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?
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