Chris Anderson's decision to post online the email addresses of PRs who decided that the editor-of-chief of a heavily staffed magazine was the obvious place to start with getting a launch covered made sure his anguish got noticed. It drew someone else who revealed that they have started to quietly blacklist PR emails. There could be a lot more of those people.
In the distance, a low rumble accompanies the law of unintended consequences grinding into action.
Here is the problem. People who think bypassing section editors to pitch the editor-in-chief of any book using his or her named email address aren't suddenly going to get a clue because their own email addresses are now online ready for any passing spam harvester. However, what they will be aware of is a large number of messages underneath the original post saying: "Pick up the phone, build a relationship."
What they will understand is the first bit: "Pick up the phone..." I can say with certainty that a dull, misdirected pitch delivered by email is ten times worse delivered by phone. Emails are easy to kill. Phone calls are another matter.
My opinion may differ radically from that of other hacks - a lot will depend on areas of coverage - but the last thing I want is someone ringing me up to "build a relationship" before they actually have anything to sell. I'm much more interested in seeing how people deliver straightaway. Yes, this can mean missing out on some tips, but there just isn't the time available now to get to know every single PR I might encounter. The good news is that you can often tell how well people will deliver from the emails they send you.
Put it this way, if PRs send you releases as Word documents with massive attached pictures and kick off the email with a phrase like "Please quote reference number 3664 when inquiring about this release" (I'm not kidding), these people will be useless when asked for anything that isn't attached to that email.
In the case of a pitch, if it kicks off with "Have you heard about...?" the chances are that it's a candidate for the round filing cabinet.
Before anyone rushes off to alter the phrasing on their gestating pitch, think about what the rest of the message might contain. The chances are that if I have heard about whatever it is, I'm not going to be surprised. No surprise equals no news. And if I haven't heard about it, but someone is asking whether I might have, then it can't be news because clearly other people have heard about it. The tone of the pitch is a clear signal that the writer of that email is not going to be on top of the subject they are trying to pitch - they are writing to me because they just heard about it and think everyone else is at the same point.
Now, consider what journalists are saying when they say they are happy to blacklist. In the past, you would be loathe to do that even for the worst PRs, just in case they do manage to teach a horse to sing. Not anymore. Ignoring the torrent of stuff pouring out of the PR firehose is now a worthwhile strategy for magazines. Unless you are covering product launches heavily, the bulk of unsolicited pitches are worse than useless as they take time to process. Blacklisting the worst can liberate some time and let you focus on attention on those that will provide a return. For my part, I finally stopped fishing releases caught in the Entourage spam filter a few months back.
But, really, even when you're getting 300 of these a day, it's better than getting that many phone calls*. Making email more unreliable from the perspective of the PR is only going to make an editor's life worse. We've only just weaned most PRs off the habit of ringing up to ask "did you get our press release". Blacklists will only bring those people back. But the appearance of the blacklist is perhaps the strongest indicator we have that conventional press relations just died.
* All things are relative. I have the luxury of managing my own email, which allows me to have a 2GB-plus database. People working in offices often have much smaller limits to deal with. Having to go through their inbox frequently to stop Exchange backing up is enough to send you over the edge. The phone might be preferable.