College Daybreak: An Email with ‘Everything You Need to Get Through the Day’

Recently, the temporary calm in Cairo, Egypt, splintered into yet more historic protests.  The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving “Obamacare.”  The NBA in-fighting finally ended.  Some astronauts landed at the International Space Station.  The latest video game in the “Call of Duty” series made mega-millions in sales.  Rihanna’s so-called “Chris Brown song” rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.  The U.S. announced plans to station Marines in Australia.  And an “aircraft-carrier sized” asteroid missed Earth by 200,000 miles or so.

The connection between these political, militaristic, entertainment, and near-apocalyptic news items is College Daybreak, a daily email that provides headlines and hyperlinks for readers seeking a quick take on substantive news.

Started roughly a year ago by recent American University journalism graduate Charlie Szold, the tagline of this free news service of sorts: “Everything you need to know and nothing more.”

Specifically, Szold offers subscribers a quick message each new dawn with an abridged version of the main events, issues, and individuals in the news– from asteroids to Obamacare.  Primary sources are cited (mostly mainstream news media) and relevant links provided.  And Szold typically kicks in a funny video at the close of the messages, often involving a cute, furry cat.

In a web world filled with established news sites, blogs, search options like Google News, and social media link teasers, Szold’s decision to deliver Daybreak via email stands out.  Nowadays, it is an almost old-school delivery method– and an end-run around what has become the entrenched way of reading news on the web: hunting, clicking, and scanning.

As Szold, an online editor for USA TODAY’s Tech section, promises on a related Facebook page, “Give the Daybreak five minutes in the morning and you’ll know everything you need to get through the day.”

Charlie Szold, founder and editor of College Daybreak

In the Q&A below, Szold discusses his motivation for creating and maintaining Daybreak, the newsletter’s college connection, and the power of emailed news.

OK, first, the obvious.  There are a million news and news-ish sites out there. There are also a bunch of aggregation sites of those news sites.  What motivated you to join the fray?

I created the Daybreak in response to the hundreds of times my friends asked me “Charlie, what’s the news?” Despite the millions of different ways for them to get the day’s headlines, they expected me to tell them what was most important.  The news cycle moves so fast that many people don’t bother keeping up with it at all.  Instead, they rely on word of mouth, friends or headlines glimpsed on the pages of newspapers or flashing by on TV.  Even worse, some people rely on only one news outlet to keep them informed.

The Daybreak strives to give people a manageable, authoritative entry point into the day’s hectic news cycle, with an array of trustworthy news sources.  We also want to give people some of the softer information that dominates water-cooler conversation.  That’s why we include movie opening and music news.  We think the Daybreak can keep people more informed, more fully and more fairly than any other similar product out there.  Unlike many other newsletters and digests, The Daybreak is radically general.  It isn’t heavy on political, international or U.S. news.  It has the most important stories from anywhere and everywhere.

Why do you think email is the silver bullet in terms of distribution?

The Daybreak is designed to appeal to people who aren’t necessarily news junkies.  Therefore, I wanted to remove any potential barriers between readers and the news.  The Daybreak is delivered straight to a person’s virtual doorstep.  When someone checks their email before class or work, the Daybreak is right there for them with all the news they need to know.  There’s no need to open a new tab on your web browser or an app on your phone.  You’re already in your email, and so is the Daybreak.

Why do you call it College Daybreak?  What’s in it for students specifically?

When I created the Daybreak in November 2010 it was done with my college friends in mind.  I figured that if I personally knew students who needed a daily news digest to keep up-to-date, then there must be millions more like them.  I created the College Daybreak to appeal to those millions of students.  What I quickly found was that the “College Daybreak” also appealed to high schoolers, working professionals, and retirees.  College students should read the Daybreak so they can stop wasting time sifting for the important news nuggets each morning.  Instead, they can focus on what they want and need to be doing.

What’s your MO for putting together the main email each morning?  Do you ever wake up sick of the news or suffer from information overload before your first cup of coffee?

Part of the Daybreak’s appeal is that it comes relatively early in the morning.  Usually early enough for someone to read either first thing at work or while still in bed.  To get it there on time, I start producing the Daybreak at 5:30 a.m.  I spend about 30 minutes scanning all the major news websites including CNN, New York Times, Yahoo! News, ABC, BBC, USA TODAY, Washington Post, etc.  Then I quickly scan “opinion leader” sites like Gawker and Drudge.  Usually after the initial scans the day’s top stories are evident.

I’ll then spend about two hours running down the day’s top stories and writing the blurbs.  It might sound ridiculous, but I take pride in making sure the little blurbs are as informative and easily understood as possible.  Each blurb goes through numerous revisions to refine the story to its essence.  The remaining hour is spent formatting the Daybreak, copy editing and checking and re-checking to make sure I haven’t let any stupid mistakes slip through (which they inevitably do).

There are mornings when it’s tough to drag myself out of bed, but I’ve found that the Daybreak helps me stay more informed and focused in my own life.  I’ve also found that it helps me show up to my day job sharp and alert.

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  1. […] a recap of the world in quick bits, sometimes serious and sometimes wacky.  It appears to exist as the sarcastic younger brother of College Daybreak, a daily email breaking down world events in similarly easy-to-digest […]

  2. […] promoting Daybreak in his spare time. Charlie, who is a journalism grad from American University, invented the idea. He’s the one who gets up at 5 in the morning and spends two and a half to three hours […]