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Discussing Journalism online

Dozens of online mailing lists let you absorb or share news and views about journalism.
By Chip Rowe

WITH E-MAIL, you can send messages, receive messages and reach out and grab some background info. A popular and relatively painless way to introduce yourself to the types of messages that are exchanged on the 'Net is to join "discussion groups" that cover any number of topics. There are dozens related to journalism, among thousands that cover everything from rock 'n' roll to Mark Twain to public transportation.

     With most E-mail discussion groups, everything you write is sent to every person on the list, and everything they write comes to you. There's usually a "list owner" or "moderator" who makes sure the operation runs smoothly.

     To subscribe (free) to a group, you need to send a simple E-mail message to a computer program (think of it as a robot) that keeps track of members and distributes the group's E-mail. Let's use the Society of Professional Journalists' discussion group as an example. Say your name is John Smith, and that your E-mail address is smith@aol.com. Your E-mail message would look like this:

To: listserv@psuvm.psu.edu
Subject: [Leave this line blank]
Message: Subscribe SPJ-L John Smith

     In this case, listserv@psuvm.psu.edu is the robot that SPJ uses to distribute the group mail. The message Subscribe SPJ-L is the command telling the robot to add your name to the subscription list and send you any E-mail messages that are posted. There should be nothing else in the message. Note: You may encounter discussion groups that use other mailing programs such as "majordomo" or "mailserv." Their commands are slightly different (some may require you to include your name, for example), so be precise.

     Soon after you send your message (in some cases, your request is forwarded to the list owner, who must approve your subscription), you should receive a message confirming that you have been added to the list. For SPJ, this welcome message begins like this:

Welcome to SPJ-OnlineA computerized resource of The Societyof Professional JournalistsSPJ-Onlineis a mailing list created as aninformation resource for journalists by theSociety of Professional Journalists. Discussissues, share tips, communicate with headquartersand national leaders, find out about SPJ news,or whatever. Make it fun and useful....

     Be sure to save this message. It also includes instructions on how to post messages to the members of the group and how to get help, as well as how to unsubscribe (in the case of SPJ, John Smith would send the message "signoff SPJ-L" to the listserv subscription address.

     There are other commands you can send to the robot. To get a file that outlines the commands the robot can understand, John Smith would send this message:

To: listserv@psuvm.psu.edu
Subject: [leave this line blank]
Message: Help

     Be careful about where you direct your commands. A common mistake is to send commands meant for the robot to every member of the list. The robot address and the list address are always different.





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