No spike in reader e-mails
When The Post last year began putting reporter e-mail addresses at the bottom of stories in the newspaper, the newsroom braced for a flood of more comments from readers. To the surprise of many, it’s been only a trickle.
In an informal newsroom survey of two dozen reporters, most said they have experienced little or no increase. Only two have seen a rise that’s noticeable, but they said it’s hardly overwhelming.
Adding e-mail addresses to the end of stories was a good idea. Anything that increases the interaction between The Post and its audience helps build a bond that yields greater credibility and brand loyalty.
For years, online readers have been able to easily e-mail Post writers simply by clicking on the byline of a story appearing on the Web site. But months ago, when the newsroom was told that e-mail addresses would be added to the end of newspaper stories, some Post journalists privately cringed. Several told me they were barely able to respond to 15 or 20 reader e-mails a day, at a time when they had been stretched thin by staff reductions and increased demands to file to the Web. They feared that adding e-mail addresses to print stories would cause overload. Their fears were unfounded. Why?
Several speculated that print readers are simply less inclined to turn on their computer and type an e-mail address. It’s what Post National desk politics and government reporter Alec MacGillis calls a “convenience gap.” Online readers simply “click on our bylines to fire away,” he said. But “the reader at the breakfast table” typically needs to walk elsewhere to sit down at a computer. It’s less spontaneous and more of a chore for those who do not live online. And, of course, many print readers are older and have not fully embraced the Internet.
Many Post journalists surveyed said they have not seen an increase in e-mails for routine stories, but they have experienced a spike from print readers in response to stories that spark deep interest or an emotional reaction. And, of course, those stories also generate a sharp increase in e-mails coming from online readers who click on the byline and quickly shoot off a message. So a “hot” story can typically generate hundreds of e-mails to a reporter. But most agree that’s rare.
Several also said they have seen an increase in e-mailed press releases. Having reporters’ e-mail addresses at the bottom of stories apparently has been exploited by Washington’s large army of public relations specialists.
Readers often share with me the e-mailed responses they’ve received from Post staffers. In the vast majority of cases, the journalists are prompt and courteous. Still, rarely a week passes without a reader complaining to me that they received no response after e-mailing or calling a writer. That was the case recently with Jane. J. Tannenbaum of Annandale. She was upset about a column that appeared Jan. 12 and e-mailed a complaint the following day to the writer, top Post editors, the publisher and the ombudsman. Hearing nothing, she fired off another e-mail this past Monday.
“The [writer’s] e-mail addresses are given in each article, presumably so readers can contact them,” she wrote. “But what’s the point if (they) don’t respond? They’re not all reporting from war zones where they’re under fire.”
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