Finding the Web editor at ABCNEWS.com

Written by Adrian Holovaty on June 3, 2003

Find The Web Editor's Name And E-Mail Address Week continues today with a trip to ABCNEWS.com.

After the home page loads, I quickly locate the navigation -- found in the left rail -- and scan it downward. In no time at all, I spot a link to "contact ABC." Simple.

Screenshot of 'contact ABC' link

On the subsequent E-mail ABCNEWS page, my eyes quickly skip over the "ABC Television Shows" section and focus on the "ABCNEWS.com" section -- the right half of the content area:

Screenshot of 'e-mail ABCNEWS' page

I skim the choices: ABCNEWS.com Content ... ABCNEWS.com Technical Assistance ... Video & Audio ... Only the first two seem relevant to my task. I click the first link.

Whoa. Things were going so well, but all of a sudden I'm at the ABCNEWS.com Content FAQ. I quickly scan the questions and realize that the page doesn't appear to have any staff information. It does say, under "I want to send my comment, suggestion or opinion," that "We do not personally respond to comments, opinions and suggestions." That doesn't bode well, but I continue looking.

Ah! A glimmer of hope. At the bottom of the page I notice a paragraph that says:

This FAQ page was created to provide you with an immediate answer to your question. If you are unable to find an answer to your question on this FAQ page please go here to contact us.

I follow the link, but it takes me to the "Content and Technical Contact Us Form", which would be helpful if I were just trying to contact anybody on the site's staff -- but not a particular person. I click the Back button once, twice, three times to get back to the home page.

Now I try scrolling to the bottom of the home page, where I find links to "HELP," "CONTACT ABC" and "PR." I try "HELP."

On the resulting page, ABCNEWS.com Toolkit, only one section looks like it might be helpful: "Tech support."

Screenshot of 'tech support' section

I move my mouse to click "here," but out of sheer luck, I notice that the words "Tech support" link to a different Web address than the word "here" in the body copy. What the heck? Which one do I click? Guess I'll try both. I click "Tech support," but it merely gives me another form to fill out. I click Back and try the "here" link, but the resulting page is a strange amalgamy of answers to various 1999-era browser questions (e.g., how to clear the cache of the Netscape 2.0 browser). Suffice it to say staff e-mails are not on this page. I click Back again, and Back once or twice more to return to the home page, empty-handed.

Not done yet. I click the "CONTACT ABC" link at the bottom of the home page; maybe it's different than the one I saw before. Nope, it isn't. I try "TOOLBOX," and that takes me to the same page I got when I clicked "HELP" -- even though "HELP" and "TOOLS" are two distinct options of the same horizontal menu at the bottom of the home page, and one would assume two different links lead to two different pages. Finally, I try "PR," but that doesn't help, either.

I give up. Estimated time spent: Two minutes. If you can figure out how to find ABCNEWS.com's staff listings on its Web site, please share.

How depressing. Tomorrow, I'll see how a smaller-market news site fares.

Comments

Posted by Jim on June 3, 2003, at 6:56 a.m.:

Quick note: don't bother clicking on "US" - they aren't referring to THEM, they are referring to the USA. What, they can't even get their own country's name right now?

Posted by Jim on June 3, 2003, at 7:07 a.m.:

Looking through the site, all I can find is support@abcnews.go.com, and I had to view the source to get that.

On another note though, is it really fair to expect the _webmaster_ to be named personally on the site? What if there is more than one, or he leaves the job, or any number of other things? On websites, you should be using generic email addresses as much as possible - you wouldn't put a list of salespeople's email addresses on a commercial site, you'd put sales@example.com instead. It's much more robust.

My suspicion is that the smaller sites will have more accessible webmasters - both because they won't be using large, commercial CMSs, and the department will be far smaller. Plus, there's the X factor, where small organisations are far more likely to be clueful about the web (validating pages, etc), than their big siblings.

Posted by Ben Meadowcroft on June 3, 2003, at 7:40 a.m.:

If you want to find info about the site editor etc on a big site like that you often have to go to the corporate side of things rather than the "public" face. From the home apge click on PR, presumably for press releases, to go "corporate".

Once you have gone corporate you can get the names of the Senior vice president and general manager, and also the Executive producer, see The bios page for more info. Unfortunately the email address is not given for these people. However you do get provided a telephone number and email for a specific press contact person. If you wanted I bet you could reverse engineer the way her email is formated to derive the SVP and Producers ;)

But yes I agree it is a bit difficult to get hold of this info!

Posted by Doug on June 3, 2003, at 9:05 a.m.:

Tried using their usefull search engine......no matter what search string I used, I got the same number of total results...all the documents on ABCNEWS.com...fantastic!

Posted by Adrian on June 3, 2003, at 11:45 a.m.:

Jim: While I agree see the advantages of using generic e-mail addresses because of changing staff, etc., I do think having real humans' names on a site adds something. I'll explain my reasons for that in an entry later this week.

Ben: Thanks for finding that!

Posted by Alex on June 3, 2003, at 4 p.m.:

Hey, you should take a look at Blogger.com. It's ridiculous. I was trying to contact their support team, which was basically mission impossible. I had to enter a password twice, logout, re-login, get redirected, etc. etc. etc. all for naught. What a shame.

Posted by Julie on June 3, 2003, at 10:07 p.m.:

This is a fun game, Adrian.

I actually think there need to be (at least) two specific names given: the Webmaster (or whatever title fits the person who is in charge of the technical side) and the Web Editor (whoever heads online editorial decisions) unless of course it's a small organization and they're the same person. And the distinction between the roles should be made clear.

The way I see it, those names are needed for the same reason a newspaper provides the names of the publisher and its editors. Gatekeeping decisions are being made (I would argue both editorially and to some extent technologically) and the public deserves to know by whom and how to contact those people. Sure they can still contact a generic e-mail address and may even get the same response, but I think it has a lot to do with accountability, with being accessible and, if nothing else, the appearance of being real to your public -- not just some anonymous, news-producing machine.

Posted by anonymous on September 9, 2005, at 9:41 p.m.:

I am hearing a lot about children separated from their parents and love ones. With this number of children in the shelters resulting from the Katrina disaster, please keep an eye on these children. I have no doubt that there are sleazy, filthy freaks out there that will prey on these children and cause them harm. Unfortunately, the average adult tends to be preoccupied and too stupid to ensure their safety. It breaks my heart when I hear someone, after the fact, say something stupid like, "Oh, he was so good with the children."

Please spread the word to be mindful of freaks out there. Thanks

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