In journalism on October 27, 2016 at 2:09 pm
Half Moon Bay Review staff writer Kaitlyn Bartley pointed me to something she termed “a sobering read.” And boy is it ever.
The post unfurls the story of a $6 million libel judgment against the Raleigh News and Observer. The judgment — including six figures for punitive damages — hinged on the internal communications between N&O staffers prior to publication of a damning peek into the State Bureau of Investigations. I’m talking about emails. The court read emails between newspaper colleagues, and that led the jury to decide the newspaper acted with malice.
I’ve said it before, and here as well, and I’ll say it again: The emails we send to one another can be subpoenaed and that could be an embarrassing thing. Every snarky email you send can be used against you and could even threaten the viability of your news organization.
In the case at hand, emails that I am pretty sure were innocuous newsroom communications looked damning in black and white. From the CJR report:
Assistant features editor Brooke Cain, who was a news researcher in 2010, was asked about her emails with reporter Mandy Locke in preparation for the story about SBI agent Beth Desmond. In a June 2010 email asking Cain to make a public records search, Locke wrote that she had narrowed her focus to a few SBI agents and firearms analysts “that we’re bearing down on.” Also in June, Locke had learned that Desmond had once been a ballet dancer with the Juilliard Dance Ensemble. “Bingo!” Locke wrote to Cain. The researcher responded: “Sounds like an excellent main character for a crime novel.” Locke wrote: “How in the world this woman went from ballet to firearms identification work is beyond me.” …
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In Communication on August 11, 2016 at 1:18 pm
Virtually every day someone writes to me in a way that makes me want to punch a pillow. You misspelled my name. Don’t print my arrest or you will hear from my lawyer. Why do you always cover X High School?
I get it. Sometimes you want to blow off a little steam in the general direction of your kind readers. Plus, we’re good with words. This is what we do. So, you wanna do email battle with me, do you?
Stop. Don’t send that email. Get out of your chair. Remove yourself from the vicinity of your keyboard. You will be glad you did.
Email isn’t like Snapchat. Your words won’t disappear after a while. They will remain in searchable form in your enemy’s inbox forevermore. Nine times out of 10, that isn’t so terrible. But know that your written clap back is likely more eviscerating than you know. There is something about written communication that conveys more punch than we often intend and sometimes we’re the ones who are knocked out when we find out just how much they hurt our email sparring partner.
Remember: When you send that snarky email giving someone what for, that person is likely to send it to someone else. It could be sent to a group of friends or copied to Facebook or, perhaps, sent to your boss. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on July 14, 2016 at 4:34 pm
Amy Coveno, courtesy WMUR. And I’m sure she is a wonderful person because she is another Colorado State University grad.
Back in May, two Manchester, New Hampshire, police officers were shot by a man on some kind of a rampage. The two police officers were injured, but but one was able attend the arraignment for the suspect, Ian MacPherson, several days later.
In the wake of the shooting, Manchester Police spokesman Brian O’Keefe issued the following request to media outlets via email:
Ofc. Hardy will be home, but PLEASE respect his privacy and do not attempt to interview him or his family. He and Officer O’Connor made it clear that they would like space and do not want any media To knock on their door and ask about the shooting.
Again, they will not speak to the media, so please respect their wishes. This is an ordeal for all involved and they wish to be with family and remain private.
If they have a change of heart, maybe we can work on something with them and all media outlets and host a presser. In the meantime, thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Well, that is a reasonable request presented reasonably. Personally, I would be apt to respect it. I would hope to have a relationship with the local PIO that guarantees I wouldn’t be scooped and would perhaps be a part of that group presser. That said, police shootings are big news and I think reporters can be forgiven for knocking on the door and seeing what happens. I could see myself waiting a couple days and ringing the doorbell. Let the officer say for himself if he didn’t wish to speak. He doesn’t have to open the door. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Communication on October 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm
Say you just spent most of two days writing a story on, oh, I don’t know, the local high school volleyball team. You took time to talk to the coach, the athletic director and a couple of the players. You added some background on the history of the team and, because you did your homework, perhaps you mentioned that one of the players is being recruited by elite college programs. Maybe you played the game yourself back in the day and as a result you know a thing or two about the volleyball.
The next day the paper comes out. Your editor goofed up the headline and somehow you got the terms “kills” and “digs” mixed up. It makes you so crazy you could just pull out your hair.
Now, let’s say you open your email, and you see something like the image above.
It happens. Sometimes we screw up, and sometimes our readers are, let’s say less-than appreciative of our services. Sometimes that’s true even if we get all the details right. One thing I know: You can count on getting emails, phone calls and letters of complaint that are both fair and completely unfair. It’s a part of the job we share.
You can’t control that. But you can control your response to the vitriol.
I mention all this because if you let your temper get the best of you, your egregious response to a complaint can get you fired. You are a representative of the company at all times, and that is perhaps especially true when you hit send on an email that carries your news organization’s name. Your ability to keep cool, even in the face of unfair criticism, is critical to your ability to do the job. There is simply no excuse for lashing out at those with complaints.
So what do you do with an email like that? … Read the rest of this entry »
In Communication on February 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm
Ah, the emoticon. That smiling sucker didn’t even exist 20 years ago. Now he’s everywhere, sort of like salmonella and STDs. Of course, I myself spread him around all the time, coupling the unblinking eyes of a colon with the gentle grin of the parenthesis. (Parenthetically, I might also add that I use the frown-y face as well.)
Why would a grown man put a smiley face on his written correspondence? Because email is tone deaf, that’s why.
I recently read a fascinating chapter on email in the book, “Quick and Nimble,” by New York Times columnist Adam Bryant. The book is a collection of leadership tips offered by dozens of chief executives from some of the world’s top companies. It turns out many of them hate email. The executives complain about “reply all” dragging everyone into arcane discussions. They say “cc” has a way of splitting recipients along team lines. And there is wide agreement that it is difficult to convey the proper tone over email.
Hence my smiley face. Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m saying. I mean this in the best possible way, my smiley face suggests.
Look, stop laughing at me. I agree it is a silly and not terribly effective substitute for actual conversation. Email is great for a memo you want to get on record or a short communiqué. But it is a terrible way to go back and forth with your reader. And as a vehicle for disagreement, forgetaboutit! It’s much quicker to call or better yet speak in person. In that way you can hear the tone and judge the reaction and manage your own response in a way that doesn’t raise the hackles of your audience and continue on ad nauseam. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on October 31, 2013 at 3:11 pm
Wick Communications CEO Tom Yunt has undoubtedly made countless observations since taking the reins last month. One of the things he has mentioned to me is the need to make it easier for readers to reach out to us.
There are a number of ways to accomplish that. You probably already have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Perhaps you need to work those networks harder. You can participate in the online commentary and forums that you host. You can hand out business cards while on assignment. You can hire a skywriter to write your telephone number in the clouds. That would be fun.
One of the easiest and most useful things you can do is to print your email address and/or telephone number with your stories. Some of us are already doing that; the rest of us should start doing so tomorrow. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on February 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm
I think this is a fascinating discussion. The editor of a college newspaper in Florida is all but forbidding her charges from conducting interviews with sources via email.
Let her explain, via the story on the Poynter site:
As a newspaper, is it our job to provide readers with the truth, directly from the source — not from the strategically coordinated voices of public relations staff or prescreened e-mail answers.
We don’t think these responses provide our readers with the unvarnished truth, and we will no longer include them in our articles at the expense of compromising the integrity of the information we provide. University departments do not have one, centralized voice, but rather are made up of a multitude of diverse perspectives.
My first reaction is to shout hallelujah from the rooftop. My second reaction is a bit more nuanced.
First of all, she is absolutely right. Email interviews aren’t really interviews at all. They are a writing exercise, often between the interviewer and a collection of unseen PR types who massage the message until it’s nice and round and palatable.
Often the request that questions be emailed comes from someone who feels he or she has been “burned” in the past. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes we screw up quotes. That is why the words you put in someone’s mouth are so sacrosanct. If word gets out that you can’t be trusted with quotes, requests for emailed questions are the least of your problems. Other times, it’s completely untrue. Sometimes your source said something off the top of her head that made her look like an ignoramus and now she wants to blame you and attempt to control the message going forward. … Read the rest of this entry »