February 1999

Discuss just about anything by e-mail

By Steve Tetreault
Donrey Media Group

A few days ago, a writer trying to remember the name of a helpful catalog for editing materials posted her query to a copyediting e-mail discussion group. Within minutes her question was answered.

That's what's good about e-mail groups.

On the same day, a rabid critic of President Clinton and a fierce supporter of the president swiped at each other continuously via an e-mail group devoted to the First Amendment. Dozens of their zinging missives cluttered the mailboxes of every other list subscriber.

That's what's bad about e-mail groups.

E-mail groups, also known as listservs or electronic mailing lists, are among the countless tools available through the Internet for journalists.

Most groups are free and easy to sign on to. Once you're in the loop, you'll join the like-minded in sharing e-mail comments and queries, swap ideas, and generally carry on electronic conversations about the list topic. There are dozens devoted to communications issues, and countless others that cater to most every conceivable topic.

But they can be frustrating. You can find yourself overwhelmed by e-mail, some of it trivial and offpoint. Participating can become more chore than reward.

On the plus side, discussion lists "break down geographical barriers and expose the subscriber to a larger community," said Frosty Landon, a retired editor in Roanoke, Va., who manages a electronic discussion list in that state.

"The better lists tend to be specialized and therefore provide important research information," Landon said. "Folks can go on them and immediately or almost immediately get an answer, often an authoritative one." However, there are amounts of "noise" in most lists. Postings that stray off the group purpose. Online feuds. And, with some lists, dozens of e-mails a day.

"The sheer volume is the great curse of all of this," Landon said. "It's just like junk mail."

Some reporters prefer to join e-mail groups only when they're working on specific stories.

Joan Kite, a reporter for the Ontario (Calif.) Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, recalled working on a story about falconry and locating a discussion group on the topic. She lurked for some time to learn the lingo, then finally posted a query in search of falconers in the Daily Bulletin's circulation area. She found several, and got her story. Afterwards, she unsubscribed.

As for subscribing generally to journalism groups, Kite is judicious.

"If I had a lot of time to chat and write notes to friends, then maybe it would be helpful. But like everything else, relationships online cost time."

One group that comes recommended is moderated by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Frankin. It's on writing techniques and the challenge of producing longer pieces. It costs $25-$30 a year to subscribe, but participants say the group is worth the money. Subscribe via

How to find e-mail discussion groups?

Try the One List, a Website catalog of e-mail discussion groups. The site has a search engine for users looking for a particular interest.

Another catalog can be found at, a site operated by Lyris Technologies, an e-mail software developer.

Barbara Croll Fought, an associate professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, compiles the Newhouse Net List, a catalog of e-mail discussion groups that specialize in communications. Besides pen and paper topics, it links to forums on advertising and photojournalism including a respected list sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association.

The Newhouse Net List can be found at

Information about discussion groups run by IRE, SPJ, NICAR, and other major journalist organizations can be found here.

E-mail alert services work like the RRA e-mailing list. They are not interactive, but they notify you of items of interest.

Here are some e-mail alert services that may be of interest to RRA members:

Of course, if you're an RRA member, you have access to the RRA e-mail list. E-mail RRA president Christine Dorsey at to be put on the e-mail list.

Former RRA president Alan Schlein keeps a list of helpful e-mail alert services on his Web page: Go to "Keeping Up."

For reporters who cover immigration, the Center for Immigration Studies list can be helpful. Subscribe by contacting Also, the monthly "Migration News" from the University of California at Davis. Subscribe at

Tom DeLay's office has a daily "Whipping Post" you can subscribe to. It shows up every morning and gives you the House floor schedule for the day. Subscribe at

The Government Accountability Office e-mail alert service sends daily notices on newly released GAO testimony and reports. Go to and follow instructions for subscribing to the GAO Daybook.

The Natural Resources Defense Council offers a Legislative Watch e-mail service to alert you on environmental legislation. Go to for more information on subscribing.

Fellowships available for reporters

By Onell R. Soto
Riverside Press-Enterprise

You probably know about the Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowships, where reporters learn about Washington coverage through monthly seminars. But there are a number of other fellowships that offer more than the Beltway Basics.

A check of the fellowships, grants and scholarships listed in the Dec. 26, 1998, Editor and Publisher turned up nearly 30 fellowships regional reporters can use to travel, go to grad school, finish a book or learn another language.

In fact, if you want to jump to the other side, there's even a fellowship that will place you for a year in a congressional office, giving you quite a different view of Capitol Hill.

See the print version of the Regional Reporter for full details

In Brief