November 14, 2016

Starting today, you can get Thanksgiving advice through text messages from New York Times Food Editor Sam Sifton.

“It’s just one prong of our serving fork of Thanksgiving help projects,” Sifton said.

But it’s not exactly the Butterball help line.

Users will get between one and three text messages a day from Sifton to help them prepare for the holiday. He isn’t planning to tackle individual questions. Instead, the text experiment will anticipate users’ needs based on Sifton’s extensive Thanksgiving chops.

Related NewsU course: “The Many Flavors of Food Writing”

The texts will drive readers into the Times’ other Thanksgiving resource offerings, as well as offer timely reminders (defrost the turkey now if you don’t want to go out for Chinese food, for instance.)

“Our goal is to provide help and advice and guidance to make Thanksgiving not just bearable but awesome,” he said.

They’re already doing that through a newsletter, online and in print, and now want to experiment with it using a different method — text messaging.

Sifton knows the texts can’t feel too impersonal or promotional. Email’s full of junk. Voicemail’s full of robocalls. Snail mail’s full of advertising circulars.

“I think we’re at a point right now where your phone’s inbox, your text inbox, is one of the last really intimate places,” he said.

He wants to take the conversational voice of the Times’ Cooking newsletter into those texts, offering support and resources when people need them. If those texts aren’t sent too early, too late or too often, that tone will work for people, he said. And he’s planning to have a bit of fun.

“It’s for sure the best place to use emoji,” he said. “If you write for the Times, it’s hard to get emoji on there.”

If they’re doing it right, users will get the advice they need at just the moment they need it, Sifton said. That goes for cooking and for getting through the holidays after a polarizing election.

The day after the election, Sifton reminded subscribers that many families will have to face leftovers from Election Day around the table.

The conversations will continue and continue, and they are going to make Thanksgiving 2016 plenty complicated, just as it would be if the election results had been reversed. It’s time to plan for that as well. Good food at Thanksgiving is not just a balm, after all. It offers the chance for true fellowship and mutual understanding.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s about much more than simply what we cook and when, he said.

“It’s also how we gather, it’s how we treat one another when we do, and it’s about a shared experience of being an American, even as you are in the process of becoming an American,” he said. “I hope we can help be a guide to readers and users how to do that civilly.”

We share an understanding of what Thanksgiving represents in this country, Sifton said, and that’s true no matter how you voted or where you live.

“Now, maybe more than ever, that’s an important thing to point out.”

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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