Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2002

Junk mail is never of local interest

January 24, 2002

Judging from my mail, I'm a popular guy. Actually, it's not me so much as my position.

As editor, I get enough mail everyday to defoliate vast tracts of the Amazon River rain forest. Our ever-able office manager Eric Gruber is good at screening this massive pile of paper whether it is in the form of a fax or a quaint old-fashioned letter. He makes sure I see the critical material letters to the editor, faxes informing me of upcoming local events or story ideas, etc. The rest of mail is finds its way into a tray that sits atop my file cabinet. About once a week or so, when the pile is so high it threatens to spill over onto a more useful pile, I take the time to review the tray's contents

A resent representative sampling had not one but three releases on a Lippizzaner Stallions show in Kemper Arena, a letter from a Topeka hospital offering a free skin screening during a farm show, a two-page press release hyping a self-help book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (voted the No. 1 non-fiction book of the 20th century), a fax taking a Missouri Republican congressman to task for his vote on the stimulus bill, a letter from the Kansas Wheat Commission on exports to Nigeria, a post card addressed to the paper's editor of two years ago and a release from the Kansas Attorney General's office warning of bogus credit card offers. Trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, hmmm.

As I go through reams of this stuff, it strikes me that somebody was paid to put the material together and mail it to, I have to assume, every other paper in the area in the slight chance some desperate editor will fill a hole with it. Sometimes I receive elaborate press kits filled with glossy photos and fancy graphics. They might have impressed a public relations firm's client, but they end up in the wastebasket while straightforward or even crudely reproduced notices of people or events of local interest are saved.

Some of my more persistent correspondents don't understand this local angle. Last week, I received a letter about an organization in Lawrence. I looked it over, found no immediate connection to either De Soto or Eudora, and consigned the letter to the trash. The letter writer followed up with an e-mail, which shared the fate of the hard-copy notice, albeit electronically. I then received a call from a woman asking if we were interested in doing a story on the topic. If we didn't have anyone to write a story, she had someone lined up who would gladly write it for us. I explained our focus was on local people and events and there simply weren't any in the story she was pitching. She agreed but seemed surprised we'd limit ourselves in such a way.

Perhaps because of the convenience, e-mailers are even more optimistically persistent. Nearly everyday, I get an e-mail from a man in Lawrence. He has a cause, multiple grievances and is completely humorless. I'm sure he has never picked up a copy of this paper. If he did, he would see his crusade isn't part of our coverage.

His self-aggrandizement puts me in mind of an electronic correspondent I had when I was a reporter on a daily newspapers. I don't know how he got my address or why he thought I would be helpful in reaching his ambitious goal. He was running for president. His first e-mail explained when and how he decided on this career move. It came to him in the form of a religious experience soon after he embarked on a cross-country hitchhiking journey. To me, it sounded eerily like a nervous breakdown.

After that first message, he started e-mailing long position papers on various issues. Once, he appealed for someone to serve as his campaign manager. The end came the evening of a primary election, when newsrooms always develop something of a party mood. To showoff to my fellows, it sent the guy an e-mail reading, "I don't know why you insist on sending me these desperate cries for help, but you should know I forward them straight to the trash." I never heard from him again.

All that said, I do like letters. I would like a great more of our readers to fill this page with their opinions.

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