Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why Do Journalists Still Have Terrible E-Mail Etiquette?

Editor's Note: I apologize for the delays in our usual weekly coverage. Believe it or not, The Editorialiste has to file on deadline from time to time! Look for this week's Mitchel Stevens column tomorrow. -Ed.

One thing I've noticed in my escapades of freelancing in a major city is the rudeness and poor e-manners that many people have when using their e-mail. But what's surprised me most is that this affects a group of people that live and breathe the technology and love to write articles about the very topic: journalists.

That's right -- journalists often have few e-mail manners. And the irony astounds me.

Much of this I've seen firsthand. In response to cordial, introductory messages with proper beginnings and ends ("dear X" and "best, X") -- as well as brief but full sentences -- I often get truncated, tactless messages (without signature or signoff) in return that often never address the question or two that I originally asked.

Journalists are supposed to be easy to contact, right? So how come it's so hard to get a hold of one in a decent manner? While some journalists still prefer the telephone, it's evident that any working reporter or editor has a fairly constant connection to e-mail during the workday. So why don't they get back to you in a fairly timely manner? Or worse, why do they get back to you by writing that they don't have time to get back to you?
I do understand the "right here, right now" mindset of a journalist on a deadline. In fact, that's why I missed posting yesterday. And I'll admit that sometimes an e-mail does slip out of my memory's grasp during a flurry of activity. But I never, ever bother to reply with a "don't have time right now on deadline thanks" message. It's ridiculous -- if you had the time to read it and reply that way, why didn't you just answer my simple, original question?

Plus, aren't we all together on this? I'm a journalist e-mailing a journalist -- why should I get the same brushoff an IT person gets? (Sorry, IT guys.)

The generational thing also is of note. I usually don't get terribly formatted e-mails from young colleagues. It's really the older colleagues that adopted it mid-career that the (inadvertent?) rudeness comes from.

Remember the 90s? Many articles from back when e-mail hit the workplace claimed that the incoming young generation of white-collar workers had few digital manners. "They don't write in full sentences," "they use strange abbreviations," "they're presumptuous and rude," were some of the complaints.

But in practice, I've found that trend is exactly the opposite. And what surprises me is that journalists -- those e-mail-and-coffee-fueled workers -- follow this trend, too. Sure, a newsroom is a workplace, but for a bunch of people who survive on e-mail, the rudeness and sloppiness just surprises me. It becomes a role reversal -- suddenly, I feel like the old codger who is offended at the slapdash way I receive e-mail from older editors. I suddenly look like I'm crossing my I's and dotting my T's.

Is that it, then? E-mails don't get the same scrutiny that a journalist uses in all of his/her own writing? I don't expect drafts or anything, but your communication is incredibly impactful on how you appear to your colleagues and subordinate staff. And here me now, older journalists: it's not very good.

Am I making too big a deal of this? Or is it just because, as a freelancer, I am constantly flooded with e-mail?

And of course, there are always exceptions, and some of my older colleagues are great at e-mail and some of my younger, well, aren't. But it's 2007, people -- let's us journalists learn how to use e-mail appropriately. At this point, I think news organizations should require basic e-mail etiquette training for its staff.

What do you think? Leave your stories of poor (or great!) journalism e-mail etiquette in the comments below.


Worker Bee said...

I've found that a lot of editors write shorthand e-mails because they are so busy. It can be sloppy but a lot of time I take it to mean they are comfortable writing to me like a friend. Maybe that is me being naive but but I'd rather put a positive spin on it than dwell on why or why not someone addressed me by my first initial. Good point though.

Please check out my new blog, http://workerbeejobs.blogspot.com/

I just started it and as a recent college grad with a degree in magazine journalism you can imagine I'm working all kinds of odd jobs trying to foot the bill while I attempt to break into the magazine biz. Check it out and tell your readers.

John Lichman said...

i blame blackberries, but even then, i still use shorthand when i'm working or it's late.

it'll only get worse as our generation of txters (leik omg!11) grow into power roles.

soon, it'll be like reading digital chickenscratch.

The Editorialiste said...

@worker bee:

Thanks for the comment. You're right; sloppiness can come from a previously-established comfort level. My point really addresses first e-mails, though -- which is quite inappropriate!

Thanks for reading (and nice blog!),
The Editorialiste.