months. The trials of Travis and Gregory McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan, Kyle Rittenhouse, and Derek Chauvin also captured everyone's attention. We interviewed Andrew Yang, Josh Rogin, Grace Lavery, Alex Vitale, and John Seago, all notable figures in their fields and in current events at the time.

Despite being an "off" year for political news, one without an election and where other news organizations have seen huge drops in engagement, we continue to see our email open rates click in at close to 60%, an industry best. We get dozens and sometimes hundreds of responses to every newsletter, and a growth in readership that — unlike nearly every mainstream news source — is ideologically diverse. Our paid members continue to stick with us at incredible rates, with about 99% of all subscribers staying subscribers every month. This is strong evidence that our paid offerings are worth the (very reasonable) price of admission. (If you’d like a product that 99% of people keep paying for every month, you can subscribe here!)

On top of all that, our podcast has a pristine five star rating on Apple Podcasts, with slews of positive comments, and our listenership continues to grow every single month.

There is also evidence that readers like you are representative of a shifting dynamic in the news landscape. More and more people may actually be looking to escape their partisan news bubbles for balance. Major news initiatives like CNN+ (which had $300 million of funding) are flopping. Traffic across traditional news outlets is cratering. The old, sensationalist, partisan model clearly isn't working. And it’s no surprise: 74% of news consumers across the globe want outlets that “reflect a range of different views and leave it up to people to decide,” but very few news outlets actually do this.

Meanwhile, Tangle is a bootstrapped business that ran for eight months without a single dollar of revenue and has always operated without investors or advertisers. As we continue to grow, right now, we’re projecting more than $300,000 in revenue this year. So this new model is working. Tangle is working. We're still a little fish in a big ocean with our 35,000 readers and 2,000 daily listeners, compared to tens of millions of viewers and dollars that cable news is attracting, but we just keep swimming along and growing a little bigger every day.

Perhaps best of all, though, is the trust we’re building with you, our readers. Earlier this week, I mentioned this YouGov poll showing that there is not a single media outlet in America trusted by more than 50% of both Democrats and Republicans:

Screenshot of the poll via YouGov.com
Screenshot of the poll via YouGov.com

Intuitively, I knew that Tangle would stick out in this way. But despite all the polling and questions I've asked of my readers, I'd never tested it. Obviously, Tangle is not a household name, so creating a survey that matches something like the YouGov poll (of the general population) is impossible. But the results of the YouGov poll did inspire me to inquire about the ideological make-up of our readership, and then see if there was a major disparity in how much they trusted Tangle.

So I decided to ask.

And the results we got were encouraging.

More than 2,300 readers answered our poll, a statistically significant sample. Though the survey is biased by who opened our newsletter on Monday, it was still a thrilling set of results to see: About 39.8% of readers identified as left-of-center, 25.3% self-identified as centrist, and 24.1% identified as right-of-center. 45% identified as Democrats, 20% identified as Republicans, and 30.9% identified as independents. At the same time, 94.1% of self-identified Republicans, 96.9% of Democrats and 96.2% of independents said they found Tangle "somewhat" or "very trustworthy."

Again: not a single mainstream organization in the country has the trust of more than 50% of either Democrats or Republicans, but over 90% of readers from both parties (plus independents) trust our content. Like I said, we were polling our own readers, so these surveys aren’t really comparable. (Would Democrats who read the Wall Street Journal say they trust it a lot? I have no idea!)

Still, this is something close to a proof of concept. As I've said before, one of my more ambitious goals with Tangle is to create the most trusted news brand in politics. I want to bring people from across the political spectrum under the same roof. Even though we had about a 2 to 1 "Democrat" to "Republican" ratio, we also know that Democrats are much more likely to take surveys like this, so the margin is probably closer than this suggests. Given that and the trust ratings, it is a great benchmark to show we’re on the right path.

At the same time, there were some things that surprised me, and were causes for reflection.

For instance, 38.5% of all respondents described our coverage as "balanced, but leaning left," while 3.7% said it was balanced but leaning right, and 56.4% said it was balanced. Initially, I suspected this was being driven by our conservative readers (as I've said before, when people identify bias in others, it is often a reflection of their own biases). But it turns out that, while 36% of independents and 48% of Republicans who read Tangle thought we were balanced but leaned left, 34.7% of Democrats felt the same way.

In other words, this interpretation was most popular among Republicans (which is to be expected; higher rates of Democrats said we "leaned right" too), but it was a consistent feeling across political affiliation. I thought this was particularly interesting because other media outlets that rate the bias of websites, like AdFontesMedia, have pegged us as slightly "right of center" on their media bias chart, and many international readers left notes saying we may be "balanced" in America but we were "right of center" on the global stage.

A good takeaway here might be that readers view us as balanced because we give fair and equal time to each side’s perspective, but generally think “my take” tends to land “left of center” on the political spectrum.

Perhaps most interesting of all was this tidbit: Despite Democrats rating us as slightly more trustworthy than Republicans did overall, a nearly equal percentage of Democrats said Tangle was very untrustworthy (2.74%) as Republicans (2.61%). In other words: The percentage of strongly negative sentiments was identical across party lines. Additionally, this figure indicates a potential error in our surveying methodology, as more than double the amount of people rated Tangle ‘very untrustworthy’ than rated it ‘somewhat untrustworthy.’ Combing the data gives us reason to think that responders were confused by the way that we ordered the selections. This is good feedback for us, and will help us make Tangle more accurate in the future.

Still, all told, 96% of readers rated us as "very or somewhat trustworthy," and 92.2% said they'd recommend Tangle to someone who shared their political views.

I can't say how proud this makes me of our team and what we're doing. And as much fun as some of the recognition we've gotten from Forbes or The New York Times or Substack has been, nothing beats watching these results come in. Nothing beats seeing confirmation that we're building an ideologically diverse group of readers who actually trust us.

So, one year in, I'm feeling pretty good. And pretty energized. And pretty excited. Meanwhile, I'm learning a lot about what I love to do (write, think, argue, engage with readers) and what I don't like to do (self-promote, ask for subscriptions, try to "growth hack," pay taxes).

I also know it's still important to keep my pace, so I'm looking forward to taking a few days off and coming back recharged.

So, as we head into a brief spring break, I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you for reading our work.

Thank you for subscribing.

Thank you for making my dream project a reality.

And, most of all, thank you for trusting us.

This truly is something special, and I can't wait to see how the next year unfolds.

Best,

Isaac & the Tangle team


Quick hits.

  1. An intense manhunt is underway in New York City for a man who shot 10 people on a subway train. The suspect is a 62-year-0ld African-American man named Frank James, who reportedly posted dozens of lengthy rants on social media that included harshly bigoted views and criticisms of Mayor Eric Adams. (The search)
  2. New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, the No. 2 official in New York state, resigned yesterday after being arrested on charges that he received campaign contributions in exchange for a $50,000 state grant. (The resignation)
  3. For the first time, President Biden declared Russia's actions in Ukraine as "genocide." (The allegations)
  4. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law that will make it a felony to perform abortions in all cases except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency. (The bill)
  5. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who drew criticism after donating nearly half a billion dollars to election offices in 2020, said he won't be making additional grants this year. (The end)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


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