An E-mail Interview?

This story has prompted this post from Poynter.

I wasn’t sure how to approach a post like this. I’ve been blogging regularly since July 2012 and I’ve barely touched this kind of a post. It’s overdue, if you ask me.

In college, I used e-mailing to interview professors and people in the administration all the time. It was easiest for me and I barely ever made any phone calls. I could count on one hand how many phone calls I made working at The Recorder. Looking back, that’s pathetic and I’m an idiot for thinking that was okay.

At the Chronicle, it’s an unwritten rule to call first.

Yes, smartphones rule the world, but I always call someone first. Even if I know I’m going to end up sending an e-mail, I always call first. And even if I e-mail first, I always follow-up with a phone call. I’m that annoying.

Over the last year, I’ve noticed that many sources, for all three reporters, never call back. When I say never, I mean that they really, really don’t call back.

So, to go around that, the three of us have special circumstances where we only e-mail certain sources. It’s not ideal, but if we need statements or quotes, that’s how we do it. And, to that, each source is different. Some only like phone calls and some only like e-mail. And yes, some even like both.

As a reporter, you have to either come out and ask or, over time, figure it out for yourself. Trust me, it’s easier to ask.

If you know you can talk to a live person, I think you should really make the effort to do so. It’s a helluva lot easier and you don’t have to worry about the e-mail back. You can work on you story without the anticipation or “rejection.”

One can always argue that e-mail interviews aren’t very effective. It all depends on your rapport with the source and what kind of questions you ask. Obviously, e-mail doesn’t give you everything an actual conversation does. That’s obvious.

You can’t interject immediately with sources via e-mail. You can’t really “engage” with them. There’s really no opportunity to clarify things, especially on deadline, either.

This is a tricky thing and the changes journalism are seeing on this subject will continue to play out. We all need to be mindful of that. It could sweep the business, right? What do you think?

I really encourage you to read the Poynter story. It’s pretty sobering and puts everything I’ve said here in perspective. Romenesko has already weighed in on this. Actually, a ton of people have.

Jonathan

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One Response to An E-mail Interview?

  1. Pingback: Waiting for Statements | Just Starting Out

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