Emails in proper form help us to better report news

June 30, 2012|Linda Duffield

Around here, we get a lot of emails.

Sometimes, they pop up in such rapid-fire fashion that you begin to despair of ever getting through them all.

I don’t know if we get a lot more of the electronic messages than people working in other businesses, but I suspect we don’t. I’ve heard it suggested that emails are so prolific that managing them can be an art form.

Business emails can be an asset, opening an avenue for improved communication and giving people a way to connect that when properly used can be more efficient than the telephone. But some of the advantages of email communication are accompanied by corresponding disadvantages, at least in the newsroom.

They come in handy when people send us news or calendar items, and they can help us connect with sources for stories.

We’ve even exchanged emails with members of the military in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, enabling us to “talk” to people we wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise and therefore to write stories that we wouldn’t have been able to write.

On the other hand, routinely conducting interviews by email, especially with public officials, eliminates the give and take of a verbal conversation, even a telephone interview.

That’s a problem because good reporters know how to ask follow-up questions as an interview progresses. A face-to-face interview can help give a story texture and perspective, improve the clarity of what the person being interviewed wants to get across and help make sure a story has complete information.

Trying to do the same thing by email not only can be cumbersome, but doesn’t allow for tone of voice, facial expressions or other subtleties that are not always, but sometimes can be, important. It also doesn’t make it easy to ask natural follow-up questions.

On the upside, press releases provide welcome details about upcoming events, meetings, etc., that we would like to cover and/or pass along the information to the public.

On the downside, we get a lot of press releases from PR folks working for entities from all across the country, touting events, products and the like. I can’t believe they don’t know we’re never going to cover, for instance, a movie premiere in Hollywood.  

As for spam, there simply is no upside.

Spam comes in all manner of disguises that require the recipient to open and then deal with them in a manner that usually involves the delete key. We’re aware of spam filters, but don’t dare set the bar too high lest we miss something we really want, or need, to see.

Sometimes, the most difficult aspect of dealing with hundreds of emails a day is separating and keeping track of those that require responses; those that need to be filed away for future action; those that must be forwarded, with or without notes; and those that do not require action.

Much of the time, things go off without a hitch. But not always.

Sometimes, an email that does require a response doesn’t get one. There are a lot of reasons that might happen. It isn’t intentional, or at least it shouldn’t be.

We take responding to our readers seriously. That’s why we have a newsroom policy of answering the phone within three rings, not putting our phones on voicemail when we’re here, and responding to emails that require it.

You can help by putting information in the subject line that makes your email easy to find and recognize. That might not be a guarantee, but it will help. An email with “fundraiser for (and name the specific cause)” in the subject line is more helpful than the unilluminating “news tip” or “breaking news” or “press release.” Choose wording that is specific and sets your email apart from all those others.

If you’re worried that your email might not have gotten through, give us a call to make sure. Sometimes, they don’t get here because of address problems or the spam filter. We’ll be glad to check.

A follow-up phone call might also help to guarantee that your email is read. Due to the high volume we receive, they are scanned quickly for relevance to The Herald-Mail readership. If that relevance is buried or not apparent, the email might be deleted.

And of course, if an email for us bounces back to you, give the intended recipient a call. We usually can troubleshoot the problem — which can range from an incorrect address to a photo that’s too big.

But if you’re inviting us to a movie first-nighter in Hollywood, don’t hit send.

Linda Duffield is city editor of The Herald-Mail. You can reach her at

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