Last week, in Part 1.5, I went on a little sidetrip and talked a bit about what it’s like to write for this amazing website.
I unintentionally opened up the proverbial Floodgates Of Feedback. I was sure you’d all say “Put on your big girl pants and get over it, lady!” But, as of this writing, 100% of the feedback was positive, supportive and heartfelt. I have passed on your thanks and praise to everyone who helps AllEars to be what it is. So often, the feedback we receive is to point out some error we made, rather than to praise us for all of the things we do right. This fact makes what you all wrote all the more appreciated! We are all very grateful to you readers who took the time out of your own lives to express how much you like and appreciate what we do. If I can borrowy from what one of you wrote to us, “You all ROCK!!” and you do rock! Thanks, everyone!
Ok, time to get back on track, and continue sharing with you, as promised, the nuts and bolts of how I put my weekly column together.
Pt 2: How Does Anita Choose Which Questions To Answer?
Well, to begin with, it’s neither art nor science; more like a little of both with a glance into Madame Leota’s crystal ball and a random handful of pixie dust thrown in. I don’t exactly have a set of firm rules to go by, but it’s a bit like the Pirates’ Code: a set of guidelines–A very loose and flexible set of guidelines, actually. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I reserve the right to make those exceptions. After all, it’s my column, and I write what I want to, write what I want to, write what I want to…(Readers of a certain age will now be singing that song for the rest of the day, hee hee.) Flexibility is my middle name–Anita Flexibility Answer. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Um, let’s move on, shall we?
So, What Are The Guidelines?
I hesitate to start off with something negative, but this is how it works. I’ll begin with “Stage One: How Not To Get An Answer.” These types of questions usually won’t make it past the reading stage, and go right into an archive file:
-First and foremost, if the reader writes in asking me how to cheat Disney, get around policy or break rules, you won’t see it in my column unless it’s to explicitly tell readers not to attempt it and why it’s not a good idea to try. I will never, ever, (did I mention never?) tell an AllEars reader how to cheat or break rules, even if I know full well how it can be done.
-Another good way to not get an answer is to be rude, demanding or impatient. I have a teenager. I’ve seen it all. Stamping your feet, shouting and slamming doors does not get my attention–In fact, it has exactly the opposite effect. Just ask Minnie Answer how well this method works for her.
-Sending in the same question multiple times probably won’t work either. If your question made it past Stage One, I’m aware that it’s there in the queue with 800 – 1000 of its closest friends waiting to potentially be answered. As a mom, I have developed a special Nagging Filter that automatically kicks into Ignore Mode when I’m nagged. While you’re asking Minnie Answer about being impatient, ask her how well nagging works for her.
-Is the question a “hot button” topic or potentially controversial? There are certain subjects I won’t address. I won’t list them here, but I’m sure you can guess what some of them might be. I want to talk about the Walt Disney Company, not my political leanings, opinions on smoking or other such topics.
OK, enough of this negativity. Let’s move on to Stage Two.
Stage Two is when I’ve moved your question to the file of potential questions to answer in my column. Getting to Stage Two unfortunately does not guarantee an answer, however. It’s just not humanly possible to answer everything in that file. Today it stands at approximately 800, yet I can only answer 6 and sometimes 7 questions per week. As you may have noticed, I’m not a math genius, but I can calculate that it’s impossible to answer every question I receive.
Phase 3 starts when I begin to plan a column. When I’m searching for questions to answer, here’s what I take into consideration:
-Has the question been answered before? If so, is it still an important and viable question? How much time has elapsed since it was last answered? Has anything changed since then that could be updated? Pool Hopping, Refillable Mugs, the Dining Plan or Using Others’ Tickets might fall into this category.
-How easy is it to find the answer by using the Search function or just looking around the AllEars site? Am I doing someone’s vacation planning homework for them when the answer is easily found on AllEars?
-Is Disney about to announce something to the public that would answer the question? Will the answer be announced in the AllEars Newsletter or on the website soon? I try not to scoop the newsletter or the website with an announcement if at all possible, though I’ll happily share rumors I’ve heard, with the understanding that they are rumors and nothing more.
-Have many readers been asking the same question? Does this signal that something may require clarification?
-Would the answer be interesting and useful to most readers or just to the one who wrote it? Keep in mind that this won’t necessarily preclude my answering a question that only helps the reader who sent it in, it’s just one criterion I look at when deciding whether the question might be used in a future column. On rare occasions, I’ll even send the reader a personal answer directly and it doesn’t go into the column.
-Is the question itself interesting? Is it interesting enough to spend several hours or even days and weeks researching the answer, or enlisting my friends’ help in the process? (Hint: My favorite questions involve the history of the company, WDW and the attractions in all of the Disney parks, worldwide. My least favorite questions are about the dreaded Dining Plan, and those questions asking me how to do an end run around an existing policy.)
-Has a story just broken or are certain rumors suddenly circulating? Is it newsworthy?
The recent “Night Kingdom” rumor would fall under this guideline.
-Is the question actually a combination of two or more questions? Can I answer them all? I do prefer single questions, I must admit, because if I can’t answer all of the questions, I usually don’t do a partial answer, although I might take part of the question and put it with a similar question.
-Is the reader asking me something that is subjective, such as, “Will we like this resort/restaurant/ride?” I’m sorry, but it’s impossible to tell readers what they’ll like or not like because I don’t know what their particular tastes, budgets or experiences are. If you ask my opinion of something such as, “Which Moderate resort is Anita’s favorite?” I can answer this type of question because you’re asking for my advice based on my experiences. If you ask, “Which Moderate Will My Family Like?” it’s harder to answer, because I don’t know you well enough to determine that.
-Is there enough information in the question to enable me to give an educated answer? Don’t be afraid to send in as many details as you can. If it’s too much, it can always be edited down to the essential information, but if it’s too little, I may not be able to answer from the information given. Some questions can’t be answered properly unless I know things like when you’re going, where you plan on staying, how long you’ll be there, if you’ll have your own transportation, ages of the guests, etc. More information is better.
-And last, but not least, have you given me enough time to answer the question? If you’re leaving for your vacation in the next couple of days, It’s unlikely I can answer you in time. My columns can be in various stages of preparation weeks before they’re published. Please allow enough time (generally no less than three weeks before your departure) for an answer. On the other hand, if you ask your questions too early, you may not get an answer for several weeks or even months. For instance, I can’t tell you who will be the Candlelight Processional narrators yet, because no one knows who they are until the fall.
Now that I’ve shared my question selection process with you, I hope I haven’t scared you off from ever writing to me again. I know this will sound counter-intuitive, but please ignore about 95% of what I just told you. The truth is, I break my own set of selection guidelines all the time, especially when a particular question strikes a chord with me. As I like to tell Minnie Answer about a hundred times a week, “If you don’t try, you’ll never know!” So, please continue to send me whatever your questions may be. I read each and every one of them myself, and you just never know what might strike that chord on any given day.
Next time, I’ll attempt to explain where my answers come from, how I research them, and when I have to call in the cavalry for assistance. Until then, I’ll see you online!