Correspondence with a journalist

We have only been given today and this present moment in time to make a difference in our world. Loosen your grip on a history you cannot change and open your hand to the opportunities that await you

Freedom of expression is consistently addressed for readers of Daily Times. I stand firmly in liberty’s corner and remain a staunch advocate of freedom of the press with minimal interference (and/or manipulation) by the government and its agencies. I strongly encourage vibrancy, originality and creativity in the comments section. I am especially sensitive to the plainly spoken word offered with humility. My smile beckons when reading the ludicrous. It is hard for me to be offended for what I love and defend. I can be mocked. It does not touch me. Insults can fly. They do not harm me. Compliments extended? I take them in stride. Journalists tend to be like peacocks. 
It occurs to me that I have not written about a very important flanking issue. Writing in the comments section of a newspaper is one thing. Let the fangs be bared and the fur fly. But writing a personal note intended for the eyes of a journalist alone requires a different skill set. So be contemplative as I share a few observations regarding the dynamic between the professional journalist and a reader. Better yet, let me format today’s piece as guidelines. I want you to grow in your ability to communicate freely and effectively. I want you to write me but it is equally important that the time be productively spent for both parties. My life is multi-faceted. Journalism is just a small part of my greater journey. The same applies to you.
Address the journalist by their pen name. If the journalist also holds a title, extend to them the honour conferred by their degree. Introduce yourself to the journalist and state the purpose of your correspondence. Here is a fine example that awaited me today. Let me share some of the pertinent text.
Dear Tammy,
I have read your article about hajj 2014 and the ebola outbreak. I am very worried about this virus as it is very contagious and deadly. I planned to go hajj this year with my husband and my son. In your opinion, is it safe to go to hajj and what protective measures can we take to prevent this virus? Thanks for your time. Thank you.
The correspondent addressed me, directed my attention to the article of interest and then posed a question that stated the purpose of the correspondence. This business-style letter allowed me to streamline my response and focus on a reader’s concern. Now before you end up miffed with the next guideline, look in the mirror and say, “Tammy is not talking about me!”
If you care to discuss geopolitical Islam, the Great Satan, Muslims versus Christians, Sunni versus Shia, etc, please narrow your timeline to weeks and months and not centuries. If I hear from any of you even one more time about Indians receiving smallpox blankets from the US I will write a great column about my great, great grandfather. He was the last white man scalped by an Indian chief in the territory where he lived with his family. This is a true story. What I am trying to convey boils down to one thing. None of us can change history. We can only acknowledge it. We have only been given today and this present moment in time to make a difference in our world. Loosen your grip on a history you cannot change and open your hand to the opportunities that await you. Do not flail against men who breathed their last centuries ago. It is an exercise in futility. The world needs less ideologues and more visionaries. Let that vision begin with your own gracious freedom of expression.
If you do not understand what the journalist has written or you desire a fact check on what is presented, ask for it. Invariably, we can provide available links to articles that let you know how we formulated our opinion. Critical pieces of information are sent to the editor in advance of publication. Opinion pages do not traditionally share links. The challenge for each of us at Daily Times is to condense and compress information into a 1,000-word column. Thoughts are not always fully fleshed out. We give you the skeleton. We anticipate that if you are interested in what is written your own curiosity will build on what we have presented. Good journalism is like a stream. The thoughts keep flowing long after they are in print. Ideology? It is a fortress on a cliff.
When you send an e-mail and the journalist responds, they have invited you into their living room. You are now the guest of the journalist. An e-mail hospitality code exists between host and guest. Do not forward the e-mail to your contact list that forwards it to their contact list, etc. I have felt this nightmarish tendency first hand.
Refrain from carpet-bombing a journalist with multiple forwarded links to articles. We do not let others dictate what we read. And if you send 10 links a day, 10 links a day will be deleted without opening them. So to recap a bit: Address the journalist by name. Introduce yourself. State the purpose of your correspondence. Stay on track with current solutions for current problems. Feel free to ask for clarification and/or resources regarding the topic at hand. Be discreet regarding the redistribution of the e-mails of others. Do not try to function as an independent news desk for a journalist.
Let me mention just one more thing. Do not take it personally if you do not receive a response to a query. As a professional journalist, it is rare that I even get a response from another journalist in a different market or media organisation. My assumption is that my mail was unceremoniously dumped into their spam folder or they do not have the time to respond due to the volume of mail. Keep reading for sheer enjoyment. Communicate in the comments section or our e-mail with liberality!


The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at tammyswofford@yahoo.com

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