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Complaints about contacting The Post

By Andy Alexander

Ah, the irony. Readers were quick to note that in my Sunday column about how hard it is to find newsroom contact information on the Post’s Web site, two of the links for contacting the ombudsman weren't working.

They’ve been fixed, but the problem underscored the point of the column. Even when contact information can be located on the site, it often is broken or out of date. Readers have e-mailed or called me with a drumbeat of complaints in response to my column.

Finding contact information on the Web site “unquestionably is awful,” wrote one local reader, who said he has put a personal limit on how long he’s willing to look. “My rule now is after three minutes, I just forget about it,” he said.

Another reader, Christy from Baltimore, e-mailed about her frustration in trying to find a way to offer a comment after The Post last month unveiled design changes in the print newspaper. She said she’d forgotten to note the e-mail address The Post set up for reader reaction. So she went looking on the Web site and eventually “gave up” because she couldn’t find information on how to contact editors.

Yet another reader, Tom from Silver Spring, wrote, “I couldn’t agree more about the difficulty of locating useful contact information” on the site. “Only yesterday I sought in vain for over twenty minutes for the name of a specific person I could vent to about the increasing number of grammatical errors in the Metro section.”

If you have a suggestion for how to improve contact information on The Post’s Web site, feel free to offer it as a comment to this blog item. I’ll bundle suggestions and make certain the appropriate Web site managers see them.

Other news Web sites provide contact information that is easier to locate and more extensive. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, provides a “customer care” link at the top of the site and it takes you quickly to key newsroom contact information. Both the editor and the publisher list not only their e-mail addresses, but also their direct dial telephone numbers.

Some newspaper Web sites, like the one for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., include the reporter’s e-mail address and direct dial phone number beneath the byline.

Online stories for in Raleigh include e-mail addresses not only for the reporter, but also for the photographer, producer and Web editor.

“Imagine if newspaper stories printed the editor’s name and/or copy editor’s name along with the story online (or in print),” said Julie Moos, an online expert with the Poynter Institute on media studies in Florida. “How much more accountable would everyone feel and how much more contact might they have with readers who have tips or questions or concerns related to the coverage.”

Over the past two days, several readers have complained to me that even when they e-mail Post journalists, they often don’t get a response. A federal worker, David, wrote: “Almost as frustrating is the failure of Post editors to acknowledge receipt of any reader comment. I appreciate that they may be inundated at times, but a brief acknowledgement would be courteous.”

That sentiment was echoed by Marty, another Post reader, who complained by e-mail that The Post has “a culture where most of your staff think readers either don’t exist or are jerks not worth bothering about. Only exceptions I’ve found are now-retired sports editor George Solomon (who always responded), business columnist Steve Pearlstein (usually) and various ombudsmen (sometimes).”

There were complaints about problems beyond the Web site. Several readers reported difficulties trying to contact journalists by phone. Two said they tried to reach the newsroom by calling The Post’s main number, 202-334-6000. They said that after wading through the options in a recording, they eventually got to an operator who sent them to the wrong news desks.

The recorded options on the main number list news departments like Sports, Foreign or National. Missing is “Metro,” the largest news department and arguably the one most important to local readers.

Until about three years ago, The Post had an operator stationed adjacent to its fifth floor newsroom. If reporters were away from their desks, unanswered calls rolled over to the operator and she took messages, which were promptly delivered to staffers when they returned.

Aside from the newsroom, a number of readers have complained that The Post’s customer service operations for delivery and billing issues have been outsourced to a call center in the Philippines. The center is run by a U.S. firm, APAC Customer Services, Inc.

Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for The Post, told me in an e-mail that the call center operations were shifted to APAC in 2004, and that in 2008, “at APAC’s recommendation, we transitioned to the Philippines with APAC where they had already established a Publishing Customer Center knowledgeably serving many newspapers.

“Initially, our reasoning for moving to APAC was because call center Customer Service was their core competency and we wanted to take advantage of their skill set and technology," she said. “We answer 80 percent of our calls within 20 seconds.”

By Andy Alexander  | November 30, 2009; 5:27 PM ET
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Mr. Alexander it was not ironic that the links were broken, but incompetence. Everything that appears in the paper from content to typography is an element of editing and the Post's increasingly is sloppy and sometimes, as in the case of your links, ignorant.

As for the call center's response times, it is not how quickly you answer a call, but what you say and do once you have picked up the call and are engaged with a customer.

Posted by: krush01 | December 1, 2009 4:45 AM | Report abuse

This is the second time I have found a misuse of 'whom.' Why not just drop it. But:
It is 'who ... lavished her with gifts,' not

Dixon's attorneys blamed the case on developer Ronald Lipscomb, (...) whom they said lavished her with gifts, ....

Posted by: vxmetro | December 1, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

After you're contacted who is really listening? You print what you want. You slant the truth. That's why everyone goes to other newspapers to get the real answers. Case and point: Fenty and Rhee

Posted by: candycane1 | December 2, 2009 6:03 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander,
A first class organization does not have to ask how establish excellent contact with their customers and other stakeholders. They work hard at it and benefit on a daily basis from the feedback. There are many examples for the Post to follow and the technology is far from new. The Post has to first be interested in this type of relationship.

Posted by: BobSanderson | December 2, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I had a problem with not being able to post comments to the editorial cartoons on the day that they were published but a day or so before. But the person who contacted me was very nice but had no idea what I was talking about. I gave up. Is it that difficult to check?

Just go to the editorial cartoons and look at the comments. Many time the comments for Monday are under Friday's cartoon.

Is that a problem or not?

Posted by: gary4books | December 7, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

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