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How News Organizations Can Cut Down On The Email Overload

If your newsroom is anything like mine or others that I’ve seen — you get emails, and lots of them. When I first started working at a newspaper, I opened my email account to find a few thousand waiting for me. Since then, it’s been a constant stream, and it’s no wonder; there’s lots of communication that needs to happen to put a paper out every day and a website out every second.

Email is easy — everyone can access it and hopefully by now everyone knows how to use it, but from an efficiency standpoint, email is a drag. There are better tools out there that can help take you document and communicate better.

Yammer

When I was working at a startup where each of our team members was in different locations, we used Yammer to keep in touch, share links and seek quick feedback on items. Yammer is like an internal Twitter that has both a desktop application and a browser-based interface. With the ability to tag people in your posts, all communication is public for those who want to chime in, but you can also direct a message at specific people to be sure they see it. Yammer was a way for us to see each other’s personalities and develop inside jokes. Even though most newspapers aren’t spread out across different cities like many startups, they might as well be.

Yammer benefits:

  • You can quickly share links and quick updates in a stream of posts, so you’re not cluttering up an unread count in an inbox
  • You can share with usergroups and tag users, so you still avoid spamming everyone
  • People who wouldn’t usually talk/email each other in the newsroom can see others’ updates, creating a greater sense of camaraderie

Automattic’s P2 theme

When Automattic started using P2 in 2009, CEO Matt Mullenweg said the number of posts written increased dramatically. That’s because unlike other blog themes, P2 has a front-facing text input field that welcomes quick posts on the fly. Rather than feeling like you have to sit down to compose a full-length manifesto every time you get to the blog composition screen, P2 feels more micro-blog like, with less pressure.

P2 benefits:

  • Your communications are all tagged. If you want to go back and filter down to all your posts tagged “Good ideas,” you can. Of course, you could do this using folders in email, but who wants to deal with that?
  • Your communications are archived. Often, email systems like Microsoft Exchange Server automatically deletes emails after two months (something I wasn’t aware of and learned the hard way), which can cause headaches when it’s time to look back on how a decision via email was reached.
  • Threaded responses. Unless your newsroom is using Google Apps (I doubt it), threading of email threads isn’t happening and conversations are disjointed.

Basecamp or Pivotal tracker

Many of the emails that go back and forth in newsrooms are sets of tasks to be accomplished. Email is good for one-off, mass communications with individuals who otherwise cannot be reached on a singular other platform. But email is not a project management tool. Basecamp allows you to set tasks and to-do items.

Benefits of project management tools:

  • Tasks don’t get lost
  • There’s actual follow-up for whether a task was completed
  • Conversation about particular projects can happen in context of tasks at hand.
  • You can cut out the step of copying/pasting from email to a singular document where you’re probably storing a singular list of to-dos.
  • Cut back on the overlapping back-and-forth about how tasks should be approached

Instant messaging

Yes, I know that this is an innovation of the ’90s. But you’d be surprised how many newsrooms don’t have a singular instant messaging system for all users to log on, add each other and chat. Many of my personal email communications are something like this: “Hey, can you come help me with something?” “Sure, where are you?” “In the producer hub.” “Ok, be there in a second.” Email isn’t the right medium for this kind of quick conversation. If everyone can be on AIM or Google Talk or other platforms, the inbox can be free of empty, quick messages.

 

Of course, there is a downside to forcing an entire newsroom to manage different tools, remember different URLs and different logins. And being able to adapt these various tools at an organization-wide level is daunting. Ideally, there would be one tool that does all of this. If you work at a really big organization, you could try rolling out tools one-by-one or to only certain teams/departments at a time.

How many emails do you get a day? And what tools or workflows would you recommend for reducing the influx?
What are your favorite communication tools?

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