Writers need to make themselves accessible to readers
A question headline. I once worked for someone who never said anything smart, except once. He said, “If the headline is a question, the story won’t answer the question.”
We’ve talked around here about access in the sense of you as a journalist having access to the teams and events you’re covering. This is the other side of the coin, your readers, viewers, listeners or users having access to you.
Tenore writes about media. She writes that she was driven to study access by her own frustration with finding contact info for the people she writes about. She and a colleague looked at how about 35 U.S. and a few U.K. news sites present contact info, and she found a spectrum, with a lot of the bigger sites offering very little:
Jim Brady, Journal Register Company’s editor-in-chief and a sometimes Poynter consultant, told me via email that news sites that make it difficult to contact staffers “are probably doing it because they either haven’t thought of it or don’t want to subject their staffs to a lot of e-mail or calls, and that’s too bad. It shows the stubbornness of old thinking. The reporters that are being ‘protected’ in that scenario are being poorly served by their bosses.”
Social media is at the heart of Bleacher Report. Any Bleacher Report writer can be contacted through his or her Sportswriter Profile via an internal messaging system or by posting a message on the writer’s “bulletin board.” Writers also can, and should, present their email address, Twitter handle or other contact information in their bios.
My career is long enough that I can remember being a writer it was virtually impossible for the public to find. So I never heard from my readers, aside from the odd letter that would show up in the mail, maybe once or twice a year.
Now readers can comment on a piece, send the writer an email, interact on Twitter. Writers who make themselves accessible to their audience get to know and understand that audience. They also get crowd-sourced editing. If you’ve got more than a handful of readers, you’ll hear about your mistakes, or what you failed to consider in your analysis. You’ll also hear about it if you’re doing a good job.
If you’re reporting, you’ll be a lot closer to sources and potential sources. If you’re a civilian with a news tip, are you going to give it to the reporter whose email address is easy to find or the one whose contact info you have to dig for?
The Internet is a conversation, and because of the power of the Internet, other forms of communication are increasingly becoming conversations as well. As Tenore writes in her conclusion, “Gone are the days when we could close ourselves off to our audience, or pretend not to hear them.”
If a conversation isn’t satisfying, people will seek different ones. And one-way conversations aren’t satisfying.
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Photo: Occupy Wall Street protest at Washington Square Park, New York, 10/8/11, by Darwin Yamamoto / Flickr Creative Commons