Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Daniel Okrent, the public editor (ombud) of the New York Times, has started a blog of sorts to answer extra reader questions and to expound on his columns. He just started Monday, so there's not much there. But one bit I already find fascinating.

Those of you who read Romenesko's letters page will remember the hubbub started when New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom complained about readers' e-mail. She said:
Why do readers have an automatic right to our e-mail addresses? For decades, they managed to find us by phone or through the mail. Why are those methods no longer sufficient?
Of course, she didn't include her e-mail address.

Every letter I read in response lambasted Strom -- for trying to write in a vacuum, for forgetting that she's writing for people and that they should be able to reach her, for turning a blind eye to all those tips that could be coming her way, etc.

Well, Okrent has a few words to say, too. He asked AME Allan Siegal to reply and received this:
"We periodically remind people that our policy is to answer all our mail, whether tersely or in detail, so long as the mail is coherent and not obscene.

"But there are wide -- and legitimate -- variations in people's ability to manage the workload generated by e-mail, and to get their jobs done while picking through large amounts of e-mail. (Unlike some smaller organizations, we have to recognize that our stories are being read nationwide and, via the web, worldwide. That fact accounts for some of the torrent we receive.)

"If you look at the letters filed AFTER Strom's, you'll see that a few reporters, notably David Cay Johnston, have a very expansive view of their responsibility to correspond. In an organization like this one, in which many people work long hours, it would be unreasonable to insist that everyone field e-mail. But we do insist that they be reachable, and in one form or another, either respond or arrange for someone to respond."
Okrent adds:
Speaking only for myself and not for The Times, I would prefer that all reporters and editors published their e-mail addresses. However, if some would rather communicate by telephone, that seems entirely fair -- but in that case they ought to make their phone numbers widely available. Judging from my own experience, it might make them flee to e-mail in a heartbeat.
If you ask me, it's silly. Reporters should answer their e-mail. Just as they would answer a handwritten letter. Just as they answer their telephones. (That's easy for me to say as a near-anonymous copy editor, but, really, it's good business practice. Pay attention to your customers.)

And Tom Mangan should be happy to note that the Times is hosting this blog, not Blogspot. (I know, it is classier. But it's not free.)


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