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Voicemail etiquette for journalists: Just don’t

Why, in this era of multi-connectedness, are we constantly missing each other?


Carin Moonin


This week, I had to do something terrifying: interview a source. 

I did what I usually do to schedule up a phone interview: I emailed him. I find it awkward to call to set up another call, and if a long conversation is in order, I set up a time so both of us can prepare. This wasn’t a sneak attack. It was a piece where the source volunteered to be contacted. It was… like a phone date.

So I emailed him. No response. I emailed again a few days later. Nothing. 

Next step: the phone. Sigh.

I called him and got his voicemail. I left a quick message explaining who I was and why I was trying to reach him. I gave him my email address—repeated twice—and politely asked him to email me, since I’m not always able to answer my phone. 

Instead of emailing, like he was supposed to, like any sane person would, he called me back. 

Of course he got my voicemail. 

So I thought, maybe he’s screening his calls. Maybe he figured, “I’ll call her back,” and deleted the voicemail. I get that: Long, rambling voicemails are the worst. But he didn’t even call me back on the number I’d called him from. And I didn’t leave a long voicemail; it was like six seconds.

Besides, why must we even leave voicemails in this day and age? There is way too much room for error. Most of your colleagues don’t even like it when you talk on the phone. And your fellow airline passengers aren’t fans, either. And really: Why are we even using our phones to call people? Does anyone, anymore?

(I know at least one person: Someone I used to work with. She was the most annoying person in the world. Every time she sent an email, she’d then call you the moment after she’d sent it. This was in 2006, not 1986, by the way.) 

I hoped I wasn’t being a pest, but, come on, I was on a deadline. And this person requested to be contacted. Now that we had gone to voicemail, did I have to continue this god-awful game of tag via that medium? Multiple emails are better than multiple voicemails—the bleat of a stranger’s voice in your ear, ugh—but maybe this guy didn’t check his email often? Or at all? And who doesn’t check their email? 

It left me process-paralyzed.

Why, in this era of multi-connectedness, are we constantly missing each other?

Earlier this year, Gawker did a killer piece on why voicemail is so terrible. It’s no secret that we’re leaving fewer voicemails for each other, although I think my experience this week has bumped up the national count.

Personally, I would love it if I never again returned to my office to find that angry red light on the phone, the one that signifies someone wants to talk to me.

Truth is, I don’t want to talk to anyone. Because the conversation will inevitably degenerate toward the horrible: calling a quick meeting a “huddle,” a frequent reminder a “ping,” and a collection of words a “deck.” Sometimes I feel like the only person left on a flat Island of Real Words, holding a tattered Elements of Style as my flag, refusing to surrender as the global-warming waters of corporate-babble Babel rise around me. 

As for my phone interview? I’m still waiting. 

I kind of hate people.

Photo via silas216/Flickr

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