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Email Interviews - Is it ever an OK idea?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JSWiehe, Aug 4, 2008.

  1. JSWiehe

    JSWiehe New Member

    Been reading for a long time. First time posting.

    Work in a metro department. Recently, the question of whether it would ever be an OK thing to do email interviews has come up. One of our writers thinks it is out of the question a bad, bad, bad idea and should never be done. It takes away the spontaneity of a face-to-face interview and you never know who is answering those questions on the other side of the computer screen.

    All valid.

    Others think that if that's the only way to get the interview, then well, it's what you have to do. Also, they say you have to have some trust that the person attaching their name to the email is that person, much like a phone call, and by doing an email interview they could never say you misquoted them.

    Our bosses are kind of up in the air about which way to go with this. Curious what anyone else thinks if they've got a minute.
     
  2. Matt1735

    Matt1735 Well-Known Member

    I'd give my opinion, but how do you know this is really me?

    Seriously, I wouldn't do it with someone I didn't know or wasn't familiar with unless it was the absolute only way possible. But if it's someone I know and I need a quote and it's the most efficient way, then I would do it.
     
  3. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    I've read a ton of stories on Mark Cuban, most recently in Sunday's NYT, where he's quoted by e-mail. If some people can't be bothered with the phone (if I was rich and important, I'd be one of those people), e-mail works for me. I think it's important to say "by e-mail" in the story, but I don't think readers think less of a quote collected that way.
     
  4. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    I get interviewed fairly regularly. The only part I don't like about being interviewed by e-mail is that it is more time consuming for me. On all other counts, however, I prefer it, because I can exert far more control over my message than in a phone or face to face interview. That, I think, is the exact reason why, except as a last resort, I don't think a journalist should ever interview a subject by e-mail. You simply give the subject too many advantages and opportunities to write/talk about what they want, rather than what you want.

    Also, when someone asks me whether I would agree to an e-mail interview, my first reaction is "This is someone too lazy or too intimidated or too shy to pick up the phone or drive over, someone who doesn't want to have to take notes or transcribe a tape, is probably incapable of thinking on their feet and by giving up on the back and foirth and followup, already thinks he/she knows what I think and is just looking for me to fill in some blanks."
     
  5. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Have done it twice, both times for legitimate reasons.
    First was with the GM of a European basketball team. We had a local player sign with them, and after a hilariously futile attempt to call overseas (I think I reached the guy who gives out towels at the local gym), I e-mailed the GM with a few questions. Given the language barrier, it probably worked out for the best.
    Second was with the mother of a local football player. She was serving in Iraq and getting up at 3 a.m. on Friday nights to call the states with updates on her son's games. Given the time difference between here and Iraq, as well as the difficulties of being able to get a phone call through on a consistent basis, it again was probably the best option.
    All things being equal, I would have preferred to have taken care of both interviews over the phone or in person. But sometimes e-mail is just a better option. Never say never.
     
  6. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    I have done this only a few times with people I know, but it is not a practice I would endorse wholeheartedly.

    With strangers? Definitely not. Even with people you know, like a baseball player or coach, an SID or someone else could be sitting there helping him craft answers to email you.

    This should be an issue addressed and determined in every newsroom to avoid potential problems. I also would recommend writing "Jones said via email" in the story or something to identify that "conversation" was conducted that way.
     
  7. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    I don't disagree with that last line, but it's not universal that subjects won't be as off-the-cuff or a "good quote" off e-mail. I've dealt with some very busy people off e-mail and know they weren't sitting there for 15 minutes to expertly craft their response. If you're very direct with your questions, you can still get good answers. And e-mail makes you write better questions, since there's no phone give-and-take. Certainly takes away the dreaded "talk about..." line of questioning.

    Of course the phone is still my first choice but the world we're in also runs on e-mail, so if that's the way to a source, so be it.
     
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I think it's OK if it's the only option and if you can make contact some other way (for example a PR person sets it up).
     
  9. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    I know Buster Olney uses e-mail interviews/questions in his blog every once in a while.
     
  10. Bob Cook

    Bob Cook Active Member

    Echoing the if-there's-no-other-way comment. However, I will add that I've had sources who thought email was going to be less time-consuming and more on their schedule, but after receiving a flurry of follow-ups from me, they relented and talked by phone. Sometimes people insist on email because they figure it's more convenient, but that isn't always so.
     
  11. zebracoy

    zebracoy Guest

    If you don't know who's answering the questions on the other side of the e-mail, how do you know, necessarily, that the voice on the other end of the phone is that of the person you're looking to talk to?
     
  12. GuessWho

    GuessWho Active Member

    OK, not asking you to out yourself, but can you offer a clue as to what you do?
     
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