Calling back and responding to messages isn't what we do best
- Readers complain about reporters and editors who don’t respond or take too long to do so.
- A 2003 study by Boston Globe public editor Christine Chinlund revealed that their reporters reply to 90-100 percent of their emails.
- Nation readers are justified in feeling ignored and unwanted when their queries are not responded to.
The most annoying thing, readers say, is a journalist who doesn’t respond to queries. They say such unresponsiveness is discourteous and ill-mannered.
However, not all journalists are unresponsive. I’ve dealt with many instances where journalists are responsive to a fault.
Recent examples include when Stanley Kimuge wrote an article about simple technologies that many farmers found it very useful (“Nine technologies for discerning farmers” — Seeds of Gold, Saturday Nation, March 16).
A Catholic priest-cum-farmer in Murang’a called to ask whether I could give him Mr Kimuge’s telephone number. I thought he should have contacted him directly as his email was given in the article. But aware of the problems readers commonly face in getting responses from journalists, I emailed Mr Kimuge the farmer’s telephone number and his request. Mr Kimuge called him right away.
In contrast, a well-informed reader called to say a story published by the Sunday Nation about a failing church-owned business was misleading. I emailed the journalist who wrote the story. He said he would contact him but didn’t.
There’re many other such incidents, which illustrate the different reactions readers may get when they communicate with reporters and editors. However, unresponsiveness is the most common.
Readers complain about reporters and editors who don’t respond or take too long to do so. It’s a major concern for them. In any given week, readers try to communicate with reporters and editors regarding issues including the published articles, readers’ contributions, editing of stories and related, or unrelated, matters.
There are many reasons why some reporters and editors fail, or take too long, to respond to communication by readers.
The most common is that they are too busy for it. They get a lot of calls and emails and find it difficult to keep up.
They often work to deadlines and get bogged down, so they ignore what they consider to be unnecessary or bothersome — such as why a reader’s letter to the editor was not published.
As most professionals do, many journalists don’t respond to what they think they don’t have to respond to, or if they don’t respond it will not harm their career or goals. This is the cold reality of business.
Others feel they’re not obligated to respond to a query, or it is undeserving the courtesy of a reply. Or they feel there will be no publicly known unpleasant or negative effects if they don’t respond. This is, however, a form of impunity.
How does the Nation compare globally in this newsroom culture of not responding to every query from readers?
A 2003 study by Boston Globe public editor Christine Chinlund revealed that their reporters reply to 90-100 percent of their emails. Many of the journalists said they reply to any email that doesn’t include name-calling or vulgarity. Messages with thoughtful criticism get top priority, she found out.
This is very good. I wish I could say the same about Nation reporters and editors. I’ve not carried out a survey but, going by the complaints I get, my guess is that the response rate is below Boston Globe reporters’.
Many news organisations, aware of the problem of unresponsiveness, have policy guidelines for responding to readers’ queries.
The general assumption is that all queries must be acknowledged or responded to. Where this is not possible due to the high volumes of queries expected — for example, regarding letters to the editor or other readers’ contributions — they provide for an automated reply or make it clear in a publicly available editorial charter what they will not respond to.
In the absence of such a charter, Nation readers are justified in feeling ignored and unwanted when their queries are not responded to.
And they’re justified because readers are the most important part of the journalism business.
Send your complaints to Call or text 0721989264