How to make email relevant to your news organization

Here at the Fix, we’re big supporters of email as the primary way that journalists, policy makers and other interested stakeholders communicate. But we’ve said before that emails can be a tremendous burden on communication staffs. In most cases, “just send it” probably isn’t a viable solution; in general, emails can be more noisy, feel less personal and take far longer to send than even a snail mail letter.

In a really real world situation, those drawbacks would actually hurt the journalist or policy leader involved, rather than help them.

So no matter the circumstances, should journalists know how to deal with XEmail? Yes. But in most cases, journalists should take some basic steps to prepare:

Focus on what you want to say. If someone emails you to follow up on a story, make sure you’re actually interested in getting back to them. Look for quick and useful feedback: “How’s X going? How’s X changing?” Not necessarily “Why did you write X and why do you want to publish it?” Always remember this: You should be able to answer the email quickly enough to provide news content in any medium (including Facebook or Instagram). Request an exchange, and make sure you’re actually going to give the email full value. If you’re sending too many, you might risk annoying recipients; too few, and you might be stalling.

Be prepared to respond quickly if the reader cares to hear more information. Not all emails are created equal; many readers don’t want to hear a long answer to a short email; in some cases, they just want to get back to you quickly. If that’s the case, short answers are important (beating the other person to the punch, responding in a timely fashion and ensuring you’re standing by what you’ve said) as long as they aren’t overly mundane. If, on the other hand, you already know the answer you want to share, skip the response.

If you’re still frustrated, revisit your technique. If you haven’t learned to be as efficient with emails, consider trying a different approach.

— Drew Shiller is managing editor of The Washington Post’s Public Insight Network

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