Launched in June 2015 by St. Joseph Media, Twelve Thirty Six quickly became Toronto’s go-to lunchtime tabloid. We spoke with Marc Weisblott, editor of 12:36 about the eclectic e-newsletter, his typical workday and where PR fits in the mix.
Follow the outlet @1236.
What has inspired you to start 12:36 and what is its mission?
The email newsletter idea emerged from a few thoughts, like: (a) getting beyond the dying era of clickbait journalism because many articles sourced online that are better told in a few sharp sentences; (b) producing a product which has a direct relationship with every reader instead of leaning on other people’s platforms; (c) serving readers in Toronto and beyond with a lunchtime tabloid that interprets the great chatty newspaper column style in the digital domain. From all of the above, Twelve Thirty Six operates as a media brand, which can also translate into other formats—but since we’re stuck with the name, it also means delivering at that minute.
How is social media useful to you?
Mostly, it’s not useful? But the occasional amazing discovery makes it the most compulsive part of the process of producing a uniquely unpredictable media piñata. Also, social media is still highly underrated as an outlet for the process of news production: sharing found items, seeing if anyone else has an observation to add about them, layering a different perspective upon whatever else is being talked about. Obviously, the Twitter account can bring new subscribers, but it’s not about trying to get a click, it’s a utility that feeds into the email. (And that includes floating half-thoughts or tangential links just to find out whether anyone out there cares.)
What does a typical day look like for you?
Producing the newsletter starts at 12:36 p.m. … the day before the next one. The afternoon of dipping in and out of assorted streams, overhearing virtual (and even participating in actual!) conversations, wandering around parts of Toronto: it all feeds into the following day. Plus, plenty of what’s newsworthy by the next morning is online by nighttime, so that requires noticing, too. Mornings start with checking out what other people are outraged about, or are trying to get on the agenda, and trying to think of a spin that will make those worthy of a place in the lineup. But since irreverence is paramount, it’s not like those news judgments are based on deep authoritative responsibility—short of ensuring that it all lives up to basic journalistic standards.
What advice do you have for PR people? Do they contact you frequently?
The desire to make Twelve Thirty Six a source that’s ahead of the curve means any tips about information that’s not publicly accessible are always encouraged. But the newsletter is a different kind of platform, one which also easily integrates sponsor messages in the same voice as the news items—right now, it means getting seen about 20,000 times a week. Contact from PR people is always great as long as they know that the format is focused on brevity combined with zeroing in on the quirkiest aspects of something new and different, or playing to our pet obsessions. Just as often, items are derived from watching how other outlets respond to a promotional blitz, to have fun with looking at how the news sausage gets made.
What is your most popular story?
Campaign Monitor software provides lots of insight into how subscribers read the newsletter and what they’re interested in. But another measure is how stories get picked up by other outlets after being linked at Twelve Thirty Six—knowing exactly when it’s been responsible for getting it on their radar. Lately, those included a classified ad taken out to apologize for a punch from 65 years ago, a high school time capsule from 1991 which included a message wondering if Donald Trump was still alive, and the bungalow in the Bridle Path neighbourhood that Drake wants to demolish.
What is in the future for 12:36, your best scenario?
Being part of St. Joseph Media means it’s along for the ride of at publisher that’s way ahead of the curve in terms of digital developments, including at Toronto Life and Torontoist, publications which cover similar grounds based on geography yet are also entirely different. Twelve Thirty Six is an attempt to cultivate a distinct editorial vision—while drawing on the skills of a larger company—in order to establish a news media brand that can be a template for more adventures, for myself and other comparable products.
First website you load in the morning?
You may not believe this, but CNW is a huge part of the morning surveillance, as the releases posted there are often indispensable, whether it ends up feeding into the newsletter or is worth watching unfold through the day. Sometimes, just sharing the releases on Twitter—maybe with added editorial commentary—generates a reaction that validates their relevance, even if it’s a snarky remark.
Coffee or beer (or green smoothie)?
That’s all three meals of the day covered right there.