By John Carney
Am I the only small-town newspaper person swamped with useless e-mail? I imagine I’m not.
The Shelbyville Times-Gazette is a daily (Sunday-Friday) newspaper serving a rural community in southern Middle Tennessee. We’re pretty locally-oriented, and most of what we run that isn’t directly connected to Bedford County comes either from AP or our very limited array of syndication packages. But each day, I get hundreds of e-mail press releases, from all over the country. In some cases, the release is clearly not relevant to anyone more than 50 or 100 miles away from the point of origin. But, hey, it doesn’t cost any more to send it to every single dad-gum newspaper in the country. So, why not?
While I was preparing this essay — I kid you not — I got a routine press release from an Oregon state legislator. Why?
When we first started our web site, many years ago, our trade-out deal with a local dial-up ISP gave us only five or six e-mail addresses, and we set up news (at) t-g.com for the newsroom. In the intervening years, that has been put on countless mailing lists as our official e-mail address for receiving press releases. Later, after we were bought by a chain, we all got individual e-mail addresses. But the news address was so widely used that I had to continue to monitor it. Now, it just forwards directly into my personal e-mail account. So I have the legacy of receiving all of those e-mails.
From time to time, PR firms looking to update their address listings will call me. If they can’t tell me exactly whom they represent, I have stopped giving them an e-mail address. But that’s like spitting into the wind. Our old e-mail address is still out there, drifting from place to place, and even though I try to discourage others at the newspaper from giving it out it sometimes still gets entered into questionnaires and directory listings as our generic newsroom e-mail address. It’s also on our masthead, right above the list of news staffers.
This week, we got new newsroom computers, and as I’ve tried to set up my e-mail in the new system I have tried to be a little more pro-active about dealing with some of the e-mail. I scan to the bottom of press releases to see if there’s an “unsubscribe” link. But again, it’s too little, too late, and I have no real hope of holding back the tide.
The trouble is that there are still a few local people using the bad old address, and I’m afraid that if I ignore it entirely I will miss something legitimate, something local, something that actually relates to our newspaper.
Some of the submissions are from businesses or organizations. Others, of course, are letters to the editor, from people who apparently feel that their opinion is so valuable that it must be published, not just in the letters column of their local paper, but in the letters column of every newspaper in America.
In the past week or two, an individual with an AOL e-mail account has started sending me such little opinion pieces. I’ve e-mailed him/her twice asking him/her to stop. Today, I got a message back telling me, in effect, that the fact that the T-G is a media organization makes us fair game for such mass e-mails. He said that he does not have the technical capability to handle individual unsubscribe requests, and that I should just ignore future e-mails if I don’t want to receive them. That made me angry, and I fired off a note to the abuse department at AOL explaining the situation. I don’t know if they’ll act on it or not.
If you want to send regular e-mails to every newspaper in America with your message of vital importance, you need to at least spend the money on a decent mailing list service or software, one which knows how to handle unsubscribe requests.
John I. Carney is city editor of the Shelbyville (Tenn.) , where he has been employed since 1985, and works with its web site. He’s also has a personal blog at lakeneuron.com and is the author of a self-published novel, “Soapstone,” inspired by his foreign mission trips.
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