Basic Tech Tips For Journalists: Filter Out Email Overload

There’s a fine line between spam email and PR pitches when it comes to emails that land in reporters inboxes. Both of them can inundate the receiver and slow them from finding or seeing important messages.

As a reporter and blogger, I can’t even begin to count the number of misdirected and unhelpful messages I’ve had to wade through to find the actual messages that are relevant. I know I’m not alone when I get the umpteeth email about an event or release on legislation states and topics far away from anything I have covered or would ever cover. (Dear PR folk, it’s even more annoying when you misspell my name.) But it happens all the time, both on my work and personal email. Sometimes, these are just an influx of emails from an agency or group I want to receive messages from, such as the state Attorney General or New York Times, but that I don’t necessarily need to see immediately. Often, however, the messages totally miss the target and come from groups I’ve never heard of and certainly never signed up for.

I wanted to give some quick advice on how to make these messages more manageable. In a word? Filters. These will help move those less important messages out of your inbox and to the trash or to a folder for later perusal. I personally use Outlook (2012 on a Mac) and Gmail, so that’s what I’m going to explain here. However, most email programs and sites allow some form of filtering or rules, so the mechanics will be different, but the general idea should be similar.


Under the “Message” drop down, find and select rules, then in that drop down, select “Edit Rules”. This will bring up a list of rules that already exist, but you want to create a new rule. To do this click on the black + at the bottom. It will bring up this menu:

First, give your rule a name. Maybe it’s AG Press, Attorney General, Annoying PR person, or whatever. You just want it to be something you will recognize, especially if you plan to have a bunch of rules (aka: a bunch of filters). Now comes the fun part: Defining your filter.

As in the image above, you need to tell the email program what you want it to do. You will have a bunch of options on what triggers this filter/rule to go into effect. You can set it to trigger if you get an email from someone specific, to a specific email address, containing certain words in the body or subject and more:

The most useful way I’ve found to use this is to use the email address (or addresses) the messages are sent from. This is helpful if you want to say flag or highlight all emails from your police chief, superintendent, boss, or whoever is important on your beat. This is a way to highlight those emails so you notice them first in your inbox. Alternately, say you regularly get email from a political group, public relations group or some agency that you don’t want flooding your inbox. Add the criterion and select “From,” then contains, and then put their email address in that box. If you want to apply the same filter to multiple addresses, add another criteria box and do the same — but make sure you change the Execute drop down at the top from “if all criteria are met” to “if any criteria are met.” If you’d rather filter out emails with the subject “Daily Update from X Company” do the same thing as above, but instead of from select subject and instead of contains in the second column, use “Starts with.” That’s handy for the emails that always contain the same subject or part of the subject is always the same, such as listservs or the New York Times top headlines, etc.

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