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Form e-mail

Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2007, at 10:14 PM

If you're trying to get your point across, whether to a politician, a bureaucrat or a journalist, the personal touch is always much, much more effective than a petition or a form letter.

One insidious development in recent years has been web sites that allow you to automatically mass-mail political form letters. A few months back, we got a number of e-mails supporting a particular presidential candidate which we could tell, from their e-mail address, came from a campaign web site rather than from the individuals' e-mail accounts. It was an organized campaign, not a grass-roots outpouring of support.

I've gotten several e-mails today of a form letter intended to be sent to television station managers complaining about a fast food chain's TV advertising. They're all worded exactly the same, so it's obvious that the senders just clicked a button on a web site. In this case, it's particularly annoying, because the letter has nothing to do with newspapers at all.

The letter to the TV stations requests that the station manager keep it in the station's comment file, which is reviewed by federal regulators when the station is up for license renewal. In case you were wondering, broadcast stations are licensed because they use the public airwaves, and there are only a limited number of broadcast frequencies assigned to a particular community. Newspapers aren't licensed and have no such legal requirements.

Anyway, getting back to form letters: believe me when I say that a personally written letter, sent by you personally to someone else personally, always carries more weight than a form letter or petition. You don't have to be eloquent or carry on at length, either; just speak what's on your mind. Speaking only for myself, when I see these obviously web site-generated form letters they tend to annoy me more than persuade me.

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John I. Carney
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.
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