Open Letter to Members of Congress and their Staffs

The United States Congress
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C.

Dear Honorable Members of Congress:

I am writing to express my concern for a recent trend that has been increasing over the last several months, namely, the sending of inordinate numbers of press releases via electronic mail to a mass mailing list. Given that you are considering legislation to rid America of the scourge of spam and knowing that the Contact With America that helped bring the current Republican Majority to power in 1994 promised to apply all laws that apply to citizens to Members, I thought I should bring it to your attention that many of us in the Blogosphere consider this practice to in fact be spamming.

Indeed, several of you, including the House Majority Leader, have landed on my spam list. Other bloggers that I have spoken and corresponded with inform me that they have several of you on their lists as well. Given your obvious desire to communicate your thoughts to bloggers, I thought you should know that your current practices are self-defeating.

Might I suggest that you adopt a different approach?

Rather than simply acquiring the e-mail addresses of all bloggers that you perceive to be on your side of the political spectrum and sending them your every thought, however undeveloped it might be, you should consider carefully targetting your messages to those who your staff knows through careful research are actually interested in the topic you are communicating, as evidenced by having written about it recently.

Further, if you are a House Member that few people outside your District have heard of–which is to say, about 420 of you–you should be especially diligent about this. If, hypothetically, you often give radio updates in Dallas on pressing issues facing our nation, it is highly unlikely that any blogger not from Texas gives a rat’s would be interested in having transcripts of same mailed to them.

If you are more prominent, for example in the Leadership or an important party officer, you will be given the benefit of the doubt before being added to bloggers’ spam filters. Still, many of us–and I have done this myself on occasion–will post your messages on our sites and make fun of them if they are poorly crafted or out of alignment with our political views. There is a time-honored tradition in our industry called “Fisking” whereby each paragraph, sometimes each sentence, is mercilessly scrutinized. Don’t let this happen to you!

One thing that might help you in this regard is to understand that Right/Republican and Left/Democrat are very crude measures. This is especially true in the blogosphere, where many of us are almost as critical of our own party’s leadership as of the other side. This is particularly true on the Right, where many more of us have libertarian leanings than you would expect of Republicans. Know your audience–don’t send one of us your messages about how desperately we need prayer in the public schools, a flag burning amendment, or to protect ourselves from the scourge of gay marriage.

There is also the issue of frequency. Hint: More is not better. If you have sent out seven or eight messages before noon and something on the scale of the 9/11 attacks has not happened today, you have sent at least six or seven too many messages.

Even when very important things have happened, I don’t want a statement from each of you giving me your take. I take it as a given that you’re happy, for example, when we kill the top terrorist leader in Iraq. Only send me a press release if you’re unhappy about it. If you just really, really need a few bloggers to post that you’re happy about something that is obviously good news, get together with your caucus and have someone (preferably, the Majority Leader, since he’s already on my spam list) compile all the quotes into a single release that I can delete.

If I can offer you any more insights on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me. Well, actually, do. But if you will get with the staff of the vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference, I’m sure they will be happy to compile them all into a single note and send it my way.

Sincerely,

James H. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief
Outside the Beltway

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Congress, LGBTQ Issues, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    you should consider carefully targetting your messages to those who your staff knows through careful research are actually interested in the topic you are communicating

    But this is what you get for running a group blog! Heh.

  2. Christopher says:

    How could any politicians on the right ever have mistaken that you were on their side of the political spectrum?

    And a “time-honored tradition” in blogging? How can it be time honored when blogging has only been around for a short time (or at least a short time that anyone has cared about it). LOL! You are waaay too full of yourselves down there at OTB headquarters.

    Oh, and finally: Waaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

    Get over it. You should be happy to get all the press releases.

  3. Michael says:

    An even better solution is for each congressman to hot an RSS feed of their statements, then anyone interested can subscribe to it.

    Christopher,

    And a �time-honored tradition� in blogging? How can it be time honored when blogging has only been around for a short time

    Since “Fisking” has been around since the beginning of blogging (and even longer on message boards and mailing lists), I would agree with James on that point, wouldn’t you?

    On a side note, you should be happy to get all those emails about Viagra, fake watches, and hot lonely women in your area.

  4. Christopher says:

    Wow, Michael! Where did that come from?!? And anyway, my spam filter is pretty good, and with the click of a button I can get rid of annoying stuff. never realized it was that difficult for other people, not to mention “professional” bloggers.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    But this is what you get for running a group blog! Heh.

    What we have a Texas topic? James how come I can’t see it?

  6. Bhoe says:

    I am writing to express my concern for a recent trend that has been increasing over the last several months, namely, the sending of inordinate numbers of press releases via electronic mail to a mass mailing list.

    James, just curious: did you send this “open letter” as a mass email to the 535 Senators/Reps and the 3,000+ staff members on Capitol Hill? Or did you go through the CQ Congressional Staff Directory and send the letter one-by-one to your intended audience?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Bhoe: I actually just posted it here. You know, as an open letter.

  8. Bhoe says:

    I actually just posted it here. You know, as an open letter.

    I was being a bit sarcastic in my first comment; it will be interesting to see if your Congressional spam declines as a result of your open letter. I would bet not!

  9. James Joyner says:

    Bhoe:

    Likely not, at least in the short term. The post is intended mostly for other bloggers but some congressional staffers do read this.

    I will likely refer to this post in replies to emails that I judge in violation of these principles as a feedback mechanism.

    The thing is that it’s a good thing for congressional staffs and public officials generally to communicate with bloggers. I don’t even mind messages from P.R. firms and lobbyists. I’m in the information business, after all. But the latter groups are far more sophisticated than the former in how they go about it.