Welcome to Find The Web Editor's Name And E-Mail Address Week.
Each day this week, I'll go to a news Web site with a sole mission: To find the full name and e-mail address of that site's Web editor. (Or new media director, online editor, webmaster or whatever the head honcho of the site is titled.)
Simple enough, right? I think we'll find some sites don't make it simple.
I'll write, in great detail, about my thought process as I browse. This approach is inspired by Steve Krug's excellent book "Don't Make Me Think" -- particularly this page of it. And I repeat the disclaimer Krug gives in the book: "Granted, much of this 'mental chatter' takes place in a fraction of a second, but you can see that it's a pretty noisy process." Also, it bears saying that the thought processes I record here will be authentic; in other words, I won't have made them particularly lengthy just to make a point.
At the end of the week, I'll analyze the week's worth of experiments (along with your comments) to see whether we can come up with some sort of best practice on where to put the web editor's name and e-mail address on a news site. Now, without further ado...
Our first stop is latimes.com, the site of the Los Angeles Times in California.
Starting at the home page, I scan the gray bar in the top right of the page from left to right, looking for the words "Contact us" or "About." Not found.
I scan the left rail from top to bottom, looking for "Contact us" or "About." Not found.
I scroll down to the bottom of the page to see whether it includes a "Contact us" or "About" link. No.
I return to the top of the page and look at the gray bar more closely, reading each option to myself slowly, one at a time. "Home?" No, that's not it. "Register?" No. "Home delivery?" No. "Site map?" Well, maybe, but I'll keep trying and come back to it if needed. "Archives?" No. "Print Edition?" Well, no, but what does that mean, anyway? "Advertise?" No. "Feedback?" Hmm, could be. "Help?" Surely the information I need is in there somewhere, but how does it compare to my other choices?
The choice is down to "site map," "feedback" or "help." I'll try "Feedback," because that sounds like an area where I might find staff names and e-mail addresses. I click "feedback."
On the feedback page, I immediately see the words "Contact department" above a drop-down menu. OK, I can contact a particular department; that's gotta be it. I click the drop-down menu and look for "Internet." Not there. I look for "Web." Ah ... "Website" is a choice. I select it and click "Go."
I get a "Website feedback" form. Doh. This is convenient for people who want to submit feedback to an unnamed staff member at the site, but it's not what I'm looking for. I click the Back button.
I examine the feedback page more closely. Ah, there's a "Times Staff" header, with a text box that lets me type in a staff member's name. I don't know the name of the editor, though -- that's what I'm trying to find out. Fortunately there's a link to the "Editorial Directory." I click it.
Now I'm on the Editorial staff page. OK, the info has got to be here; the page looks comprehensive. I can tell by my scrollbar that this is a long page, so I stop to examine the "Daily sections" and "Weekly sections" headers at the top of the page; maybe they can help me narrow down the information. I scan them for "Internet" or "Web." Not found. I slow down and look closely at each choice. None of them has anything to do with the Web staff! I try doing an in-page search for the word "internet." Only one occurrence was found: The name of the "Convergence/Internet Entertainment" reporter. I do another in-page search, this time for "web." Again, only one occurrence found: "Tracy Weber." Shoot. This is frustrating. I click the Back button.
Now I comb the "How to Contact the Los Angeles Times" page, looking for anything that will help me. Nothing. I click the Back button again.
Now I'm back at the home page. My eyes go back to that gray bar. What was it I clicked last time? "Feedback" or "Help"? I can't tell, because the site doesn't distinguish between visited and non-visited links in that piece of the page. I'm pretty sure I clicked "Feedback" last time, so this time I'll try "Help." I click "Help."
Now I'm on the Site Services page. Whoa, a bunch of questions and answers. I skim the main section headers -- "Accessing Content," "Content Delivery," "Help Using Features and Accounts" ... and "Contacting Us." Bingo. The "contact us" link under the first question is grayed out, which must mean I've visited that page before, so I skip that. "Subscription services"? No. Ah, there's an "Inside the Times section" where I can "learn more about [my] site and [my] newspaper." I'll try that page.
Now I'm on the Inside the Times page. I scan the list for the words "e-mail" or "contact." Not found. I look at the list slowly. Ah, "Editorial directory" sounds like it would help, but haven't I already been at the editorial directory? Maybe this is another editorial directory; the link color doesn't tell me that I've already been at that page. I click it. Shoot; that's the page I already looked at. I click the Back button.
Once again on the Inside the Times page, I try the "Executives" link, which sends me to a list of the executives and doesn't not include any Web folks. I click the Back button and try the "Masthead" link, which yields another unhelpful page.
Extremely frustrated, I give it two last chances as a final resort: the site map and search engine. Both turn up nothing. I call it quits.
If you can find that information on latimes.com, please leave a comment here, along with how you found it. You will have won my respect.
Tomorrow, I'll tackle another high-traffic news site. Let's hope it makes my task a little easier.
An ironic footnote: The Los Angeles Times has a Content Not Available on Our Web Site page.
UPDATE, 15 minutes later: Out of disappointment and disbelief in my searching abilities, I continued to search. And I found it! Hidden in the left rail of the "Site Services" section is a link to Business Contacts, which includes the name and e-mail address of the site's managers. Who woulda thought.
Posted by Joshua Kaufman on June 2, 2003, at 3:40 p.m.:
This is great, Adrian.
My first thought was feedback. The only thing on that page that looked like it would get me to the web editor was Times Staff, and to contact someone I had to know their name! So I clicked Editorial Directory only to realize that these were simply the section editors and writers, not webmasters.
That was as far as I got until I read through your adventure and saw that it was on the right rail of most non-content sections.
I'm looking forward to upcoming adventures in news websites.
Posted by Mark on June 2, 2003, at 3:49 p.m.:
Frankly I don't blame them for making it difficult. I can say as as a webmaster of a news site, I don't want to be contacted. When a site did have my name on it, I would get the most bizzare email, because people simply do not read the job title of the recipient they send to.
Posted by Sara on June 2, 2003, at 7:17 p.m.:
Mark - If you're in a position of authority like that, part of your job is to be accessible to your users so that you can learn how to serve them better. Hiding your contact info to avoid the crazies is throwing the baby out with the bathwater - you're shirking your responsibility as site manager.
Posted by Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman on June 2, 2003, at 8:21 p.m.:
Mark, I know from my own experience that you're right -- people regularly don't read job titles and often the Web staff ends up with e-mails clearly intended for other people or departments. But Sara is absolutely correct. In my opinion the answer to you receiving the bizarre e-mails personally is not to hide or eliminate your own contact information, but to make other contact information more obvious. For example, perhaps you could leave your own job title and e-mail address on an obvious "contact us" page, but put the actual e-mail address of your main "feedback"-type account -- not just a "feedback" link -- somewhere on every page. Then just make sure some non-Web person is responsible for triaging that e-mail account, because you're right, most of what comes to it will really be meant for reporters, photographers or print editors. You're right, you're not supposed to be the site's switchboard operator. But that doesn't give you permission to have an unlisted number.
Posted by P.L. Underwood on June 2, 2003, at 11:12 p.m.:
Richard Core is listed on the Editorial Staff page as an "Online Services Editor." But no e-mail address is given, and that title is a little vague to me.
Posted by kpaul on June 3, 2003, at 1:19 a.m.:
Great idea. Can't wait to read more. ;)
Posted by Dan Martin on June 3, 2003, at 2:46 a.m.:
I sympathize with Mark, but agree with Sarah. Nathan describes exactly what I did at my old employers website. I went from over 100 e-mails a day, to about five once I created a general feedback email link at the bottom of every page.
Posted by Adrian on June 3, 2003, at 3:15 a.m.:
P.L.: The e-mail address isn't directly printed, but it's linked-to from Richard Core's name. (Evidently it's not obvious enough; underlining his name to signify the link would be a bit better.)
Posted by D.L. on June 5, 2003, at 4:14 a.m.:
Perhaps I'm missing the point, but WHY would you need to contact an individual person versus submitting feedback/comments/questions to a generic email address set up for that purpose? The usuability exercise is completely understandable to me, but the task you've chosen to test is not.
Posted by Adrian on June 5, 2003, at 5:21 a.m.:
D.L.: I'll explain my thoughts on *why* someone would need to contact an individual person when the "series" wraps up at the end of this week.
Posted by Mindy McAdams on June 5, 2003, at 3:25 p.m.:
Adrian, will you do "Find the main newsroom phone number" next, please? That is almost as difficult as finding a working e-mail address at a lot of these sites.
On the e-mail topic: About a year ago, I looked up the e-mail address of a print newsroom editor on a Gannett newspaper site. He had assigned an article to me, and I had misplaced his phone number. I sent e-mail to the address listed and waited, and waited. Finally I phoned and left a voice mail. We played phone tag for two days. When I spoke to him, at last, I mentioned the e-mail. He said he had never seen it and claimed he checks and answers all his e-mail daily. So I read the e-mail address to him.
"Where did you get that address?" he asked, in a very surprised tone.
Turned out he had never known he had THAT e-mail address (at gannett.com) and did not even know how (or where) to check it! The e-mail address he uses is at the domain name of his newspaper.
Makes you think, eh?
Posted by Steve on June 5, 2003, at 7:30 p.m.:
Great idea, Adrian. I constantly go through this frustrating exercise with countless online news sites, including two of the largest and most honored (which I trust you'll be getting to this week). Something you won't discover, however, unless you get some anecdotal evidence (has <i>anybody</i> from the LATimes posted here yet?), is that many of these unidentifiable people aren't much more accessible within their own shops!
Posted by Tony Wright on June 5, 2003, at 8:18 p.m.:
Saw this experiment on Poynter and I think it's great. As a PR professional journalists can help us do our jobs by telling us exactly what their responsibilities are and what types of information they like to receive. Online media aren't that great at communicating this in many cases. I'll be watching the experiment closely.
Posted by anonymous on June 5, 2003, at 8:34 p.m.:
If you know richard core you probably already know there isn't much use in contacting him, there's not much to work with there to begin with.
Posted by MadMan on June 5, 2003, at 9:26 p.m.:
So... do you type these thoughts as you're thinking (hence interrupting the process and possibly changing the outcome) or do you have a dictaphone or similar device to record what you're saying. Or do you simply write it from memory later (possibly forgetting minor details)?
I really am curious.
Posted by Adrian on June 5, 2003, at 10:02 p.m.:
MadMan: The latter. I write it from memory just after my experience. I first experimented with typing as I browsed, but you're right -- it was too jerky of a process and didn't lead to accurate portrayals of what I'd normally do.
Surely there are more scientific methods, but this one is good enough for me for this purpose. This is by no means a formal usability test.
Posted by anonymous on March 30, 2004, at 2:41 a.m.:
I have vistited a website were I really want to contact the person who wrote it. At the bottom of the page it asks to sign a guest book or e-mail for comments but there is nothing to click on at all. NOTHING. How can I find out who has this website when there is nothing at all to click on. I would really appreciate some help on this one.
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