Making space for a new medium: on the use of electronic mail ... - KTH

Making space for a new medium: on the use of electronic mail ... - KTH

ong>Makingong> ong>spaceong> ong>forong> a ong>newong>

ong>mediumong>: on the use of

electronic mail in

a ong>newong>spaper ong>newong>sroom



Human computer interaction (HCI)

Computer science and communication (CSC)

Royal institute of technology (KTH)



Human computer interaction (HCI)

Computer science and communication (CSC)

Royal institute of technology (KTH)

S-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden


ong>Makingong> ong>spaceong> ong>forong> a ong>newong> ong>mediumong>: On the use of electronic mail in a

ong>newong>spaper ong>newong>sroom

Running head: ong>Makingong> ong>spaceong> ong>forong> a ong>newong> ong>mediumong>


Amelie Hössjer

Dept. of Inong>forong>mation Science, Division of Media and Communication

Uppsala University, Sweden

Kerstin Severinson Eklundh

School of Computer Science and Communication

Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Sweden

Address ong>forong> correspondence:

Kerstin Severinson Eklundh

School of Computer Science and Communication

Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)

Postal address: SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden

Visiting address: Lindstedtsvägen 5, 5th floor, Stockholm

Telephone: +46 8 790 91 03

Fax: +46 8 790 90 99




Within the field of computer-supported cooperative work, there are a continuously growing

number of studies of the use of electronic media in groups and organisations. Despite the

existence of this impressive body of research, there have been comparatively few in-depth

studies of how the computer as a ong>mediumong> of communication is integrated in specific

professional practices. The present study examines the role of electronic mail in a specific

social and cultural setting: a ong>mediumong>-sized Swedish ong>newong>spaper office (ong>newong>sroom)

environment. Using an ethnographic perspective, the study attempts to combine two

approaches: it is both focused on the social and communicative processes that are affected

by the use of email and oriented toward the messages as such, looking at what kind of

interaction is produced through particular email exchanges. Data have been collected during

repeated observations, interviews and study of documents and artefacts in the ong>newong>sroom

environment over a period of almost three years. The picture that has emerged suggests that

it is not the ong>mediumong> as such, but its interaction with other contextual preconditions that is

decisive ong>forong> the effects of the introduction of email. Important factors are the physical

localization of co-workers in the near and remote editorial environment as well as their

organisational roles in the time-critical ong>newong>s production process. Together, these

relationships create a significantly more complex picture than previous studies of what

happens when a ong>newong> communication technology is introduced.


1. Introduction: aims and scope of the study

Within the field of computer-supported cooperative work, there are a continuously growing

number of studies of the use of electronic media in groups and organisations. Despite the

existence of this impressive body of research, there have been comparatively few in-depth

studies of how the computer as a ong>mediumong> of communication is integrated in specific

professional practices. This is particularly notable with respect to the use of electronic mail,

which has spread phenomenally during the past two decades. This article describes a study of

the role of electronic mail (henceong>forong>th email) in a specific social and cultural setting: a

ong>mediumong>-sized Swedish ong>newong>spaper office (ong>newong>sroom) environment. In this context, email has

become an important ong>mediumong> ong>forong> internal communication as well as inong>forong>mation exchange

with readers and ong>newong>s sources. We particularly focus on the continuous interaction going on at

the ong>newong>s desk, i.e. the place where the central planning and coordination of the work at the

ong>newong>spaper takes place. The aim is to describe how email is embedded in the everyday

interaction in the ong>newong>sroom environment, and attempt to provide a picture of what this ong>forong>m

of communication means when used ong>forong> various tasks in this context. The following issues

will be dealt with:

1. What is the impact of email compared to other ong>forong>ms of contact and inong>forong>mation


2. What general patterns of email communication can be seen in the daily work practices of

journalists and editors?

The research approach is ethnographic; it is based on the analysis of data collected during

repeated observations, interviews and study of documents and artefacts in the ong>newong>sroom

environment over a period of almost three years.

2. Research on email in organizations and workplaces

Research in the past decades has shown the importance of communication ong>forong> the coordination

of work processes, and the emergence of modern management routines through the

introduction and use of ong>newong> media (Yates, 1989). Recent developments in inong>forong>mation

technology have led to a radical increase in the range of communication ong>forong>ms available. This,

in turn, has led to ong>newong> strands of research about what lies behind the use of different media,


and the effects on organizations of ong>newong> alternative communication ong>forong>ms that are added to the

old ones.

One important condition ong>forong> communication in organizations is how the physical environment

makes it possible to choose between communication alternatives. If members are located in

the same building, there are many options ong>forong> maintaining contact. Communication can take

place face to face, or in mediated ong>forong>m: via stationery or mobile telephones, paper notes, or

digitally through email or internal web services.

Two partly contradictory perspectives can be distinguished in research about the use of email

in relation to other media. One perspective emphasizes that the effects of media are strongly

dependent on the inherent properties of the ong>mediumong>—in particular how rich in inong>forong>mation the

ong>mediumong> is (see e.g. Daft & Lengel 1984; Kahai & Cooper 2003). As a so-called ‘lean’

ong>mediumong>, email has been considered suitable mainly ong>forong> simpler ong>forong>ms of communication

(Murray 1988, Bälter 1998), while issues that may involve conflict, negotiation and more

complex discussions are seen to be more difficult to resolve via email. This perspective on

email and other text-based digital media has been related to the lack of communicative cues

(the reduced cues perspective), the lack of social contextual inong>forong>mation (social context cues

perspective) and a weak perception of the communication partner (social presence theory)

(Rice & Love 1987, Short, Williams & Christie 1976, Sproull & Kiesler 1991). However, this

view of media has been questioned to an increasing extent (cf. Baker 1998, Bertacco &

Deponte 2005, Burke, Aytes & Chidambaram 2001, Duthler 2006, El-Shinnawy & Markus

1997, Boneva, Kraut & Frohlich 2001, Haythornthwaite & Shoemaker 2000, Horrigan &

Rainie 2002, Preece, Maloney-Krichmar & Abras 2003, Shedletsky & Aitken 2004:63). i A

number of studies have attempted to explain how a ‘lean’ ong>mediumong>, email, can nonetheless

produce rich inong>forong>mation (Waldvogel 2001).

According to another perspective, email has been seen as leading to ong>newong> communicative

structures. In several early studies, email was found to create fundamental changes in an

organization’s communication, leading to ong>newong> patterns of contact and flattened hierarchies

(Sproull & Kiesler 1991). In particular, it was claimed that the ong>mediumong> can lead to more

egalitarian communication. Contacts are established on the basis of common interests and are

less hampered by differences in status tied to profession, social position, etc. (Coate 1998,


Culnan & Markus 1987, Garton & Wellman 1995, Hiltz & Turoff 1993). Studies have been

perong>forong>med where users were asked to describe the time that they spend on communication in

different media (ong>forong>mal and inong>forong>mal face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations, letters,

paper notes and circulars, as well as email) a few years after email was introduced as a ong>newong>

ong>mediumong>, and how communication is distributed among different types of recipients (Bair

1979, Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire 1984, Köhler 1986, Sproull & Kiesler 1991, cf. also Bishop

& Levine 1999). A pattern in those descriptions is that email leads to increased

communication with individuals who are not in the immediate physical vicinity. This has been

taken as evidence of a bridging of hierarchical structures, proof that the ong>newong> ong>mediumong> has

opened channels ong>forong> ong>newong> encounters between people who previously had very limited or no

contact with each other. Palme (1995:9) writes: “One important result is that electronic mail

does more than just change the ong>forong>m of communication from other media to computers. The

introduction of electronic mail changes communication patterns, so that people communicate

with different people more often, and about other subjects than beong>forong>e.”

It should be pointed out that several of the above-mentioned studies are based on interviews

and surveys. Individuals have provided subjective reports about their media use, and this is the

main source ong>forong> the picture emerging of email as a ong>mediumong>. It is also important to consider the

fact that the communication in these studies took place in contexts where there were few or no

contacts at all beong>forong>e the introduction of email. Moreover, there have been strong

technological developments in digital media, which means that some of the investigations

describe conditions that are becoming obsolete.

A partly diverging view regarding the social effects of the introduction of email emerges in

more recent studies. Differences in social position between participants have been shown to

remain in experiments, regardless of the ong>mediumong>. When knowledge about the communication

partner is limited, there is evidence that stereotypical conceptions are evoked about the group

that the other party represents (Brigham & Corbett 1997, Romm & Pliskin 1997, Weisband,

Schneider & Connolly 1995; see also Waldvogel 2001 ong>forong> an overview). Certain features of

the ong>mediumong> such as distribution lists may also contribute to the reinong>forong>cement of existing

structures (Brigham & Corbett 1997, Skovholt & Svennevig 2006).


The last decade’s immense increase in networked communication has entailed a dramatically

extended use of email in workplaces, both functionally and in terms of the number of

messages sent. Several studies have shown that users access their email often or continuously

during a workday (Lantz, 1998, Bälter 1998, Mackay 1988), and it is also common to have

access to work-related email at home. In fact, email is used not only ong>forong> communication, but is

increasingly viewed as a tool ong>forong> task management (Mackay, 1988; Bellotti et al, 2003) and ong>forong>

the delegation and distribution of work. Email has even been described as a habitat; an

environment from which the activities of the workday are coordinated and through which

essential work inong>forong>mation passes (Duchenaut & Bellotti, 2001).

Several studies in workplaces have shown that this growing use of email leads to excessive

amounts of inong>forong>mation to be managed by users, leading to a sense of inong>forong>mation overflow

(cf. Bälter, 1998). A different but related concept is “communication overflow,” referring to a

situation where the individual is increasingly burdened by communication that is undesired or

disturbing (Ljungberg, 1996). Although filtering has been an often proposed solution to such

situations, users tend to develop their own strategies ong>forong> organizing their email in order to limit

these problems (Whittaker & Sidner, 1996, Bälter 1998; Bälter & Sidner, 2002, Lantz, 1998).

The strong increase in the use of email ong>forong> professional purposes, together with the

improvement of email software with respect to search and storage facilities, has led many

users to archive and re-use vast amounts of email (Fisher et al, 2006).

It is important to consider the aspects of the email ong>mediumong> that have led to its growth and

popularity. The ong>mediumong> is ubiquitous, fast and often inong>forong>mal, which makes it different from

other ong>forong>ms of written communication, and potentially more interactive. At the same time,

email is increasingly used ong>forong> the transmission and discussion of work-related documents in

the ong>forong>m of attachments (Duchenaut & Bellotti, 2001). Although email is thus used ong>forong> almost

any kind of transfer of written inong>forong>mation, including more ong>forong>mal genres, the interactive

aspect of the ong>mediumong> remains a resource that can be realized in different ways depending on

the context.

Most studies of the professional use of email have been made in academic or technical

environments, and there is less knowledge of how email is used in other work contexts.

Nevertheless, professional email communication has been studied with respect to managers


within medical service organizations and doctor-patient relations (Andreassen, Trondsen,

Kummervold, Gammon & Hjortdahl 2006; Castrén, Niemi & Virjo 2005; Gaster, Knight,

DeWitt, Sheffield, Assefi & Buchwald 2003; Houston, Sands, Nash & Ford 2003; Katz,

Moyer, Cox & Stern 2003). Hård af Segerstad (2002) studied email messages written to a

Swedish city council office, and Skovholt and Svennevig (2006) examined the use of email

within a Norwegian project telecom group.

Consequently there have been few studies so far of the use of email in journalistic or editorial

work, where time-critical conditions and communication related to the ongoing ong>newong>s

production are part of the work situation. This means that there is only limited knowledge of

how email interacts with other ong>forong>ms of communication in the everyday internal work in a


Zack (1993) presented a large field study of the use of electronic messaging (called EM in his

study) in the editorial groups of two ong>newong>spapers. The study combined observations with

interviews and surveys, and also included shadowing of certain staff categories. Based on the

findings, Zack argued that the main determinant ong>forong> a ong>mediumong> to enable effective

communication is its capacity to help build or sustain a shared interpretive context among

group members. In the study, electronic messaging was typically used in situations with a

strong element of shared context, whereas face-to-face communication was preferred in such

phases of the work when ong>newong> context was being built up, e.g. when planning a ong>newong> ong>newong>spaper

edition or when problematic issues were to be discussed. These results can be related to

previous studies of electronic networks in organizations which have found that personal

relationships, based on face-to-face contacts, tend to be important to complement the use of

electronic networks ong>forong> coordination of work, especially when dealing with non-routine

matters (Kraut et al, 1998).

Zack’s account includes an in-depth discussion of the relevance of the media richness theory

ong>forong> predicting media choice. The theory is complemented with an analysis of interactivity in

different media, based on material from the time-critical ong>newong>sroom setting. Interactivity is

thus presented as a central concept according to which face-to-face and electronic messaging

modes differ along several dimensions. The results of the study support the notion that truly

interactive discourse requires access to a face-to-face mode, whereas electronic messaging


mainly offers support ong>forong> simpler, ‘alternating’ conversational structures without the

possibility of fine-grained interruption and repair.

Hössjer (in press) deals with distributed journalistic work in a Swedish journal where most of

the discussion is carried out via email. The editors, board, and various associates ong>forong>m a digital

network whose structure provides scope ong>forong> social interaction among individuals within the

professional frame ong>forong> the contacts. The journal represents a less time-critical milieu than a

ong>newong>spaper regarding production time (monthly publication), although the time pressure in

relation to other work assignments is high ong>forong> the journal members. Based on a corpus of

3,200 email messages from the editor-in-chief’s mailbox, it is demonstrated that writers

discuss a wide spectrum of subjects when the possibilities ong>forong> face-to face contacts are limited.

Apart from short messages dealing with routine matters, the writers bring up more complex

issues such as criticism, bad ong>newong>s, or reminders about things the recipient has not managed to

accomplish. In these situations, contrary to the results of Zack’s study, an interactive

dimension is added in the messages, including social themes, that creates a common ground

between the actors. The writers are also shown to take special measures to avoid threatening

each other’s face. A truly interactive discourse is thus developed here although the main ong>forong>m

of contact is not the face-to-face mode.

It is obvious that such a distributed mail situation as the one discussed in the latter study is

frequent in modern society, placing emphasis on electronic mail’s potential to allow people

from different contexts to communicate, gather inong>forong>mation, ong>forong>m teams and pass knowledge

across time and place boundaries (cf. Kettinger & Grover 1997). It has been witnessed in the

research literature that individuals communicating across distance build up and maintain

relations, discuss common interests or problems in a more or less purely email-based setting

(see Baker 1998, Bonebrake 2002, Boneva, Kraut & Frohlich 2001, Haythornthwaite &

Shoemaker 2000, Horrigan & Rainie 2002, Parks & Floyd 1996, Preece, Maloney-Krichmar

& Abras 2003, Shedletsky & Aitken 2004, Stafong>forong>d, Kline, & Dimmick 1999).

A dominating theoretical view concerning this kind of email interaction is presently that

people learn to verbalize and elaborate feelings that would be expressed non-verbally and

hence be implicit in FTF interactions (Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Yum and Hara (2005)

write: ”CMC ii partners can not only become intimate over time, but may even become


‘hyperpersonal’ and create a greater sense of intimacy than FTF partners can (Walther, 1996).

The equivalent of nonverbal symbols (i.e., emoticons) and other visual signs can contribute to

the success of relationship development over time.” These ong>forong>ms of interaction point to the

fact that the ong>mediumong> functions as a relational communication channel.

The notion of computer-mediated discourse (CMD) refers to an emerging tradition of research

where linguistic and communicative aspects of the computer ong>mediumong> are studied. The

perspective that emerges of communication patterns in these studies diverges from the kind of

theories that emphasize the inherent properties of media. Computer-mediated conversations

occurring within widely different communities and settings are collected and analyzed: e.g.

discussions about research issues, shared interests, difficulties or diseases, or discussions in an

educational context (Hössjer in press, Preece, Maloney-Krichmar & Abras 2003, Rubin 2002,

Shedletsky & Aitken 2004, 63 ff.). Notably, this class of studies often concerns significantly

more complex issues than those associated with the ‘lean’ properties of the email ong>mediumong>.

These studies take their point of departure in various ong>forong>ms of oral and written language,

which are compared with online discourse. Several early studies referred to the conversational

aspects of email and other ong>forong>ms of CMC (Severinson Eklundh, 1986; Wilkins 1991). Recent

studies have shown how factors of the context shape the language that evolves on the Net (Lea

1992; Herring 2001; Cherny, 1999; Danet, Ruedenberg, & Rosenbaum-Tamari, 1997). The

results of these studies also show an important impact of the technical aspects of the ong>mediumong>,

such as synchronous and asynchronous ong>forong>ms of communication and effects of the design of

the communication system itself ong>forong> the emerging strategies of use (Severinson Eklundh

1996). Some researchers have investigated what elements are included in email messages and

their various functions (Herring 1996, Crystal 2001, Severinson Eklundh, in press). Others

have examined the specific dialogue structure that results from the lack of immediate feedback

and the time delay of asynchronous discourse (Severinson Eklundh, 1986, Baym, 1996;

Herring, 1996).

The view of email as influenced by oral communication has permeated many studies. Others,

such as Hård af Segerstad (2002), have treated email and other CMC ong>forong>ms as adaptations of

written communication, resulting from the specific production and reception conditions of

online communication. Still other researchers have pointed out that a strict characterization of


email in these terms is not meaningful (ong>forong> an overview, see Baron, 1998). Email can be seen

as a hybrid ong>forong>m that bears features of both conversational discourse and the written mode of

communication (Shank 1993; Heim 1987; Baym 1996; Ferrara, Brunner, H. & Whittemore

1991; Murray 1988; Kiesler et al 1984; Wilkins 1991; Collot & Belmore 1996; Yates 1996,

Herring 1996). Various aspects of the ong>mediumong> interact in a complex way depending on the

situations in which the communication takes place (see Yell 2003).

In conclusion: existing research about email use has been done from various perspectives and

in several disciplines. However, in spite of the established position that the ong>mediumong> has

acquired in today’s society, we know comparatively little about the communicative

significance attributed to email interaction by participants in different professional contexts,

and where email is studied as one of several ong>forong>ms of contact (Jackson, Dawson & Wilson

2001, Waldvogel 2001). In-depth studies, including empirical observations and text studies,

are rare of how the introduction of email affects individuals’ choice of ong>mediumong> of

communication, and how changes in this regard interact with the structure of different types of

email messages.

In terms of the issues relevant to this study, there are two main branches of research on email.

On the one hand, there is a linguistic branch that examines email messages as products with

respect to their different structural properties. On the other hand, a body of work-related

studies exists that is interested in the social processes that evolve when email is introduced in

an organization. The study presented here attempts to combine these two aspects: it is both

focused on the social and communicative processes that are affected by the use of email, and

on the messages actually produced, looking at what kind of interaction takes place through

particular email exchanges.

3. Theoretical and methodological concerns

The present study focuses on different aspects of the internal use of email within the

ong>newong>sroom, and the messages and dialogues produced, with respect to the overall work context

where these messages represent one among several ong>forong>ms of communication. We study the

role of the external environment ong>forong> participants’ choices of media ong>forong> communication, after

email was introduced in the organization, and what these conditions mean ong>forong> individual

contacts between workers. Specific individuals’ use of media is related to a social and cultural


context, applying an ethnographic perspective. In contrast to the majority of studies previously

referred to, the setting is strongly time-critical. Furthermore, email is studied in a context

where individuals have had previous contact via other means (face-to-face, or via telephone).

3.1 An ethnographic perspective

Within the area of computer-supported cooperative work, research since the mid 1980s has

broadly focused on the role of technology ong>forong> the coordination of group activities (see e.g.

Bannon & Schmidt, 1993; Randall et al, 1994; Suchman 1987, Sommerville et al; 1992).

Ethnographic and ethnomethodological approaches have been used to capture intricate

patterns of collaboration and how these emerge under different contextual conditions. The

present investigation is strongly influenced by these so-called workplace studies. A central

idea is that the detailed description of mundane, everyday activities will help reveal how

participants themselves experience their professional life. This research builds on extended

periods of contact with a group of people in their natural environments, in order to understand

their values, relations and conduct (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995; Morse, 1994, Garfinkel,

1967). Several methods are used in parallel, to understand the contextual conditions and

circumstances that influence work practices and collaboration, including the use of

technological artefacts and media.

The ethnographic researcher works with open questions rather than with specific hypotheses.

This does not mean that the work is non-theoretical, but rather that theories are used merely as

platong>forong>ms of interpretation ong>forong> the observations made. The findings from observations are

integrated by the researcher with related findings from previous studies, so that both the

researcher and the participants in the investigations contribute to the development of the

theories in the field. The researcher tries to account ong>forong> what appears to be key events in the

environment observed; at the same time, he or she can work from their own conceptual

framework that the observation is focused around (cf. Karlsson 2003:18). The central aspect of

the research is that those concepts have evolved from the observation environment, both from

below (from the current flow of events) and from within (from the participants’ perspective)

and that the concepts serve to understand structures as parts of a whole. In this way, the aim is

to reach an understanding of structures that “include recasting everyday understandings and

practices that are taken ong>forong> granted, or turning the familiar into the strange” (Savage 2006; see

also Dixon-Woods 2003).


3.2 The role of the physical environment ong>forong> communication and coordination of work

In workplace studies, the character of the physical environment has been shown to have a

great impact on people’s work patterns and collaboration. By offering ong>spaceong>s ong>forong> inong>forong>mal

contact and supporting an awareness of others’ presence and movements, a corridor or a

building may encourage or facilitate impromptu communication between members of a


In a study of a computer company, McDonald & Ackerman (1998) showed that the way that

people chose colleagues to ask ong>forong> help was strongly related to a proximity principle. It was

more common to choose a colleague close by who had no expert knowledge, than to look up a

knowledgeable person in another department. Similarly, Groth (2004) investigated how

workers use the external environment to keep up to date with events and gain continuous

knowledge about the work in an organization. Individuals were observed to walk around in

their office corridor, building up inong>forong>mal networks with people around them, using the

external environment to acquire concentrated knowledge: reading notes on their colleagues’

doors, noting who is passing through the corridor, etc.

In a re-analysis of data originally reported elsewhere, Kraut, Fussell, Brennan & Siegel (2002)

found aspects predicting the probability of successful collaboration among scientists and

engineers in a large telecommunications company. Results showed that the pairs of

researchers were unlikely to complete a technical report together unless their offices were

physically near each other, even if they had previously published on similar topics or worked

in the same department in the company. Virtually all joint publications occurred among

researchers with compatible expertise. But researchers with the most compatible expertise

were more than four times as likely to publish together if their offices were on the same

corridor than if their offices were on different floors of the same building, and researchers

whose offices were in different buildings almost never collaborated with each other even if

they had highly similar interests.

The polarity closeness - distance, in these studies, indicates the central role that a physical

distance dimension plays ong>forong> collaboration. What can be described as a spatial component

emerges also in relation to the communicative practices observed in the current investigation.

We are interested in what this dimension means and specifically how it is connected to the use


of email in the ong>newong>sroom environment in relation to different social groupings of ong>newong>s


4. Design of the study

4.1 Material

The data ong>forong> the study consists of material from a ong>mediumong>-sized Swedish ong>newong>spaper with a

circulation of about 170,000 copies a day. The editorial office has about 300 employed staff,

including both full-time and part-time workers. The ong>newong>spaper appears six days a week. The

material is based on observations and interviews carried out during a three-year period (2001-

2004), and a corpus of email messages. The observations comprise a total period of six weeks,

with visits of about one week per half-year (spring and autumn).

The field observations were made by means of shadowing. Shadowing is an ethnographic

method where the researcher follows a small number of persons, as opposed to studying a

larger group through surveys. The method can be seen as a special case of participant

observation, where the researcher follows a person in all his or her concerns (Czarniawska


The shadowing episodes have been documented by a note-taking technique developed

especially ong>forong> this investigation. iii The method builds on a ong>forong>m of shorthand notation that

makes it possible to capture ongoing dialogue without recording (Hössjer 2002). iv In this ong>forong>m

of annotation we have managed to include single dialogue turns representing a propositional

content. The structure and the content of different dialogues have been documented, as well as

the continuous flow of dialogue turns (see the Appendix ong>forong> an explanation of the transcription

principles of the quoted examples). As a complement to these annotations of dialogues we

have taken notes based on an observation scheme, related to the exchange of dialogue turns

and the types of communication used. The observation scheme accounts ong>forong> where in the

environment different communicative events occur, between which individuals these events

unfold, their mode of communication (email, telephone, face-to-face), what their purpose is,

and how they follow upon one another in time (cf. Spradley, 1980). In addition to this scheme,

the documentation has also included drawings and photographs taken with a digital camera. v


Email was introduced in the ong>newong>sroom in 1995, about six years beong>forong>e this study was initiated.

At this time, computer-mediated communication had already been introduced in many parts of

society as well as in other ong>newong>s editing settings. Here, we will not attempt to describe the

different phases in the general development of email use. Rather, our aim is to describe the

situations and events observed as experienced by the individuals concerned in the organization

and made explicit through repeated observations. vi On these grounds, we investigate in what

ong>forong>ms communication is achieved after email is introduced as an opportunity ong>forong> interaction in

the editorial environment.

The main emphasis in the analysis lies on the so-called ong>newong>s desk, i.e. the place in the

ong>newong>sroom which is the focal point in the planning and coordination of ong>newong>s production. In the

context of the study, it is primarily associated with one of the two ong>newong>s editors in the

ong>newong>sroom. The responsibility of a ong>newong>s editor (working at the ong>newong>s desk) includes planning

the daily ong>newong>s work, i.e. to coordinate the actions that will result in the next day’s ong>newong>spaper,

together with the picture editor and the copy desk chief. This person, henceong>forong>th called NE,

has been used as a main source ong>forong> the analysis of the role of email in relation to other

communication alternatives, and is the person who has been shadowed in the investigation.

This person is also the main inong>forong>mant in the interview material (repeated interviews were

carried out, 6 times in total). The inong>forong>mation collected from NE has been combined with

inong>forong>mation from a sequence of interviews with representatives ong>forong> different personnel groups

(reporters, copy editors, computer department staff and department managers). This has been

done in order to detect possible differences in perspective between different groups of

employees and to strengthen the basis ong>forong> drawing conclusions.

In total, 19 individuals were interviewed, including NE. Interviews were carried out with 12

journalists in the ong>newong>sroom: three reporters, three copy editors, three department chiefs and

three persons who worked in the ong>newong>sroom’s fact department. In addition, technical issues

around email were the topic of six interviews with people in charge of computers.

The six interviews with NE were all realized as in-depth interviews in a separate office in the

editorial environment. They were carried out in connection to the observation periods (one

interview during each period). Each interview took 1.5-2 hours and was documented through

written notes (as sound recording was not accepted; see note III). The points of departure were


questions related to the work as ong>newong>s editor, the role of email in the ongoing flow of ong>newong>s,

and different work tasks, some of which were discussed in several of the interviews. The

interviews with the other journalists were also carried out in connection with the observation

periods, and aimed to capture how email was used in their daily work (including subjects,

addressees, frequency, and use of other media).

The interviews with computer staff were aimed at eliciting inong>forong>mation about various technical

aspects of the ong>newong>spaper’s use of email. Issues discussed were how the usage of email was

organized, the types of distribution lists used, and recurring problems that workers in the

ong>newong>sroom had had with their email. All interviews were structured, and were documented

with written notes.

It should be noted that during the interviews, all inong>forong>mants volunteered to make their own,

spontaneous comparisons between the usage of email at the time of the observations, and the

situation that prevailed beong>forong>e email was introduced. When routines ong>forong> email use were

described, more or less detailed comments were thus made also about the situation beong>forong>e the

introduction of email. In our analysis of the data, we have been able to view those

recollections and descriptions in the light of one another, and a coherent pattern has emerged

of the usage of email both with regard to how it is perceived by different individuals (with

different positions), and in relation to what emerges from the observations. The descriptions

have thereong>forong>e enabled us to complement the observations with a picture of the changes that

have occurred in communication patterns through the use of email.

Even if the focus of this investigation lies on describing the communication patterns with

email in the ong>newong>sroom environment, there is thus a time dimension tied to the patterns

observed, which yields a perspective on the role of email in the editorial work where changes

are viewed through the inong>forong>mants’ own perspective. To some extent, it has been possible to

get at the circumstances regarding the work situation without email because all the inong>forong>mants

had an employment period that was long enough ong>forong> them to have experienced the

introduction of email in the organization. This also means that a comparatively detailed

picture of this transition in ong>newong>sroom communication emerged.


The email messages that were analyzed were taken from NE’s mailbox. This material consists

of two parts. The first part includes messages (n=116) that are segments of extended episodes

of interaction related to a particular topic that may move across different communication

media, and where the interaction in conversations, meetings and telephone calls has been

documented in dialogue annotations. These messages are thus included in chains of

communication events associated with single topics (message corpus 1). The material was

collected in connection with the observations, as we aimed to investigate how email interacts

with other ong>forong>ms of communication in the ongoing flow of discussions on a certain topic,

where a certain issue moves between different ong>forong>ums during a workday – morning meeting,

email, telephone, face-to-face conversation, email etc.

The second part of the corpus includes messages that capture a cross-section of different

topics as they were handled via email. The material consists of NE’s total flow of internal

messages during one week in February-March 2002. It comprises a period of five working

days as well as the messages that arrived during a weekend when NE was not on duty. Of the

total number of received and sent messages, the following account covers those messages

(n=151) that are tied to NE’s internal communication (message corpus 2). vii During the week

after they were collected, all of the messages were discussed in interviews with NE, who

described the situation surrounding the particular email exchange (these interviews were

separate from the six previously mentioned interviews, carried out during observations).

However, it should also be noted that a significant part of the flow of messages in NE’s inbox

consists of messages written to and from different external senders viii and that this type of

messages is not included in the analysis presented below. In this way, the messages in corpus

2 constitute only a part (53%) of the total number of messages (284) in NE’s mailbox during

the week in question. This collection of messages does not overlap with the material in corpus


4.2 Analysis

The whole investigation is divided into two parts that together will shed light on how email is

integrated in the everyday interaction of the ong>newong>sroom. Firstly, we describe the role that email

plays in relation to other ong>forong>ms of communication in the environment—face-to-face

communication, telephone calls, faxes, paper notes etc.—and what the choice offered by the

email ong>mediumong> means ong>forong> the social structures in the ong>newong>sroom environment. The basis ong>forong> this

part of the study is the data from observations, interviews and the messages from corpus 1.


Secondly, we focus on the character of the email interaction as such in the communicative

landscape of the ong>newong>sroom when it is used to accomplish various editorial tasks. This part of

the study is based on message corpus 2.

The first part of the study includes a spatial analysis of the environment, aiming to reflect

certain aspects of the social practices in the ong>newong>sroom. The spatial aspect lies in the account of

how the ong>newong>sroom is organized physically in terms of different kinds of localities: corridors

with offices in relation to open office landscapes. This description is connected to the issue of

where different individuals have their workplaces and what conditions the external

environment creates ong>forong> different types of interaction. The analysis captures larger structures:

how the physical locality is laid out with respect to where different individuals have their

desks and how such circumstances interact with what kinds of (communicative) acts

(conversations face-to-face, via telephone, interaction via email etc.) can be carried out within

the scope of different activities and events. Using this account as a basis, we study how the

actual interaction unfolds between individuals with different professional roles, and who are

located in different places in the near and remote local environment.

The second part of the study is tied to the email communication as such. The messages have

been analyzed with respect to a number of message categories and ong>forong>ms of interaction that are

used in the contact between different individuals in relation to their professional roles. In

terms of the distinction between one-way and two-way communication we describe what

kinds of message flow have developed between different individuals: whether messages are

sent monologically (one-way) to one or more recipients in the ong>forong>m of circulars, or group

messages of different kinds, or if there are dialogical (two-way) exchanges of turns between

individuals. These structures have then been related to the communication patterns that

develop, both at short distances and across larger areas in the ong>newong>sroom environment.

Thus, the investigation as a whole includes, first of all, communicative patterns in the external

social environment (a spatially oriented analysis) and how email in this light interacts with

communication in other ong>forong>ms (face-to-face communication, telephone calls, faxes, paper

notes) between different groups of workers, depending on where their workplace is situated

(in the near and remote local environment). Secondly, the study also includes a text study of


messages that were actually sent, focusing on the kinds of contacts that staff members with

different places and positions have when they communicate via email.

5. Part 1: Social interaction and media use in the physical ong>newong>sroom


5.1 Workplaces ong>forong> different groups of employees

The spatial analysis of the ong>newong>sroom shows that workers are placed according to their position

as well as the department they belong to. The reporters are placed in a separate reporter

corridor, and the editors in the management corridor have their own area, just like the editors

at the ong>newong>s desk. Workers that are involved in the final layout of text and pages are gathered

in what is here termed the central ong>newong>sroom with its large office landscape. Figures 1-2 show

how the editorial work as a whole is situated in different localities. The workplaces are located

in different buildings and on different floors. In the different buildings there are both offices

connected through corridors and open landscapes. Figure 1 depicts the placement of the

central ong>newong>sroom in relation to the neighbouring localities in the same and adjacent buildings.

Figure 2 shows how different workers are placed within the office landscape of the central


As Figure 1 shows, the central ong>newong>sroom, the reporter corridor ong>forong> journalists with

assignments relating to the largest ong>newong>sroom (corridor B) as well as the corridor ong>forong> people

working in the management group, the editorial group and the computer department (corridors

A and C) are all located on one and the same floor. One of the two ong>newong>s editors has an office

in the reporter corridor (corridor B). This editor has the responsibility ong>forong> long-term planning

of different ong>newong>s tasks, whereas the ong>newong>s editor in the ong>newong>s desk (NE) is in charge of the

current planning from one day to the next. A staircase connects these units with the

advertisement and financial departments and the staff canteen, which are located on other

floors. On the same floor, but in other buildings (Building B and C) that are reached via

connections (corridors C and D), there are departments ong>forong> features, culture, entertainment and

other areas of editorial coverage.


Figure 1. Workplaces ong>forong> different groups in the ong>newong>spaper editorial environment

C-room=room ong>forong> management staff, R-room=reporter room

Within the central ong>newong>sroom (see Figure 2) there are workplaces ong>forong> a ong>newong>s editor, a picture

editor and a copy editor. The latter two are responsible ong>forong> pictures vs. the use of ong>spaceong> on

different pages, respectively. All three of these editors, as well as a ong>newong>s assistant, do their

work at a desk island (the ong>newong>s desk) in a large office ong>spaceong>. Further away in this ong>spaceong>

there are the workers on the night staff: the night editor, copy editing staff, photographers

and graphic personnel. Still farther away, as independent units separated by glass walls,

there are the fact-finding department and the sports department. A large archive cabinet

creates a partition in the room from adjacent meeting rooms with glass walls, and a coffee

room within the ong>newong>sroom. Further away in the office landscape sits the IT-editor. At the

other end close to the picture department, there is a coffee machine. The ong>newong>s desk is the

most salient office island when the room is entered from the main entrance and its staircase

(see Figure 2). It is centrally located, close to the entrance, a few steps from a table with fax

machines and printers.

Figure 2. Workplaces ong>forong> different groups of employees in the central ong>newong>sroom.

NA=ong>newong>s assistant, NE=ong>newong>s editor, CE=copy editor, PE=picture editor

As suggested by the figures, there are different preconditions ong>forong> the different types of direct

communication that are possible or easy to achieve between different individuals. The editors

at the ong>newong>s desk can have an oral conversation with each other in a normal tone of voice,

while carrying out other tasks. Improvised discussions face-to-face concerning particular

details can be arranged continuously by individuals’ rolling their chairs closer to each other

when they wish to look at a text or point in it, etc. Contacts with co-workers (e.g. night editor,

editing staff, photographers) further away can be made by shouting across the room, or

directly when the editors are fetching documents at a printer or fax machine, getting a cup of

coffee at a dispenser, etc. For editing staff, photographers or other professional groups sitting

within the office landscape as well as ong>forong> the editors at the ong>newong>s desk, it is the interaction with

colleagues at their own desk island that requires the least movement. The farther away a

colleague is located, the longer the interruption of work is required when this colleague is to


e approached ong>forong> a direct conversation. For the reporters, such excursions are required every

time they have to negotiate something with their chief editors, and vice versa.

In this way, the physical environment creates external conditions ong>forong> the type of dialogue that

becomes possible or easy to carry out. Thereby, it also contributes to creating distinguishable

professional enclaves in the ong>newong>sroom: the reporters in the corridor, the ong>newong>s desk, the night

editing staff, the archive, the management corridor, etc. The central location of the ong>newong>s desk

within the central ong>newong>sroom helps establish its role in the organization: as the focal point in

the planning of the ong>newong>s work.

5.2 Communication between and within different groups of co-workers

Table 1 provides an overview of different parts of the daily work at the ong>newong>s desk from the

perspective of the ong>newong>s editor, and how the choice of alternatives ong>forong> communication has

changed after email was introduced. The table is based on a combination of data from

observations and interviews made with NE and the other journalists (cf. section 4.1). Text in

italics in grey rows describes different task areas that are included in the work, column 1 with

whom a dialogue is carried on regarding a certain topic, and column 2 and 3 the ong>forong>ms that the

contact takes beong>forong>e vs. after the introduction of email in the organization. Column 2 is based

on interviews concerning the situation beong>forong>e email was introduced, whereas both interviews

and observations depict the situation after the introduction of email (column 3). The order

between the choices ong>forong> communication (from up to down) gives a rough picture of how

common different alternatives are. Each item in the description has been confirmed by

inong>forong>mants with different professional roles.

There are three main changes connected to the internal work of the ong>newong>s editor that have

occurred since the practice of sending and receiving email was introduced in the ong>newong>sroom.

This can be seen from Table 1 by comparing columns 2 and 3, and the order of the options in

each cell. Texts are now sent via email instead of, as beong>forong>e, being placed in special

manuscript baskets at the ong>newong>s desk (this still happens but less frequently). Telephone

consultations between different personnel are now handled via email. Finally, matters are now

resolved via email that were previously dealt with through verbal contacts with colleagues not

in the immediate vicinity. The alternative of using email has, on a broad front, come to change

the communicative landscape of the ong>newong>sroom.


According to the inong>forong>mants, the special efong>forong>ts that excursions are associated with, together

with the characteristics of the media, have implied that oral direct communication has become

reserved ong>forong> certain difficult topics. In this respect, the introduction of email can be said to

have entailed that direct, oral communication has more limited usage. What has disappeared,

according to the inong>forong>mants, is to a great extent the spontaneous conversations between co-

workers that are not in each other’s immediate physical vicinity in the ong>newong>sroom environment.

Between these groups, there is now very little oral dialogue face to face; such verbal contacts

are mainly taken about sensitive issues. This is also confirmed by the observations. An

excursion on the part of the editor appears to be motivated mainly by objections or concerns

that the editor might have with respect to a reporter’s assignment, and where the matter can be

expected to be seen differently by the reporter in question (cf. Hössjer 2002:32 ff). This is now

the only ong>forong>m of direct verbal contact between these groups, with the exception of the short,

ong>forong>malised routine meetings that are arranged once every day in the morning, concerning the

division of work between reporters and NE. The telephone is mentioned by workers as having

a kind of support function. It is used in the internal work when details in the email messages

need a quick confirmation. It can also be used to call a colleague to the ong>newong>s desk ong>forong> a

discussion face to face.

Table 2 provides an overview of how much different ong>forong>ms of communication are used in

relation to each other in the material collected. The figures are based on timekeeping of NE’s

activities during one day of the observations in the ong>newong>sroom. The figures are rough

percentages of the total number of minutes and reflect the situation as it may evolve during a

day when NE is on duty at the ong>newong>s desk. The total work time that this inong>forong>mation is based

on is 8 hours ong>forong> the ong>newong>s editor, with the deduction of half an hour ong>forong> lunch and the time ong>forong>

movements (about 20 minutes), i.e. an effective work time of about 7 hours. ix

The overview in Table 2 specifies where and through which ong>mediumong> various activities are

carried out. Most of the work time is taken up by oral communication (60%) and the main part

of that communication (86%, meetings not included) consists of spontaneous consultations at

the ong>newong>s desk with different colleagues: with management colleagues sitting at other desks in


the same office island, or with editorial co-workers who are passing by, where the contact is

easy to establish through the physical proximity, or through telephone calls. Conversations

that require that the editor leave his desk to see someone in another room, a corridor or to

fetch documents further away in the office landscape comprise a more limited part (7%, 2 and

4%, respectively).

Reading and writing activities take up a significant part of the communication. These activities

are carried out to a great extent through email, which is thus the dominant ong>forong>m of

communication between workers in the remote local environment. Reading and writing on a

computer screen are the dominating ong>forong>ms of writing and reading activities (writing on screen:

96 %, reading on screen: 67%).

Examples 1:1-3 show how the interaction may evolve in those cases where NE approaches a

reporter in his or her room. x The assignment (archaeological excavation with amateurs) that is

the reason ong>forong> the contact has been recorded in the so-called list – a coordination document

with a central role in the editorial planning process xi – as a report, but with a note from NE that

it might be saved ong>forong> some other day. The reporter (Svante) has gone directly to the excavation

site. When he sends a preliminary report of the result of the assignment, he has already been

back at the office ong>forong> a while, and can give rather exact inong>forong>mation about the number of

characters in the text. The kind of presentation chosen, however, is based on the assumption

that it can be published the day after, which implies a collision with the ong>spaceong> ong>forong> other texts,

and the note that NE has made in the list.


Example 1:1: e-mail

News editor Lunch and time to report the results of today’s job.


Reporter Response:

The report from the excavation in Sätuna, on the topic of

eager amateurs, will be almost 3000 characters. We will need

to publish it in tomorrow’s paper, because I have written

that half of the excavation week has passed and people are

getting stressed since they have not yet reached the level

of findings.

I might do something about the art museum too. It depends on

if I get hold of the curator and if so, what she says.


NE chooses not to respond to the message by email, but instead he walks to the reporter’s

office. He is making the judgment that the issue can become a matter ong>forong> discussion, since the

reporter has a diverging opinion from his own about when the text should be published. When

starting the conversation with the reporter, NE is standing in the doorway. The reporter is

sitting with his back towards the door, but rolls around on his chair when NE starts talking. It

is clear from the argument that follows that the matter is sensitive. Both NE and the reporter

are fully aware from the start what the issue is. NE goes right to the subject without any

introduction (There are two reasons that it is difficult to get this text in), and the reporter

makes it clear in his response (I have to write it) that he is aware of which assignment is

intended. Both argue in uncompromising terms such as must, have to, we won’t take it, the

whole thing remains undone, etc.

Example 1:2: face-to-face in the reporter room

Anders: Listen, Svante. There are two reasons that it is difficult to get this text in. If

you write it too long, we won’t take it in.

Svante: I have to write it ong>forong> tomorrow. I have already started.

Anders: If you do a report you have to write it so that it can be published on Friday.


Svante: You told me to write. That is the inong>forong>mation I got. I have tried to avoid… I

have been trying ong>forong> three hours and I am charged up. The whole thing will

be ruined if it is published later.

Anders: You don’t have to look at it in that way. Would everything be destroyed if it

Svante: Yes…

came a day later?

Anders: You will have to write it later.

NE leaves the room and interrupts the conversation at the same time as he starts to talk with

another reporter (Lennart) who is just passing by. The first reporter (Svante) comes out

shouting (It won’t work!). NE and the reporter are standing in the corridor and their tones of

voice have been raised considerably. The reporter runs into his room and shouts (Damn it!)

and NE follows. Both are now screaming openly and loudly to one another.

Example 1:3: face to face in the reporter room

Anders : Lennart, how did you write this thing about the young people…

Svante: It won’t work!

Anders: But Svante. You must show respect ong>forong> others today. It is a must. It is an

intermediary situation

Svante: Damn it! [walks into his office and slams the door]

Anders: You have to! [follows into the room] There are two pages of pictures. We

have such things as the environmental minister. I can’t do anything about

this. I think… Please! I am trying to think about the perspective of the readers

[leaves the room again].

That such discussions are felt to be very unpleasant was confirmed by the editors that were

interviewed. One of them talks about a kind of built-in hierarchy between different media

when it comes to the contact with co-workers in the remote local environment. In the simplest

case, it is enough to send a short email message, referring to a fax with hand-written

comments, or with an attached text file and comments made with the word processor’s Track

Changes function. Email, according to the editors, is suitable ong>forong> instructing co-workers, ong>forong>

asking reporters, photographers, etc. to take on ong>newong> assignments, ong>forong> perong>forong>ming various


services or ong>forong> receiving preliminary reports on current assignments. The telephone can be

used when there is a need ong>forong> an immediate reaction: when follow-up questions are necessary

and unclear matters need to be resolved directly with the person concerned, without having to

leave one’s own desk. Only in the more sensitive cases (cf. the examples), or in those cases

when it might be an advantage that the reporter and the ong>newong>s editor have access to the text

simultaneously, is direct verbal communication used, provided that the individuals are not

accessible and can be reached easily through talking in a normal voice or a shout across the

room. In this way, a functional order is created between different communication alternatives,

where the choice will differ depending on how the persons concerned view the

communication. Knowledge of these conditions creates frames of interpretation ong>forong> the

choices that are made. For a reporter as it is described in the reporter interviews, ong>forong> example,

the fact that an editor appears in one’s office without prior notice gives a certain indication of

how the editor views the matter to be negotiated. The direct, oral contact becomes “charged,”

and this charge creates a ong>forong>m of pre-understanding beong>forong>e the conversation (Hössjer, 2002).

Not all discussions with reporters in their offices lead to such strong clashes of opinion as in

the example above. On some occasions the editor might stop briefly to talk to a reporter who

happens to be in his room when he passes. However, in most cases there is a deliberate aim

of approaching a reporter directly, in order to initiate a potentially sensitive conversation.

That the editors seek contact through a direct conversation (rather than making decisions on

their own) is based on the assumption that this, in the long run, leads to a better working

climate. Any other option, they feel, might make a working relationship difficult or


According to the inong>forong>mants different ong>forong>ms of communication were previously less distinct

from each other functionally. Beong>forong>e the introduction of email, NE’s routines included making

so-called tours, daily after lunch, in the reporter corridor as a part of the work with planning

the ong>newong>s work, in order to obtain inong>forong>mation about the reporters’ ongoing work. This is now

handled via email in the ong>forong>m of progress reports: short work descriptions that are sent by the

reporters, usually at lunchtime. The reports contain summaries of ongoing assignments: their

content, angle and length (see further Part 2). Suggestions, wishes, questions concerning an

assignment that could ong>forong>merly have been discussed in connection with NE’s tours, are now

handled via these messages sent to NE by reporters. This is the predominant ong>forong>m of contact


etween NE and reporters. The messages are responded to by NE via email (direct answers or

comments). We will discuss the interaction in these kinds of messages in more detail below

(see further Part 2).

During NE’s tours in the past, work-related conversations could be mixed with small talk

about other topics, according to the inong>forong>mants. For example, talk about the planning of a

current work assignment could be combined with remarks on the results of one’s children’s

soccer match in the past weekend. Such social conversations have actually been observed

between those colleagues who have regular contacts face-to-face (see further below). At

present though, the situation is different ong>forong> co-workers who are seated at some distance. The

greater the physical distance, the more the communication is dependent on one single ong>mediumong>.

The cost of choosing other ong>forong>ms of communication can be said to have become so high that

these are not seen as real alternatives compared to the options that email offers ong>forong> circulating

different kinds of inong>forong>mation. In this respect, the choice of communication alternative shows

how the situation is perceived by participants, where the ong>forong>m of communication (the ong>mediumong>)

contextualizes the contact in different ways:

1) email: unproblematic issue and/or question of a routine character

2) telephone: issue that requires quick and clear feedback

3) oral conversation: sensitive issue or question of a more complex character

In contrast with the type of communication that takes place between individuals that are

located far from each other, we have the sort that occurs in the immediate surroundings. This

includes interaction between colleagues who are either at the same desk island, who have

adjacent offices or who are located in such a way that they can easily call out to each other

across the room. Dialogues are frequent between the editors at the ong>newong>s desk, between the

copy editing staff working at night, between the reporters in the ong>newong>s corridor, and between

individuals in the editorial management. In these constellations, there is rather a tendency ong>forong> a

reversed sequence of priorities compared to the one above. Oral, direct communication

dominates in the continuous, everyday work. Colleagues update one another about current

events, contacts that have been established, and inong>forong>mation gathered (cf. Hössjer 2002:33).

The editors at the ong>newong>s desk talk to each other intermittently, in short periods: silent work at

the computer, a brief question, silence again, ong>newong> question, inong>forong>mation etc. In the background


a radio might be on, and its sound level is raised during ong>newong>scasts. Colleagues are passing by

at some distance; they stop when some relevant inong>forong>mation appears on the radio, or come up

to discuss some question (Hössjer 2002, ibid.). In a similar way, reporters in the reporter

corridor may walk in and out of each other’s rooms.

An example of such a cluster of different subject threads at the ong>newong>s desk is given in Example

2. In this situation, NE (Anders) has just had a problem printing a document. He comes back

from the printer with the document, and initiates the dialogue while sitting down at his desk,

starting to go through his email messages. After some reading of the subject lines, he opens up

the top message from one of the reporters (Vivvi). It contains a text draft that she has just

written. In passing, he says to the other editor (Anna) that the same reporter came by the desk

earlier. He opens the document and expresses spontaneous disappointment about its content. A

colleague comes by on the way to the printer, asking ong>forong> the picture ong>forong> an assignment that he

is working with. NE answers, at the same time as he goes on working with the texts on the

computer screen.

Example 2: conversation at the ong>newong>s desk

Anders: I don’t know if I dare print any more. Vivvi came around a while ago.

Anna: Is that a chronicle that she has written?

Anders: [Opens Vivvi’s text on his screen and reads quickly through it.]

I give up on this. She was supposed to write a report. It was assigned this

morning. She went down afterwards [when the photographer had taken


David: Has Jens turned in the graphics?

Anders: Check it with the chief editor.

The interaction is brief and fragmented on the surface, but is made coherent by the fact that

various sorts of inong>forong>mation are frequently given in this way, which means that the recipient

already has the contextual knowledge necessary. One important aspect is that the editors at the

ong>newong>s desk can continuously overhear conversations that their colleagues are having with

passing co-workers and with others on the telephone. The conversations of the colleagues

ong>forong>m a kind of background sound carpet that may be focused on explicitly when some relevant

inong>forong>mation is distinguished in the ongoing communication stream.


Within this general kind of interaction there are also other types of subject threads. As other

studies of workplace communication have shown, so-called small talk plays an important role.

Social themes are interwoven in the ongoing work dialogue and contribute to strengthening

the sense of workplace community. In Example 3, the ong>newong>spaper’s IT editor (Magnus) is

stopping by. He sits further away in the office landscape, but he has just picked up a document

from one of the printers. On his way back from the printer, he inong>forong>ms NE (Anders) about a

message that he has received from a reader, with opinions on the ong>newong>spaper’s coverage. He

intends to ong>forong>ward the message to the paper’s reporters, as a collective request not to neglect

its topic. The same issue has been discussed earlier at a management meeting, and the

inong>forong>mation is now given in passing, at some distance from NE’s desk as a confirmation that

now is the time ong>forong> him to send the message. But NE does not respond to the statement with a

work-related utterance. Instead, he connects to the topic of the IT editor’s recently concluded

vacation. In this way, social themes are mixed into the ongoing work dialogue, where the

transition to a private sphere can be viewed as a way to give indirect appraisal of the IT

editor’s initiative to send out the inong>forong>mation. The change of subject serves both to show that

the work issue is closed, and to signal a positive attitude. The latter is done by NE first

showing an interest in what the colleague did on his vacation, and then showing empathy

when it is revealed that the latter had a minor accident in this connection.

Example 3: conversation at the ong>newong>s desk

Magnus: You know there is a reader who came up with some comments. I am sending

them off now to the reporters.

Anders: Did you have a good time in Mallorca?

Magnus: Yes, no major injuries. My head is intact.

Anders: What? Did you crash?

Magnus: Not me, but Björn had a fall when we were going to the mountains. But it

was nothing serious.

Anders: I’m glad it went well then.

In the notion of creating a team, Fletcher (1999:48), includes all such themes that are

external to work and that encourage the social sense of togetherness: when individuals take

time to listen and react empathically to non-work-related inong>forong>mation, and generally try to


create an atmosphere that encourages collaboration (cf Eelen 2001, Holmes & Schnurr 2005,

Mills 2003, Watts 1992, 2003, Wierzbicka 1999). With the ong>newong> communicative structures

that have appeared in the ong>newong>sroom, with email being used in the organization, this team

building is primarily connected with the interaction within different editorial enclaves.

Email, as it appears from observations and in accounts by inong>forong>mants, is used in the local

environment ong>forong> assigning different tasks, when there are many details to be communicated,

specific inong>forong>mation about contacts to be taken, telephone numbers to people, institutions, and

attachments with texts to be commented on, etc. A comment that frequently recurs in the

interviews is that the inong>forong>mation in an email message is permanent, and can be processed at a

time that suits the user. Email functions as a kind of log, a memory aid in the ongoing ong>newong>s

work: work reports, orders, bullet lists of inong>forong>mation concerning various details etc. This can

be seen in the observations but is thus also claimed by the inong>forong>mants. Oral communication is

the main ong>mediumong>, but email is used continuously regarding details associated with different

assignments—also between co-workers who are located quite close to one another. It even

happens, although rarely, that a worker calls up a colleague (on a mobile phone) who has his

desk just a few yards away, or who has temporarily left his workplace in order to come to the

ong>newong>s desk ong>forong> a conversation. The immediate local environment is in this regard the setting

where the options ong>forong> communication are the most variable and multi-dimensional. Ongoing

talk and calls across the room, including social themes, are combined with the overhearing of

different conversations and email messages. Daily meetings are scheduled and may also be

arranged on short notice when the situation demands it.

In this way, the usage of email can be claimed to manifest distinct interactive structures in the

ong>newong>sroom environment that interact with the localization of different groups of co-workers.

The limited direct contact across various groups, combined with the oral dialogue going on

within these groups, can also be said to have strengthened the groupings that existed earlier

between different co-worker enclaves. This reinong>forong>cement of social structures emerges from

the fact that the localization of co-workers in different editorial enclaves is the same as beong>forong>e

email existed in the ong>newong>sroom. When this circumstance interacts with the patterns observed,

and – according to unanimous descriptions in interviews – is the result of a change connected

to the introduction of emailthe work conditions found can be said to strengthen hierarchical

structures, considering that co-workers are placed in the enclaves according to their role in the


ong>newong>sroom hierarchy. More elaborated ong>forong>ms of communication (variable and multi-

dimensional) exist within these enclaves, whereas it is very limited across those groups. And

when social small talk no longer occurs between different such groups – e.g. between

managers (such as NE) and subordinates (e.g. reporters) – and the direct oral contact is also

mainly limited to drafts being questioned, problems and difficulties being discussed etc., this

contributes additionally to the creation of social distance. Different groups of employees are in

this way separated from each other, and there is a social distance related to the type of oral

contact and the role of employees in the ong>newong>sroom hierarchy.

The overall social group structure is thus manifested by a high frequency of oral contacts

within closely situated clusters of co-workers, and a low frequency of such contacts across

distances in the local office environment. How the choice of communication mode takes place

within this framework is developed in Figure 3. In closely situated clusters (e.g. between the

people at the ong>newong>s desk) face-to-face dialogue serves as the main ong>mediumong>, and email is used

ong>forong> specific routines that have become associated with that ong>mediumong> (e.g. assignments of

certain kinds of jobs). Across greater distances in the environment, however, (e.g. between the

ong>newong>s editor at the ong>newong>s desk and the writers in the reporter corridor) the relationship is partly

reversed. Face-to-face conversations are used ong>forong> questions that are judged to be of the sort

that cannot be handled at a distance (on the telephone or via email) and where the subject of

discussion justifies physical movement.

In the light of the opportunity ong>forong> deeper discussions and small talk that face-to-face contact

offers, the contrast between how communication develops in the immediate vicinity and

across distances becomes particularly prominent. Also, considering the central role of small

talk in workplaces (see above), clear-cut differences emerge not only between individuals in

the near vs. remote environment, but also between co-workers who are at different levels in

the internal hierarchy of the ong>newong>sroom. The frequent small talk with colleagues at the same

hierarchical level in the near environment can be contrasted with the lack of such elements

with colleagues in the distant environment, who also have a different hierarchical position in

the organization.


Figure 3. Types of communication in the near vs. remote local environment.

6. Part 2: Communicative patterns in email messages

Part 1 of the study has shown that with email being used in the ong>newong>sroom, there is a gap in

communication between groups of co-workers that are located far from each other and at

different levels in the internal hierarchy. This gap manifests itself in the fact that email is the

predominant ong>forong>m of communication between those groups. In this section, we will look more

closely at the email messages that are actually sent, in their potential capacity of bridging

these groups together. As a way of understanding the depth and interactivity of

communication the main question in the following is whether the communicative gap in the

remote environment and between workers at different hierarchical levels is balanced by the

particular character of communication occurring via email. What types of messages are

exchanged between different groups? In particular, we will examine whether the email

exchange is built on one-way or two-way communication. Is it a question of delivery of

inong>forong>mation, or directions, etc. that the receiver can integrate in his or her work without further

email contact, or are the message sequences more dialogical in nature? In the latter case, what

kinds of dialogues take place and how are they related to the occurrence of the kind of social

small talk that has been shown to have an important role in professional work climate? This

will be realized ong>forong> groups in the near and remote environment and ong>forong> workers at different

levels in the internal hierarchy. As beong>forong>e, the analysis takes its point of departure in the

situation at the ong>newong>s desk (through NE’s mailbox), which involves, through its central role, a

cross-section of different types of messages being sent internally in connection with the ong>newong>s

work. This analysis is based on Corpus 2 (cf. Section 4.1).

Table 3 shows the number of messages that are realized as one-way (M=monological) and

two-way communication (D=dialogical), respectively. The table includes both the emails that

NE sends and the ones that he receives from co-workers. In the top header of the table the

sender is given, and the respective column (excluding the leftmost column) indicates those

email genres that are produced by different groups of writers, combined with inong>forong>mation ong>forong>

each work role and genre (inside the table) about who is the recipient of the message. An

overall distinction is made depending on whether sender and recipient are located in the

vicinity of each other, or at a distance. This is indicated in the table by using lower-case and


capitalized headings, respectively, in the recipient fields. This overview table includes only

those genres that are sent internally within the ong>newong>sroom, and the basis ong>forong> the text labels is

those message genres that were discerned by NE. xii The leftmost column of the table displays

how the messages are related to different parts of the ong>newong>s production process (marked in

boldface) as well as the type of message with respect to the ong>forong>m of contact (marked in italics).

The message genres are sorted according to their orientation to providing inong>forong>mation,

commissioning/ordering work, or discussing work-related issues. Within these structures we

distinguish between cases that are one-way (monological) or two-way (dialogical) in

character. A very small group of messages (Social themes) are not covered in the categories

connected to the overall ong>newong>s production, but are described in terms of their interactive


As the table shows, the bulk of the internal messages – 109 of totally 151 (72%) – have a

monological character. They are sent without any expectation of a response from the

recipient. xiii These are starkly conventionalized messages that are integrated in different

editorial activities and routines. The messages have a ong>forong>m-based character where the

inong>forong>mation is sorted into distinct fields (entertainment report, circular, internal inong>forong>mation).

They have the ong>forong>m of a standardized text, saved as a kind of template in the computer, that is

modified according to the situational circumstances (e.g. telephone trouble, see Ex. 1:1) and

sent out on a daily basis (e.g. reminder about briefing).

For NE, who has the responsibility ong>forong> general coordination of the ong>newong>s production process,

email messages are aimed at receiving and delivering current inong>forong>mation. The messages that

are sent by NE contain monological orders or reservations of ong>spaceong> in the ong>newong>spaper ong>forong>

various articles (page bookings) and reminders about work reports from the reporters

(reminder about briefing). NE distributes ong>newong>s coverage assignments and tasks among co-

workers. He sends out messages that, in varying ways, follow up and take a position

concerning details of the work of the ong>newong>s reporters (suggestions, wishes, discussion,

comments, answers, questions). He delivers inong>forong>mation about the planned organization of the

edition of the ong>newong>spaper, which is distributed to everyone in the ong>newong>sroom. However, it

should be noted that there are also a few cases of messages with social themes (5 messages).


These are congratulations and some joking poems; the latter relate to an email contact that NE

had with one particular reporter.

In a similar way, the editors of different departments coordinate various activities. They

have the overall responsibility ong>forong> the ong>newong>s work in their particular area: culture,

entertainment, sports, county and economy. The email messages representing these editors

serve such general purposes (inong>forong>mation, circulars and entertainment reports) between

different departments. They are sent out one-way. Example 4 concerns inong>forong>mation about the

content of a TV supplement. Such inong>forong>mation is sent out once a week to a list of permanent

recipients, and is divided into pre-defined parts: TV, Video/DVD, videolist and


Example 4: email—internal inong>forong>mation



Date: Tue 28 Feb 2002 11:46:34 +0100

To:copyeditor@ong>newong>, karl.karlsson@ong>newong>,

ong>newong>seditor@ong>newong>, Bildchefen@ong>newong>,

Klara.Vajrander@ong>newong>, nighteditor@ong>newong>,

webeditors@ong>newong>, radioong>newong>spaper@ong>newong>,

anna.stensson@ong>newong>, entertainment@ong>newong>,


From benny häll

the basis of the ong>newong>s broadcasts of the local radio station. These summaries are sent one-way

with a certain delay (at the most one hour) to NE, the web and economy departments, the

picture editor and the county editor. The reports arrive at about one-hour intervals: at 8.30,

9.30, 10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 13.30, 14.30, 15.30. The summaries have the ong>forong>m of a bullet list.

Each ong>newong>s item is presented as a note of a few lines, under a bullet without a heading. The

number of items is 2 in Example 5, but varies widely across messages.

Example 5: email— radio report



From: gunlö

Date: Tue 26 Feb 2002 14.46.03 +0100

To:webeditor@ong>newong>, >financialeditors@ong>newong>,

>pictureeditor@ong>newong>, >ong>newong>seditor@ong>newong>,


Subject: X-ong>newong>s 26 Feb 14.30 hrs

1.Parents in Västmanland who are suspected of abusing their

baby to death are also suspected of abusing twin of dead

baby, writes Aftonbladet. xiv

2. Swedish households choose to save in bank or mattress.

Last year SEK 4 billion in shares were bought, compared with

last year --- SEK 40 billion, reports National Financial

Supervisory Authority.

The reporters at NE’s ong>newong>sroom work with summaries of ongoing work (progress reports).

This implies that the email messages that they produce focus on individual jobs. For example,

they write reports about the progress of their assignments. These are generally written in a

kind of bullet ong>forong>m (when there is more than general inong>forong>mation) that recurs from message to

message. Under each ong>newong> bullet point, inong>forong>mation is given concerning ongoing work, partly

as sentence fragments. This kind of text arrangement is included in a kind of template with an

occasional salutation and a final greeting (cf. Example 1:1).

The progress reports are accordingly a kind of briefing, i.e. a summary of the state of the work

ong>forong> individual reporters. These reports have, as mentioned in Part 1, replaced the daily tour

that NE made previously around lunchtime in the reporter corridor. The progress reports are

sent daily, usually around noon, to NE from the reporters that are on duty. The messages are


focused on the inong>forong>mation that NE needs ong>forong> the coordination of work. Example 6 deals with

a work description. Inong>forong>mation is given on a booked interview and where the reporter will be

while the interview story is being written, as well as how she can be reached.

Example 6 – progress report containing work description

Reporter Interviewing girl who had cancer after lunch at the city


going back and ong>forong>th.

Can be reached on the phone there, or at 070xxxxxx if

something else should turn up that I have to take care of.

/Karin Wallgren

Example 7 is a text description. An estimate is given of the length of several ong>newong>s stories, in

the ong>forong>m of a list complemented with inong>forong>mation about the number of characters.

Example 7 – progress report containing text description

Reporter The oncology clinic in ong>newong> collaboration agreement with

neighboring county council.

No cut-offs?

About 1700 characters

The county council’s approval, and voices about parachutes

About 1200 characters


As the examples illustrate, these are strongly work-focused messages that can be seen as

replacements of the tours that NE made earlier to the reporter corridor. They have a logistic

character, in the sense that they are written to be easy to handle (bullet-point lists, and short


The monological messages are sent to fixed lists of recipients (cf. e.g. internal inong>forong>mation and

radio report), or a single recurring recipient (cf. the progress reports from reporters to NE). In

most cases, they are aimed at providing inong>forong>mation about current activities, taking advantage

of the permanent character of email compared to other media.


The messages that NE sends to individuals at the same hierarchical level (i.e. other editors) are

circulars aimed at distributing inong>forong>mation or planning upcoming work (entertainment report,

TV supplement). Messages are sent ong>forong> their inong>forong>mation, in order to avoid duplication of

work between different departments. For co-workers that are not at the same level as the

sender (i.e. reporters) the circulars sent are related to assignments that they have been given by

NE. The inong>forong>mation in those types of circulars was previously distributed at meetings, or by

paper summaries that were provided to those concerned in special files on a desk. In this

regard, email has brought with it a considerable simplification, as physical transportation of

paper documents has been replaced by electronic messaging.

The majority of the monological messages are exchanged between colleagues in the remote

local environment. As mentioned beong>forong>e in Part 1 of this paper, messages are also occasionally

exchanged between co-workers that are located close to each other. For example, there are

circulars sent to an entire distribution list. Another example is that radio reports from the ong>newong>s

assistant are also sent to NE who is seated in the immediate vicinity. Other messages of this

character in the corpus are bookings and orders of different kinds that are sent from an editor

to another who is located close by.

Only a minor part of the messages (n=43, 11%) are dialogical in the sense that they explicitly

request a response from the recipient, or display a reaction to something already written.

These messages are short and strongly work-focused. They seem to be written at high speed,

with terse ong>forong>mulations that have also an oral character – the latter has also been noted in

other, less time-critical environments (cf. e.g. Severinson Eklundh 1986). An example is the

following: “Hello, have had ong>newong> email contact with Fransson. Is it OK that the Newspaper

publishes on March 6 and the Daily News on March 7, asks Lotta”. Of these messages, only a

limited number (n=12) deal with something other than solving small problems, coordinating

time schedules or deciding on staff allocation issues. Question-answer sequences are not

uncommon, as are suggestions, wishes, instructions and comments, but in all cases the

message threads are short. No social themes are included here, with the exception of opening

greetings and concluding signatures and the five messages where the whole message is

devoted to this kind of content.


The main pattern is a simple question followed by a simple answer, as illustrated by Example

8. The question in this example is about an assignment that was just finished, which is

responded to by NE in a single sentence. The reporter outlines two alternatives ong>forong> dealing

with the issue, and thereby makes it easy ong>forong> the other party (NE) to react to it without writing

a lengthy response.

Example 8: email – question

Reporter Hi,

I’ve finished writing up the von Sydow murder. Bengtsson is

just going to read through the interview. Otherwise we’re

just waiting ong>forong> pictures.

Shall I sit on the material ong>forong> now or submit it ong>forong>




News editor Could Ann read it and then Bengt wants it as soon as

possible ong>forong> editing.


Also within the dialogical message exchange, patterns arise that can be related to social

structures in the near and remote environment. Table 4 displays the length of the dialogical

threads that occur in the material collected.

As the overview in the table shows, in about half of the messages there is a short dialogue: a

reaction follows something written in a previous message. Most of the short threads (with two

turns) are generated between NE and the reporters in the ong>newong>sroom environment. These

usually concern limited matters, related to the production of different articles. Such issues are

discussed only via email, even if the original idea of the article may have been introduced in a

meeting or in a direct conversation with a reporter. A common case is that a reporter sends a

progress report which NE comments on. Alternatively, there is a question, a request or a

suggestion, which is countered by a short response or comment from NE (cf. Example 8).


This pattern is in line with what Zack (1993) observed in his investigation, where the majority

of email conversations analyzed represented what he called alternating dialogues: dialogues in

the prototypical ong>forong>m of a simple question that is followed by a short answer, in contrast to the

more elaborated, interactive conversations that are maintained face-to-face.

The pattern of the dialogues between editors (which occur now and then) is somewhat

different. The dialogue changes tracks more often, is transferred to an oral conversation or

meeting on one of the relevant subjects: discussion about text drafts, long-term planning,

editorial issues, and consultations of various sorts. A question may be raised via email and

then answered face-to-face. In cases that concern an editorial issue, a switch of this kind

appears to be the norm. The message (only one case in the material, cf. Table 3) is responded

to by an editor approaching NE at his desk. This conversation leads to the scheduling of a

meeting where a decision is made, with several editors participating.

In the message chain shown in Example 9, the dialogue is carried out between the two editors.

NE is seated in the ong>newong>s desk and the colleague in the ong>newong>s editors’ room (the planning room)

in the reporter corridor (cf. Figure 2). The initiating contact (message 1, from the ong>newong>s

editor’s colleague) is about an idea ong>forong> how the Newspaper should give attention to the

International Women’s day which will take place about a week later.

Example 9:1-9:4 – idea discussion

NEcolleague What do we say to giving somewhat more scope ong>forong> special

copy on International Women’s Day in the Friday, March 8

edition? Vera is working with matriarchy research, gender

equality in society as an idea and that sort of thing, plus

we could add some other odds and ends. I have a Hello xv ong>forong>

instance. And maybe a column.


NE We could either do that or we could have the day pervade

different sections. One interesting idea would be to point

out in many contexts whether men or women are in focus. In

some cases you would have to use footnotes.



A suggestion is outlined by NE’s editor colleague and is supported by a work description ong>forong> a

reporter who has been working on an article. The suggestion involves how the reporter’s work

can be combined with other journalistic contributions. It is followed by a message from NE

(message 2) where he launches another alternative. The next message is a statement (OK)

from the colleague (message 3) saying that there is now an open situation, with two

alternatives that may need to be balanced against each other in an oral discussion.

NEcolleague OK, we can talk about it /E

Here the discussion is in a sort of situation that corresponds to Message 1 in Example 8 above.

In contrast to Example 8 these are however two more complex alternatives, which cannot

easily be negotiated via email. The statement by NE’s colleague is followed up by NE with yet

another message (Message 4). NE accounts ong>forong> the options existing to discuss the issue orally

during the workday, and he also indicates that his idea might be difficult to carry out.

NE My idea is probably hard to carry out. Maybe we could do it

on a smaller scale, some ong>newong>s page or something.

Vera is emailing her text to the chief ong>newong>s editors and the

chief photo editor. She working from home – monthly meeting

at 11 and Cupola meeting are pumping up the pressure ong>forong> me


In this way, the discussion moves back and ong>forong>th between different standpoints where the

ultimate solution is not evident from the start. Compared to Example 8, the development of the

two alternatives is more extended here. The discussion starts in email, but is transferred to an

oral conversation when it becomes to complex to finish it in this mode.

As suggested in Example 9, these cases concern issues that are complicated, and cannot be

resolved in a few email exchanges. Regardless of whether the dialogue is carried on with

someone at the same office island, or at some distance, it is not a big efong>forong>t to let the

communication switch over to oral interaction. In other words, the change from email to


spoken interaction (cf. Example 9) might also happen when managing editors are located far

from each other (at the ong>newong>s desk vs. in the management corridor, cf. Figure 1).

An important aspect is that these cases concern co-workers that are on the same level in the

organizational hierarchy. These colleagues do not give each other work orders (as in the case

of NE and the reporters). The contact builds on the fact that different factors can be balanced

against each other in a more unconditional, problem-solving dialogue. In this way, a contrast

is created that strengthens the social structures observed in the ong>newong>sroom (Part 1). On the one

hand, a difference emerges between the near and remote local environment, which has to do

with whether email or face-to-face communication is the main ong>mediumong>. On the other hand,

there is also a distinction between the orientations of communication in those contexts:

whether it is oriented towards simple themes, or is of a more problem-solving character.

Looking at the communication going on via email in the ong>newong>sroom from a general

perspective, it is clear that the patterns that stand out with respect to the choice between

different alternatives ong>forong> communication in the ong>newong>sroom (examined in Part 1) are further

emphasized in the structures exhibited by the email communication as such (Part 2). The

communication between different co-workers across the remote environment is mainly built

on one-way communication: short, conventionalized messages that include work-related

inong>forong>mation of various kinds. The two-way communication that is actually taking place can

primarily be seen within the framework of what has been called an alternating dialogue:

simple topics, exchanged in short messages chains between two co-workers (Zack, 1993). In

this sense, the email communication in the remote local environment is not of an in-depth

character, and does not compensate ong>forong> the communicative gap that was observed in the first

part of this study.

Compared to the colleagues who are close to each other and who also have the same level of

position in the internal hierarchy, the above differences are especially pronounced ong>forong> those

co-workers that are located at a distance from one another, and those who are at different

levels in the internal ong>newong>sroom hierarchy. For those two groups, the daily communication via

email, and its relationship to other media, is of a very different character.


7. Discussion and conclusions

During the ong>forong>ty or so years that have passed xvi since the first email messages were sent, the

conditions ong>forong> the use of digital technologies, as well as attitudes towards them, have changed

radically. Sending email does not, as beong>forong>e, represent a choice of some unknown technology.

Email is now a part of many people’s everyday life, both at work and privately. Individuals

use email to write many different sorts of messages, adapting them in various ways to the

situation and their own communicative needs.

Several previous investigations have focused on communicative aspects of email. These

studies range from linguistically oriented ones, studying sequences of messages and their

structure, to social and work-related studies of how email is introduced in an organization. In

most of those previous studies the purpose has been to understand the effects of email as more

or less ong>newong> ong>mediumong> (cf. section 2), and the research has been done primarily in academic and

technical contexts.

A pattern that emerges in those descriptions is that email leads to increased communication

between individuals who are not in the immediate physical vicinity of each other. This has

been taken as evidence of a bridging of hierarchical structures, demonstrating that the ong>newong>

ong>mediumong> has opened channels ong>forong> ong>newong> encounters between people who previously had no or

very limited contact with each other. This pattern has been found both in the context of

workplaces where people are co-located (Coate 1998, Culnan & Markus 1987, Garton &

Wellman 1995, Hiltz & Turoff 1993) and in communication at a distance, connected to

interorganizational contacts or where private citizens use email to contact public authorities

(Hård af Segerstad 2002).

In the present study, the purpose has been to provide a picture of the communicative patterns

including email in a ong>newong>spaper editorial environment. The study presented deviates from the

above research efong>forong>ts in several important ways. Firstly, it focuses on a context that has not

been described to a great extent beong>forong>e in relation to its email usage. What serves as a basic

condition here, compared to the majority of the studies referred to, is that the communication

in the ong>newong>sroom is part of a strongly time-critical environment, where an important

precondition is the continuously ongoing flow of ong>newong>s. Secondly, the email usage in this

environment takes place between co-workers who also have contact in other ong>forong>ms: contacts


that were established long beong>forong>e the present study (cf. Zack’s study ofongoing management


Using an ethnographic approach, we have concentrated both on the social and communicative

processes that are affected by the use of email, and the email sequences produced, looking at

what kind of interaction actually occurs through particular email exchanges. On the basis of an

analysis of co-workers’ physical localization and its significance ong>forong> communicative patterns,

on the one hand, and the study of email messages as such, on the other hand, we have

attempted to give an in-depth account of the role of email in the communication landscape of

the ong>newong>sroom. Although the email corpus that we had access to was limited, we have been

able to reach findings in the two parts of the study that support each other. We have been

particularly interested in what a physical distance dimension (a spatial component) plays ong>forong>

collaboration and specifically how it is connected to the use of email in the ong>newong>sroom

environment in relation to positions and groups of ong>newong>s workers. This perspective has been

used as a platong>forong>m of interpretation.

The picture that emerges from the analysis of our data differs from what has been found in

other studies about email. Rather than creating encounters between people, or bridging social

barriers, we have found that the effect of email has been rather the opposite. Hierarchical

structures have been reinong>forong>ced between different co-worker groups in the ong>newong>sroom. Highly

variable and multi-dimensional communication (face-to-face, telephone etc.) goes on within

these groups (in the near or immediate environment), but to a very limited extent across the

groups (in the remote environment), resulting in a communicative gap in the ong>newong>sroom

environment as a whole.

This communication gap between workers in the remote environment is connected to the use

of email as a main ong>forong>m of contact, and theoretically it might be the case that this

communication would compensate ong>forong> the lack of other contacts. The communication

maintained among workers in the remote environment, however, builds primarily on email as

one-way communication: short, conventionalized messages containing inong>forong>mation of

different kinds related to the ong>newong>s work. The two-way communication that actually occurs

follows the pattern described as alternating dialogue: short messages followed by a reply

(Zack, 1993). The email communication in the remote environment is in this regard not of an


in-depth character and does not balance the communicative gap observed in the ong>newong>sroom


It might be tempting to interpret these effects as contradicting the results of studies pointing at

email as a ong>mediumong> ong>forong> social contacts. But what is at issue here is rather a displacement in the

communicative patterns, where email interacts with other communication alternatives

depending on contextual conditions. This becomes evident when email is studied both in an

organizational context, and on the basis of email messages as such. Inong>forong>mation exchange is a

vital part of the ong>newong>sroom work, and when email is introduced in this kind of environment it

lends itself readily to such purposes. The main part of the messages sent are anchored in the

ongoing ong>newong>s work, which requires a rapid flow of inong>forong>mation. Parts of the oral interaction

that previously fulfilled these functions have disappeared when email— adapted ong>forong> quick

inong>forong>mation transfer —was introduced in the ong>newong>sroom. This also had the consequence that

other ong>forong>ms of spoken contacts were reduced, with effects on the social structures of the


When email co-exists with verbal interaction in the immediate physical environment, it takes

on the role of a supplemental ong>mediumong>. When it becomes the dominating ong>forong>m of contact, and

this contact is inong>forong>mation-oriented, the ong>mediumong> does not contribute to the bridging of social

divides, even though there are occasional examples of more personal themes in the material

collected. When such a pattern in the remote, internal environment is combined with a tight

interaction and social team building within particular co-located groups, the effect becomes a

reinong>forong>cement of existing group structures. The ‘costs’ related to a spatial component that

individuals consider they have to pay, in the ong>forong>m of various efong>forong>ts, are balanced against each

other, resulting in different choices depending on the external circumstances—how far away

somebody sits, what the subject matter is, who the communication partner is, whether

something needs to be memorized or documented in writing, etc.

These circumstances can be compared to the role of email in settings where the participants

have not had previous contact and where the environment is less time-critical. For example,

Hård af Segerstad (2002) describes how the contacts between citizens and a municipality

administration increased when email was introduced in the administration. People who had not

turned to the administrative office beong>forong>e, suddenly contacted them with questions of different


kinds. Similar accounts of email in organizations have been described in several other studies,

although these studies were built on interviews and did not involve any study of the message

exchange itself (cf. Section 2). Contacts were established on the basis of common interests and

were less hampered by differences in status tied to profession, social position, etc. (Coate

1998, Culnan & Markus 1987, Garton & Wellman 1995, Hiltz & Turoff 1993).

In less time-critical environments, it can be argued, there is time ong>forong> the extralinguistic

strategies that may be required ong>forong> handling more complex issues: extended dialogues,

politeness work to avoid conflicts, etc. (Hössjer, in press). In these settings there is also a

possibility to engage in more extended contacts and problem-solving work. In various network

communities, individuals carry on discussions around different research issues and interests,

common problems or illnesses, or learning activities (Shedletsky & Aitken 2004, p. 63 f.,

Preece, Maloney-Krichmar & Abras 2003). Discussions then might become more profound

and extended in time than in the time-critical, inong>forong>mation-focused ong>newong>sroom environment.

Email is the only ong>forong>m of contact, and the communication takes on a dialogical character.

Thereong>forong>e, quite different conditions are created ong>forong> the bridging of communicative barriers.

More text-based research is necessary in order to investigate this issue further.

In a research perspective where individual email messages or message threads are studied as

isolated text entities, however, differences in the preconditions ong>forong> communication may not be

revealed. The same holds ong>forong> studies where social structures in the surrounding environment

are focused on without a consideration of the messages where communication is held. The

relationships between the external, social structures and the interactive properties of the

message exchange are not likely to be brought to the surface.

In this investigation, we have attempted to combine aspects of both perspectives. The picture

that has emerged here suggests that it is not the ong>mediumong> as such, but its interaction with other

contextual preconditions that is decisive ong>forong> the effects of the introduction of email. Together,

these relationships create a significantly more complex picture than has previously been found

of what happens when a ong>newong> communication technology is introduced.

8. Acknowledgements

This study was carried out within the project “Decision Processes and Technology Use in

Newspaper Editorial Work”, funded by The Swedish Council ong>forong> Work Life Research (now a


part of the Swedish Agency ong>forong> Innovation Systems). We are grateful to Else Nygren ong>forong>

valuable comments on previous versions of the manuscript, and to Donald MacQueen ong>forong> help

with improving the language.


The following key explains the transcription marks of various examples of conversations.

… Three dots: The turn continues but no note was recorded.

… Three dots underlined. Break in dialog by speaker.

the [text] Square brackets: Comment, clarification of reference between turns that I am

responsible ong>forong>.

((shouts)) Double parentheses: Comment on how a dialog takes place: ong>forong> instance if

someone is shouting, is handing over a text, etc.

[ Simple square bracket: Overlapping speech. Indicated when a turn starts beong>forong>e

another turn is finished. Exactly where the overlapping begins is not indicated.

[[ Double square brackets: Simultaneously initiated utterances.

(word) Simple parentheses around word: Interpretation uncertain.

/ Slash: A brief pause; indicated only in telephone conversations where the

interlocutor’s response is not heard.

// Double slash: A long pause; indicated only in telephone conversations where

the interlocutor’s response is not heard.

(Lena) Simple parentheses: Uncertainty about person’s name, ong>forong> example. Speaker’s

identity is not clear.

have Underlined auxiliary verb: omitted auxiliary verb that was supplied in




i Another aspect worth considering is that communications media do not necessarily exclude

one another, but may appear in various combinations (McKenny, Zack & Doherty 1992,

Rice 1994, Wellman & Tindall 1993) One ong>mediumong> may carry with it the use of another

(Tyler & Tang 2003)

ii Computer-Mediated Communication.

iii The original ambition was to work with a tape recorder and use small microphones

attached to the garments of shadowed persons, to follow the ongoing dialogue between

different colleagues. However, it turned out at an early stage that it was not accepted by the

ong>newong>spaper management to record the oral communication, mainly because of the need to

protect ong>newong>s sources.

iv It is based on a combination of replacement characters ong>forong> frequent words, phrases and

modal verb ong>forong>ms (e.g. “should”), as well as omission of certain auxiliaries and particles.

v Kodak DC290 ZOOM.

vi The use of email in the editorial office represents a situation beyond the initial phase in the

use of intranets that extends beyond a pure inong>forong>mation channel, and where email serves as a

work tool embedded in the daily activities of the organization (Hede 2002:177 ff.)

vii The collection of the email messages involved an active contribution from NE, and

thereby an awareness that the messages that he would send and receive during a week would

be used ong>forong> research purposes. In research on spoken language there have often been

discussions of what it means that participants are aware of being involved in an

investigation. It is widely considered that the observer effect normally does not hinder

participants from acting naturally (Börestam Uhlmann 1994:71 f.).

viii This includes mailings from companies, public authorities, institutions and organisations,

whereas mail from private citizens account ong>forong> a very small part of the messages being sent.

ix The figures are only presented to illustrate the variation in the actual data collected and

they should not be seen as general patterns of communication in the ong>newong>sroom.

x The text examples within boxes are email dialogues. All names of individuals in this and

other examples have been changed. This is also the case ong>forong> text elements that would

otherwise risk revealing the ong>newong>spaper where the study has been made.


xi The list is a planning document in the ong>forong>m of a table with assignments and bookings ong>forong>

the current workday. The items appear under fixed headings and are updated continuously as

a basis ong>forong> discussions in different meetings and during the current work in the ong>newong>sroom.

xii The notion of message type, as we use it here, relates to genre in same way that this notion

is used within American genre rhetoric. This refers to a systematic that is used more or less

consciously by language users themselves as a way of dealing with a complex rhetorical

practice with many disparate linguistic expressions. In this investigation we have perong>forong>med

this categorization by asking NE to determine the genre of different email messages (cf

Miller 1984:151)

xiii This inong>forong>mation was given by NE in connection with the collection of Corpus 2; see

Section 4.1.

xiv A Swedish tabloid paper.

xv The heading “Hello” refers to a particular feature with short interview questions that recurs

with some regularity in the ong>newong>spaper.

xvi Email communication started in 1965, according to Wikipedia (, Aug.

5, 2006)


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Figure 1. Workplaces ong>forong> different groups in the ong>newong>spaper editorial environment.

C-room=room ong>forong> management staff, R-room=reporter room

Figure 1. Workplaces ong>forong> different groups in the ong>newong>spaper editorial environment

C-room=room ong>forong> management staff, R-room=reporter room

Figure 2. Workplaces ong>forong> different groups of employees in the central ong>newong>sroom.

NA=ong>newong>s assistant, NE=ong>newong>s editor, CE=copy editor, PE=picture editor

Near local


Remote local


Face to face Telephone E-mail

Routine matters

Current issues

Complex issues

Social themes

Occasional use Issues with many

Sensitive matters Support function ong>forong>



Routine matters

General circulars

Routine matters

Current issues

Many details

Figure 3. Types of communication in the near vs. remote local environment.

Table 1. Work routines and use of media with and without email in internal organization

Dialog parties Without email function With email function

Suggestions ong>forong> topics

Editorial staff Telephone

Paper in MS box

Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

Booking work

Individual in


Editorial assistant Oral face-to-face


Telephone Email


Reporter Oral face-to-face Email

Assigning tasks

Reporter Face-to-face at meeting


Face-to-face in individual consultation

Judging angle and scope of items

At ong>newong>s desk Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation


Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation


Paper in MS box

Oral face-to-face


Face-to-face at meeting


Face-to-face in individual consultation


Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

Reporter Face-to-face in individual consultation Email (majority of cases)

Face-to-face (sensitive cases)

Follow-up of items

At ong>newong>s desk Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

Reporter Face-to-face in individual consultation


Telephone (complex matters)

Face-to-face in individual consultation

(simple matters)

Email (routine matters)

Face-to-face (sensitive cases)

Face-to-face in individual consultation

(sensitive matters)

Assessing texts: dialogue about planning

At ong>newong>s desk Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

Reporter Face-to-face in individual consultation

Face-to-face in individual consultation

(sensitive matters)

Assessing texts: planning of timing, ong>spaceong> and placement of text

At ong>newong>s desk Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

Reporter Face-to-face in individual consultation


Archive staff Face-to-face in individual consultation


Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

(sensitive matters)

Email (simple matters)


Telephone (quick oral response)

Face-to-face at meeting

Face-to-face in individual consultation

Email (routine matters)

Face-to-face in individual consultation

(sensitive matters)

Telephone (quick oral response)


Table 2. Percentage distribution of various types of communication involving NE during a


Type of



of total

Oral 60

Writing 20

Reading 20

Situation Percent of



Conversation at desk 67

Meeting in another room 10

Conversation in reporter room 7

Conversation on stationary telephone at desk 5

Conversation in open landscape office 4

Meeting in office locale 3

Conversation in corridor 2

Telephone with cell telephone 1

Meeting at desk 1

Computer: email 48

Computer: planning document 48

On paper: notes 4

Computer: own ong>newong>s copy


Computer: email 43

Computer: reporter copy 24

On paper: reporter copy 20

On paper: submitted copy 10

On paper: post-it notes 3





Table 3. Types of messages, senders and receivers in NE’s internal email communication

(Corpus 2).

NE = ong>newong>s editor, ASS=ong>newong>s assistant, PIC= picture editor, COP= copy editor DEP = department manager,

REP= reporter, CHI= chief editor, NEC= News editor collegue, ALL= all, OTH= others

Message genre Type of No of NE ASS PIC COP DEP REP OTH

communi mess-

Basis ong>forong> action




Inong>forong>m 49

News tip M 15 REP: 1

dep: 1

ne: 3 NE: 2 NE: 9

Radio report

Documentation and


M 34 ne: 34

pic: 34


Inong>forong>m 46

Internal inong>forong>mation M 7 DEP: 2 NE: 5

Bulletin M 8 ALL: 6 ALL:


Progress report M 21 NE: 21

Entertainment report M 5 NE: 5

DEP: 5

Circular M 5 ALL: 5

Commission / order 13

Reminder about M 7 REP:7


Page reservation M 1 cop: 1

Booking work M 3 pic: 3

Assigning tasks M 2 cop: 1

REP. 1

Argument 36

Suggestion D 2 REP: 1 NE: 1

Wish D 2 NE: 2

Discussion D 6 NEC: 4 REP: 2

Comment D 8 REP: 8

Response D 14 REP:


Question D 4 CHI:1 NE: 3



Commission / order 1

Personnel matter D 1 ne: 1

Argument 1

Publisher matter D 1 CHI: 1


Smalltalk 5

Social themes D 5 cop: 1 ne: 1 NE: 3


Table 4. Message threads in Corpus 2.

Length of thread

2 3 4 Total

Number of exchanges 9 3 4 16

Number of messages 18 9 16 43

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