Jan 16, 2020

SPECIAL EDITION: Today is the 100th Tangle. What's next?

SPECIAL EDITION: Today is the 100th Tangle. What's next?

Plus, an important poll and the news of the day.

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

This is a very special 100th edition of Tangle. I am going to talk about what’s happened so far and my plans for the future. I’m also asking you to fill out a really important questionnaire below! And, of course, there’s a recap on some news at the end of the newsletter.

Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas gives a bombshell interview to Rachel Maddow. Screenshot: Aaron Rupar

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What I’m thinking about.

Tangle. It’s six months old, and today is the 100th edition of the newsletter. It’s a big milestone, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the future. (Please keep reading and fill out the poll towards the middle of the newsletter!) For those of you who don’t know, I work full-time as a reporter and editor at A Plus, the positive news organization founded by Ashton Kutcher (that’s where many of the “Have a nice day” sections come from!). I also freelance as a reporter for TIME, Vox, Independent Journal Review, The New York Daily News and The Forward. But of all the things I’m working on right now, Tangle has become the nearest and dearest to my heart, because — much like A Plus — I believe the work I’m doing here is truly “good.” It is a lot of work, though, and I’m starting to think about ways to monetize it. To stay independent and ad-free, the most obvious option is to ask for subscribers to start paying a small monthly fee to read Tangle. That’s what this platform, Substack, was built for.

What my right brain is saying.

Tangle is supposed to be accessible — something that explains what’s happening, why it’s happening and what the competing views on an issue are. All in a digestible format. Part of the reason I started Tangle is that I wanted to invite more people into politics. I recognized from talking to friends that the news wasn’t accessible, that news organizations didn’t do a good enough job providing context and explanations, and that most Americans think the news they’re reading is biased. So, what’s the point of creating an accessible news outlet if it is behind a paywall? I’m fortunate in that I have a full-time job, a loyal readership of free subscribers and a quickly growing newsletter. I also want Tangle to be big: tens of thousands of readers. By moving to a paid subscription model, I’ll be raising the “barrier of entry” and making it harder for people to sign up and see my work. And if I truly believe Tangle is making politics more accessible (which I do!) by offering more balanced and informative news than traditional media, then putting up a barrier to more people seeing it doesn’t make much sense. In fact, it could be counterproductive to my ultimate goal. This side of me says I should keep Tangle free and keep growing it, that way I can expose as many people to this kind of news as possible.

What my left brain is saying.

Many of you have written in asking about the process that goes into publishing Tangle. This seems like a good time to share: creating Tangle requires a huge amount of work and sacrifice. It’s cliche, but I really do pour my heart into this. Before I leave work at the end of the day, I start drafting up a response to the question I’m going to answer. Most nights, I go home, eat dinner, spend some time with my fiance and then do more work on Tangle before I go to bed. Then I wake up every day at 5am and write until 8am. Then I go into work and cover all my duties for my day job. Instead of a lunch break, I eat my lunch at my desk, edit and update Tangle, then send it out. And this is on a good day when there is no late-breaking news that drops between 8am and 12pm EST (which happens a lot). When you take into account all the reading, time on Twitter, watching debates, watching hearings, research, opening news articles late at night, writing, editing and interviews, I end up working on Tangle for anywhere from four to eight hours every day. There’s also a cardinal rule for writers: never work for free! By providing free content, you cheapen the work of other writers in the industry, which is part of the reason why writers don’t exactly make a lot of money. I’m lucky to have a full-time job, but I also live in the most expensive city in America. Turning Tangle into another source of income would be a huge help for me, and this side of me says I should value my work and ask subscribers to support Tangle with a little bit of money.

What I’m going to do.

To be frank, I’m not really sure. I’ve been talking to mentors, readers, family, friends. I’ve solicited all sorts of suggestions: charge $10 a month and paywall everything. Set up the “NPR model” (people sign up for paid subscriptions to support you but keep everything free). Create podcasts and put those behind a paywall. Keep the newsletter free but charge for the extras (interviews, merchandise, etc.). I want to stay independent, so ads aren’t really an option (that’s how most newsletters make money). I’ve looked at other paid newsletters on Substack and some run as high as $30 a month. The cheapest, which often come out just a couple times a week, are $5 a month. And for every paid subscriber I get, Substack takes about 12% in fees. Why not charge people $5, the cost of half a beer in New York City, to read this newsletter that I work so hard on? It’d be far cheaper than The Wall Street Journal (~$39 per month after an initial discount), The New York Times (~$16 dollars a month), The Washington Post’s ($120 a year after an initial discount is the cheapest deal on their site right now). I pay for and read all those papers so Tangle readers don’t have to.

With all this in mind, I’m starting to lean somewhere in the middle: I’d like to keep most of Tangle free and put parts of it behind a paywall. That will probably look like a full Monday edition for anyone who is signed up, and then abbreviated issues on Tuesday through Thursday for free subscribers (sections like “My take” or the question of the day could be for paid subscribers only). Paid subscribers will also get the extended interviews, deep dives and special Friday editions that I’ve begun to publish. And for anyone who doesn’t have the means to get the paid version, they can reach out and I’ll gift them one for free. As always, though, I want to be transparent, balanced and involve my readers in this conversation. That’s what Tangle is and will always be about, and that’s why I’m asking for your help and feedback…

Take this poll!

Please consider clicking the button below to take a brief, 30-second survey about Tangle and help me understand who you are, what you want and what to do next!

Take the poll!


Here are some highlights from the last 100 editions of Tangle:


  • 5.5. The Average number of new Tangle subscribers a day over the last 90 days.
  • 35.5%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they would read more original, deep-dive content that was published adjacent to the newsletter.
  • 32.6%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they would be excited about an option to listen to Tangle by clicking on an audio clip at the top of the newsletter.
  • 25.6%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said the newsletter was great how it was, and they didn’t want any additional content.
  • 48.3%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they’d love a section called “local hit” that highlighted important local news stories across the U.S.
  • 3.7%. The percentage of Tangle readers who didn’t identify as Democrat, Republican or Independent, but instead chose “other.”
  • 0.7%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they wouldn’t vote for any of the current options for president.
  • 67.2%. The percentage of Tangle readers who said they identify politically as a Democrat.
  • 61%. The percentage of Tangle readers who opened the newsletter titled “The field turns on Elizabeth Warren, Bernie is ‘wolverine,’” the most opened Tangle issue in the last 90 days.
  • 100%. The percentage of Tangle issues my mother has opened and read, the highest rate of any Tangle reader. Thanks, mom. I love you.

The news.

Yesterday was a pretty eventful day in the news. I want to make sure you’re caught up. Here are some highlights:

  • Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born Florida businessman and indicted associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, gave a stunning interview to Rachel Maddow last night. In it, Parnas said the president was fully aware of the scheme to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine and was helping direct it. The interview comes just days after the House released a trove of new documents, text messages and voicemails that Parnas turned over to support his claims. Conservatives are focusing on the fact Parnas shot down the left’s claims that the Trump team was stalking the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. The right has also criticized Maddow for not asking why Parnas, who was recently indicted on campaign finance violations, supported removing Yovanovitch as far back as 2018. Because he is in deep legal trouble and out on bail, the White House says he is trying to reduce his sentence and is an unreliable narrator of events. Click.

CNN finally released the audio of the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren exchange at the end of the debate. In it, Warren can be heard saying to Sanders, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” Sanders supporters have begun speculating that CNN was holding the audio until today to keep it in the news cycle, as cynicism grows that the tensions are being manufactured for ratings.

  • President Donald Trump signed the “Phase 1” trade deal with China yesterday, and the newly revised NAFTA agreement called USMCA is expected to pass the Senate this week. The Trump administration says the trade deals will provide “twin jolts” to the economy, and China committed to buy an extra $200 billion of products over the next two years. Instead of using the World Trade Organization to settle disputes, the deal also sets up a process of “direct consultations” that are backstopped by “the threat of new import tariffs” if the deal is violated. Skeptics of the deal contend it contains “tired repeats from the past” and very little systemic improvements, noting that it relies heavily on China upholding its commitment. Click.
  • Two articles of impeachment have been transmitted to the Senate, Democrats have chosen their impeachment managers and the Senate trial is being primed to begin next week. Republicans are rallying behind a call for parity in hopes of bringing forward their own witnesses, and the impeachment process enters a new phase of Republican control, who have the majority in the Senate. It’s the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. Tangle will have more on the Senate trial in a Friday edition tomorrow. Click.
  • A non-partisan watchdog says the Trump administration’s hold on Ukraine’s military aide, which was congressionally approved, violated the law. The ruling was a damning determination from the Government Accountability Office, one of the few truly non-partisan entities left in Washington D.C. The GAO also wrote that the administration did not follow the legal procedures for notifying Congress of the hold. “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” GAO wrote. Click.

Don’t forget.

Please, please, please take the poll below to share your thoughts about Tangle! And if you can, today is a great day to forward Tangle to friends or tell folks you know about the newsletter. It only grows if my readers spread the word, and it’s the only way I can truly stay independent.

Take the poll!

Have a nice day.

Researchers say they created another embryo of the nearly extinct northern white rhino, an invaluable piece of the puzzle in an attempt to save the species. Just two northern white rhinos remain, both female, and the viable embryo is the third to be created in a lab with eggs taken from the females and inseminated with frozen sperm from dead males. The embryos will be transferred into a surrogate mother — a southern white rhino — in the coming months. Scientists across the planet have come together to save the treasured species and this is a major step toward doing just that. “It’s amazing to see that we will be able to reverse the tragic loss of this subspecies through science,” Kenya’s wildlife minister said. Click.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.