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From AJR,   October 1999  issue

Call Me, Call Me Anytime   


By Kathryn S. Wenner
Kathryn S. Wenner, a former AJR associate editor, is a copy editor at the Washington Post.     

Bylines have gotten friendlier at the Press of Atlantic City since this spring. Nestled beneath reporters' names are their phone numbers, as if to say, "Please, call me if you've got a question or complaint or compliment."

Though more papers are adding taglines with numbers and e-mail addresses, the Press is offering readers a direct line before they've made it through the lead.

News Editor Peter M. Brophy brought the idea back from a seminar at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, where he had seen a Swedish newspaper. "I noticed that in their bylines they were putting [a phone] extension under reporters' names," he says. "It didn't take much to convince people when I got back here that that's a good idea."

As might be expected, editors were more easily convinced than reporters.

Editor Paul Merkoski thought the idea "odd but..terribly logical." Casino beat reporter Joe Weinert's first reaction was that the paper would "have every crackpot in the area calling," and feature writer Elaine Rose thought "it just sounded silly." Staff writer David M. Razler worried "how many [calls] would be worthwhile and how many would be nonsense."

But "it's proved to be mostly good," Rose says. "I've gotten several good tips with my number being more accessible." Weinert and Razler concur. All three say that although they get some nuisance calls, the benefits are worth it. "It makes us more human to our readers," Rose says.

The decision to put numbers at the top rather than the end of stories came from surveys that indicate few readers make it that far. And because research showed that only about a fifth of the Press' 73,642 readers have home computers, printing only e-mail addresses seemed "more exclusionary and less democratic," says Managing Editor Maryjane Briant.

The Gazette of Colorado Springs, which last year added the names of story editors and headline writers to bylines, has been running taglines with phone numbers and e-mail addresses for four years. But Editor and Vice President Steven A. Smith, after hearing about what the Press is doing, says he'd like to move them up top. "I love that kind of experiment," he says. "I'm kind of sorry I didn't think of it first."