Discover more from Paul Wells
An update to subscribers on this newsletter's first anniversary
A year ago today, on April 19, 2022, I posted the first entry in this newsletter, a list of questions about the newly-announced Canada Growth Fund. Colleagues — David Frum, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne, Robert Fife, then many more — shared word of the new project on Twitter. Nick Taylor-Vaisey put an item in the Politico Ottawa Playbook. I passed 3,000 subscribers on Day 3. By last night there were 14,753. More are coming all the time. We should pass 15,000 this weekend.
You are a wonderful audience. In some ways this can actually be measured. As I tend this little business I have learned the value of retention, conversion and email open rates. Retention is how many subscribers stay subscribed. My six-month retention rate is 95%. Open rates tell me whether you’re happy to hear from me. Every email I’ve sent subscribers in 2023 has been opened by at least 60% of recipients. Conversion refers to the proportion of paid subscribers among the total. I won’t share my conversion rate but it’s going well. My total number of paid subscribers has grown by 17% since the New Year.
These are spectacular numbers. Faithful and attentive to writing about public affairs, respectful to one another in your comments, diverse in background, location and political philosophy, you are gaining a reputation as a valuable audience for newsmakers who want to get a message out. But to me you are so much more than that. You have given my career a renaissance I had no reason to expect. I never stop being grateful for your time and attention.
Thanks to your support, I have been able to pay a guest writer and three professional photographers market rates for new work. I have been able to travel to Halifax, Edmonton, Winnipeg and points nearer to cover the news. I spent most of a week on Quebec premier François Legault’s campaign bus last autumn, and was honoured to be able to write about the campaign en français for L’actualité — but it was my paying subscribers who covered my bills that week. I want to do more of all of this — travel farther, bring the best writers in, show you the most compelling images — but we’re off to an excellent start.
I keep experimenting with topic, approach and tone. I thought many of you would find this frustrating. Perhaps you wanted a concise, no-nonsense guide to the day’s events on Parliament Hill. Or maybe you hoped I’d take your side in the angry fights of a polarized era. Both kinds of writing have their value but in both cases, I’m just not that guy. Little stories excite me too, sometimes more than the big stories. And while I do uncork the odd rant, I more often remind myself that more heat and caricature aren’t what this country needs right now. I’m trying to bring quieter virtues to the table too. Most of you get this and support it. This too is encouraging.
I’ve posted about 100 stories, columns, analyses and other tales here — not counting promotional posts for episodes of my podcast, although I’ve also tried to make those enjoyable and informative. That means I’m delivering the core content of this newsletter at the rate of about two posts a week. I promised never to flood your inbox and I take that promise seriously. But I’m also pleased that I’ve been able to deliver my best writing at a steady rate. Lately about half my posts are free to all, half for paying customers only. This feels like a good mix.
When you subscribe you join this remarkable movement in favour of thoughtful journalism that cares about details, results and people. When you share my posts you help spread the word. When you pay for a subscription, you get access to everything I write and you send a strong signal that good journalism is worth supporting.
Special thanks to those of you who subscribed at the “Founding Member” level, which gives readers a chance to support my work at a higher dollar amount than the basic rate. Dozens of you chose to do so. It meant a lot to me.
Here are some of my favourite posts from the first year. Remember my full archive is always available to you at https://paulwells.substack.com/archive.
A new newsletter! And a $15 billion mystery (April 19, 2022). The post that started it all. A close read of Chrystia Freeland’s 2022 budget and a set of simple questions about one of the biggest-ticket items.
A profile of Carlos Leitao (April 21), who was finance minister in what may have been Quebec’s last Liberal provincial government. We had never met. Leitao was amazingly frank and thoughtful. I’m still particularly proud of this piece.
A more equal music (May 6). About an unusual jazz ensemble run by Montreal composer Christine Jensen and her colleagues Tara Davidson and Marianne Trudel.
My interview with(out) Pierre Poilievre (May 23). The questions I would have asked the then-candidate for the Conservative leadership if he gave me an interview. Politicians can grant or withhold interviews as they like. But these questions exist, and persist, whether or not I get to ask them.
My best advice to young journalists (May 30) trying to learn aspects of this still-noble craft. How to conduct an interview, how to organize a long article, how to develop a distinctive voice as a writer.
What ails us (June 30). A kind of extended manifesto for this newsletter, about the risks in loving the fight more than you love the outcome. “I think we’re getting better at shouting and worse at governing. If it’s even possible to fix that, perhaps the first step is to notice it’s happening.”
Winning is easy. Governing’s hard (July 25). “My questions for any candidate, after all these years, are actually pretty simple…. Is there any complexity you’ll acknowledge, any problem you’ll admit is hard, any flim-flam you’ll pass up because it’s beneath the dignity of the country you aspire to lead? Any at all?”
A selection from my coverage of the Rouleau Commission (Oct. 21). I kept going back, for weeks on end. You kept reading my coverage and debating in the comments about what you saw. It was a fascinating extended moment in the life of this newsletter.
Upheaval at the National Gallery of Canada (Nov. 29). I’ve often been reminded that stories about cultural policy can be the most political stories of all. Response to these stories was very strong, a reminder that when I cover surprising topics it helps this newsletter find new audiences.
The Rideau Centre Indigo Store (Dec. 1). Ditto, big time. One night I took out my phone and started taking photos of the tchotchkes. The result was one of the most talked-about stories all year.
My exit interview with Marc Garneau (Mar. 14). He didn’t have an axe to grind. He didn’t want to trot out the talking points for one last spin. The former astronaut and foreign minister has lived a life fit for the history books and he shared some of it with my readers.
Onward. Please keep telling your friends about the community we’re building here. Thank you once again for your support.