Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Express-News Spams Itself over Spurs E-Mail Debate over Team Boosterism Clogs System

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Express-News Spams Itself over Spurs E-Mail Debate over Team Boosterism Clogs System

Article excerpt

A suggestion that employees decorate their work areas to support the Spurs pro basketball team touched off such a furious and crowded e-mail debate at the San Antonio Express-News that the technology director was forced to pull the plug on the system to prevent a crash.

In a frenzied 45-minute period June 10, the newspaper computer system suffocated from self-inflicted spamming as the original suggestion e- mailed to all 1,100 Express-News employees prompted a barrage of responses pro and con, nearly all of them sent by the "reply to all" function and requesting a "receipt" acknowledging the e-mail had been opened.

As the newspaper's e-mail system slowed to a crawl, some irritated employees in effect poured gasoline on the network fire by sending off e-mails complaining the debate was a waste of time while others cheered on one side or the other with reply-to-all slogans such as "You go, sister!"

The paper's help desk was inundated with calls. At the Express-News, one router handles not only internal e-mail but also the paper's electronic data interchange (EDI) that takes orders from advertisers. An undetermined number of insert orders got buried in Spurs e-mail debate, which took place in the late-afternoon prime time for advertisers.

Also lost in the tangle of e-mail that afternoon: Warnings from system managers about the so-called Zip.exec "worm" computer virus that was destroying files at businesses across the nation.

"You had everybody replying to everybody, and everybody getting a receipt to notify everybody. It caused the e-mail router to really slow down," says Nina Brooks, the paper's director of technology and pre- press. Brooks was away from her computer at the time but learned of the problem when "all my pagers went off.

"I made the decision that I was going to take [the e-mail system] down because if we didn't it was going to crash," Brooks says. "The e-mail didn't crash, but we had come to an absolute standstill."

The problem affected neither the newspaper's Web site,, nor the Internet service it offers commercially, ENConnect, Brooks says.

For Brooks, the near-crash is not so much about technology as philosophy. "I guess it comes down to: What is e-mail for?" she says. "I look at e-mail as a critical production tool for management. …

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