Resolve to be accessible, stay relevant
Published Jan. 2023
Surviving in today’s fractured media landscape depends on your ability to identify, collect and deliver the relevant community news. That job becomes more challenging if readers become frustrated in their attempts to connect with reporters.
The normal channels of communication took a serious hit during COVID-19 as isolation was the norm for reporters and news sources alike. Though the worst of the pandemic is behind us, communication remains splintered in many circles.
I encourage newspapers to put at the top of their New Year’s resolutions: Make it easy for readers to connect with you.
I’m passionate in my belief that community newspapers can still compete in today’s communications dynamics – if they stick to and excel in the basics. That means owning the franchise for aggressive reporting of local news. That will occur only if readers have a direct pipeline to editors and reporters.
Yes, I understand the important and necessary role of social media both in collecting and reporting the news – in connecting with readers. Social media was integral when I led communications and media relations for a statewide business advocacy organization.
But nothing replaces direct, one-on-one conversation. It’s truly amazing the barriers that many newspapers place between themselves and their readers – their news sources.
I routinely surf a variety of websites, often looking for contact information. If I can’t track it down within five minutes, I likely give up. If I am successful, the frustration often continues with no phone numbers. Some companies may list a general number, and we’ve all been there. We punch numerous extensions, hoping to get a live voice with someone who can assist.
Why can’t we make it simpler? Here are a handful of tips from someone who has sat on both sides of the editor’s desk:
- Post your contact information or a link to the listing – prominently – on the home page of your website. Include phone numbers as well as email addresses.
- Provide the direct phone numbers and individual email addresses for staff, if available. Readers have no assurance that a general voice mail or email boxes are regularly monitored and messages forwarded to appropriate staff. List cell phones.
- Keep contact information current. If you have voice mail, change recordings daily so readers know whether you are on the job and whether you are monitoring messages. Ditto for email; use your “out of office” message when applicable.
- If you must use automated phone answering services during regular business hours, callers still should have an opportunity to connect to a “live voice.”
- Be responsive to customers. Be prompt in returning phone or email inquiries whether the message is sent directly to an individual or submitted through an online form.
Phone calls translate into a conversation, an instant exchange of ideas. You may well miss a chance for a great story if the telephone is your communication of last resort.
Listing cell phone numbers is essential as many companies have eliminated physical offices or greatly reduced hours. Remote offices have become the norm in today’s work environment.
I can hear the naysayers who resist being available 24/7. I recall the days before cell phones and social media when some editors and publishers had unlisted home phones. They didn’t want to be bothered “after hours,” especially by an upset customer.
I welcomed all calls – no matter the hour and no matter the reason. I welcomed the fact that our newspaper was on someone’s mind at all hours of the day.
Remember, while some may view the calls as an interruption in their personal schedules, I viewed them as an opportunity – to resolve a delivery issue, to accept an ad, to explore a potential news story. Those are the connections that keep you relevant to your communities.
Jim Pumarlo is former editor of the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle. He writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage,” “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers.” He can be reached at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.