Friday, July 01, 2005

The Perils of the Answer Man

Today's e-mail included a (very polite) request from a reader wanting advice about how to sell an old LP of ''The First Family,'' the Vaughn Meader parody. At church last Sunday, another member asked me (very nicely) if I knew what had become of Johnny Mathis.
I suggested the ''First Family'' owner try eBay. This Sunday, I'll tell the church member about johnnymathis.com. Neither of these questions had anything to do with television, but I try to be nice about it. After all, some folks think I'm the Answer Man.
Not the only Answer Man, of course, not even the only one at my newspaper. George Thomas, the movie critic at the Beacon Journal, does a weekly mailbag column for the newspaper and the Knight Ridder wire, as well as an online Q&A at ohio.com.
He gets a steady run of questions about movies, including some made for TV. Since we sit next to each other, we frequently end up swapping questions -- he'll hand me the TV-movie ones, I'll hand him ones about big-screen films -- or occasionally let our mailbags overlap.
With my own online Q&A, as well as a weekly column in the paper, I also get a steady flow of questions from e-mail, postal mail and online queries. Also the occasional phone call, even though I ask people to send me the questions in writing.
The plus to getting all those questions is that they give you a sense of what readers care about, which can lead to column ideas or shows that deserve a little more attention -- in other words, doing my job better.
One minus is that some questions get asked -- and answered -- again and again. Another is that, if you've answered a few semi-obscure questions, folks figure you're, well, the Answer Man.
I'm often backed up with questions, especially online. While there are many that I can answer immediately, some are really obscure, or they require some research Others may pack three or four questions into a single posting, and I need time to gather all the threads.
So there are times when I mutter about the questions. I have here and there suggested places people can find answers on their own. (There's an archived posting on this blog called ''Links'' with some resources.) But I still love doing the mailbag -- because readers like it, and because it leads to connections and conversations that might not happen otherwise.
Besides, some of the questions are really good. And I love it when they lead to some nugget that I never would have written about otherwise.

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