May 25, 2018

Unless you’re a media reporter, you probably don’t have to dig regularly into newsroom websites, searching for some way to contact people who work there. 

But from an industry that depends on transparency, it’s frustratingly… frustrating.

For Joy Mayer, the frustration has levels.

First, she needs to contact a specific newsroom but isn’t sure of the right person. She knows the right title. But there’s no staff list.

Then, she knows who she wants to contact, but can’t find any information for that person.

“Even more frustrating than that is when I just can’t contact anyone in the newsroom,” she said, and she has to fill out the dreaded contact form.

Mayer is project manager of Trusting News and adjunct faculty at Poynter. But I didn’t contact her because I’m worried about how she or I can reach journalists. (Twitter is often, but not always, the answer.)

“Readers are who I’m worried about,” she said. “Imagine if someone actually had feedback or an idea or something you want.”

It’s very basic customer service, she said. But it’s also something most journalists don’t go to work thinking about. When Mayer works with newsrooms on building trust, however, accessibility is one focus.

Some newsrooms are hampered by a corporate CMS that doesn’t have a staff page, but can you build a simple contact page? And can you make it super easy to find, such as at the top or bottom of the homepage under the word “contact”? (Poynter’s, for what it’s worth, takes three clicks: Homepage > About Us > Our Team.)

“Do you want to hear from people?” Mayer said. "It’s this very basic question.”

If you have no control over your site or CMS, make sure your email address is in your Twitter bio, and include it in the stories you write, Mayer said, even if there’s no field for it. Literally just write it out at the bottom of the story.

Also, let your community know you want to hear from them, and not just about “stories” Mayer said, because most people don’t think about their lives or experiences as stories. Ask for ideas, feedback and their thoughts on topics that need attention. Create an image you can share and reshare with how to get in touch, Mayer said, and post it weekly on your social channels.

“I feel like newsrooms think they’re inviting interactions and think they’re accessible," she said, "but we don’t say that very often.”

In an earlier version of this story, we asked for recommendations of newsrooms that do this well. So far, I heard about the News and Observer, the Oregonian, Minnesota Public Radio, the Philadelphia Media Network, New England Newspapers (which include the Bennington Banner, The Brattleboro Reformer, The Manchester Journal and The Berkshire Eagle.) Also on the list: The Boston Globe and Sarasota's Herald-Tribune. Thanks for sharing. If you have more, share with me via email, Twitter or in the comments, and I’ll add. Here's a look at Philly's. It took one click. 


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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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