editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Does your newspaper hide from its readers?

February 16th, 2008 · 3 Comments

I recently wanted to get in touch with a former colleague, but when I visited his newspaper’s website I quickly discovered that reaching anyone at his newspaper wouldn’t be that simple. And his newspaper is not alone. If we’re in the communication business, why do we make it so difficult for people to communicate with us?

To be fair, this used to be a much broader problem. Thankfully though, in recent years, some newspapers print email addresses for reporters at the bottom of stories and others use online forms. Some don’t do either and even make it hard to directly contact anyone, hoping instead to channel all interactions through a series of general forms.

In order to get a sense of the practices that are going on in the industry, I looked at the contact practices of the top 30 newspapers according to the most recent Nielsen Online report, and here’s what I found:

  • 16 newspaper include reporter email address either at the bottom of stories or via clicking on the byline.
  • 5 provide no direct access and instead drive inquires through general online forms.
  • 4 use reporter specific contact forms and shield email addresses.
  • 5 offer full staff list (email addresses and phone numbers) once you dig through the main contact us list.

Some other practices worth noting:

  • On some sites (nytimes.com, startribune.com) in addition to providing a reporter’s email address, clicking on the byline reveals a list of of the reporter’s recent stories.
  • At least one site (politico.com) offers full bio and picture for their writers.

As you can see, the trend is toward great ease of access and I argue that is a good thing. Additionally, I encourage newspapers to move away from the master staff list approach. All too often those lists are some sub-category of the Contact Us or About Us navigation. Readers in some of these cases have to first click on (for example) Contact Us, then find the department and then (in some cases) the name of the bureau before getting to a list of reporters. I just don’t see that many people going through that gauntlet and I think that, ultimately, your newspaper loses out.

I think it is important for readers to be able to dialogue with reporters and other staff members. Actually, it doesn’t make any sense to me to provide access to reporting staff but, as is the case at some papers, hide photographers and some editors.

In my perfect newspaper world, readers would be able to engage newspaper staffers via email, instant messaging and/or chat rooms. At the very least, I would think via email. So what does you newspapers do? Are you among the 16 or the 5?

NOTE: I’m proud to be participating, along with fellow journalism bloggers from around the world in the Carnival of Journalism. In addition to reading my post please visit the Carnival host site and see what my colleagues are writing about. Not sure what a blog carnival is? Check out this entry on Wikipedia.

Tags: Audience Development · Best Practices · Carnival of Journalism · Editors · Industry · Online · Reporting · Traffic

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 JohnofScribbleSheet // Feb 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    “if we’re in the communication business, why do we make it so difficult for people to communicate with us?”

    So funny, so true. We have a contact form, and email addresses. No phone though. Perhaps we should use Skype.

  • 2 Mindy McAdams // Feb 17, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Allow me to add a related gripe — a mailing address for the newspaper can be damn hard to find on a lot of these Web sites. When the Web site has a hokey regional name, and there’s no city name, sometimes I can’t even figure out where the thing is based! City? State?

    Going to “Contact Us” or “About Us” on many sites does not get you even close to unearthing a street address.

    I guess they are hiding from postal mail too.

  • 3 Doug Fisher // Feb 17, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with Mindy.

    Let me put in a plug for keeping those contact lists — in addition to taking steps to make contacting the “visible” people on a newspaper (reporters) easier.

    There are lots of invisible people on a paper, mostly copy editors and some line editors/assistant line editors. Also, some of the folks in the Web area. I always appreciate having a contact list so that I can get hold of those folks.

    (Of course, then we could start a whole conversation about whether, online at least, there ought to be a readable list of every staffer who has written or edited a story.)

    Speaking of places with bad contact policies, the AP has got to be among the worst, shielding almost all its staff through an “info” form on its main Web site.

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