A project of Democracy Fund

July 5, 2019

Local Fix: Out of Office


Welcome to the Local Fix. Each week we look at key debates in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…

One Good Idea: Read a Book (With Us!)

A few weeks ago, we wrote up how newsrooms are using book clubs to deepen engagement and connect with their audiences. Now, Teresa is going to host the next round of the virtual News Book Club, a new experiment from Solution Set. There are three options to vote on; then the group will chat about it on Slack as we read and finish with a  live video conference in August. Vote by July 12, then join in

Out of Office

We’re doing “Local Fix lite” today, because we know what’s coming when we hit send the day after Independence Day: a million out of office messages. Anyone who writes an email newsletter, or is trying to get in touch with sources, is familiar with that barrage this time of year. (Tyler Dukes, a reporter with WRAL, found the perfect gif for that feeling). But have you thought about what you’re saying with your out of office message? There are ways to use that canned email for more than just a scripted apology and return date. Teresa first started thinking about the utility of the OOO reply while working with Betsy O’Donovan, a journalism professor and cofounder of Hedgehog and Fox who has “famed out-of-office messages,” according to her Twitter profile (and anyone who has received one). A recent example included specific directions on how to schedule meetings with her, along with tips on time management and how to run office hours via email. Others clue in their correspondents to their favorite books, podcasts and playlists. Another stellar OOO writer is the Knight Foundation’s Karen Rundlet, who warns near the top of her auto-response: “this is NOT your average ooo (out of office) email.” Rundlet receives a ton of email traffic, so she includes important deadlines to know about, answers to frequently asked questions, and useful resources from Knight Foundation grantees. It’s a way to be both “personal and transparent,” she says. This approach could be one way to cut down on digital overload. In a list of tips for Reuters reporters, a trainer recommends using out of office messages to set boundaries around your personal time away from the desk. Could local news organizations or reporters use tactics like this to provide useful information to their community? The Lenfest Institute’s Joseph Lichterman asked a similar question on Twitter a few months ago, and received some interesting ideas from Melody Kramer. Kramer herself has done lots of thinking on this subject – and even created an “OOO auto-generator” from Wikipedia. Of course, this is all a balancing act between providing more information and too much, so we pulled in some advice on how to write a good basic out of office message. Who do you think writes great out of office replies? Have you used them in unique ways? Hit reply and let us know. (That is…if you’re in the office). 

P.S. Come write the Local Fix with us! We’re hiring a program associate at Democracy Fund. Check out the listing and spread the word. ​
 Have a good weekend,
Josh, Teresa, and Kip
@jcstearns@gteresa@kipdooley1

The Local Fix is a project of the Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which invests in innovations and institutions that are reinventing local media and expanding the public square. Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund, you can find a full list of the organizations we support on our website.