Aspiring journalists, stop with the “email interviews”

Whenever I give journalism students assignments that require interviews, it’s inevitable that someone will ask whether email interviews are acceptable. And invariably, my responses are:

  1. In-person, Skype, Google Hangout or telephone interviews are preferable.
  2. A text chat is better than an email exchange.
  3. If email is the only option, call it an exchange, not an interview. An interview requires a conversation.

Aspiring journalists need to practice doing the real thing.

That last point is critical. Interviews are conversations between humans. Read Ken Metzlers’ classic, Creative Interviewing, and you will understand that proficient interviewing requires the development of research, affective and narrative skills that you develop over time and learn to apply under all kinds of constraints.  You don’t develop those skills by sending off canned questions and getting back canned answers.  While interviewing by email feels easier and safer, you need to practice taking the risk of asking people you don’t know to open up and share their knowledge and experiences. It’s uncomfortable, yes. It can be stressful, especially when you are on deadline, yes. But the only way to get good at it is to take the risk.

If you rely on email “interviews” usually won’t yield good content.

The email “interview” is also unlikely to the highest quality content, either. The best moments in interviews often emerge from digressions that don’t occur in an email exchange. Email interviews don’t allow follow-ups in real time. You don’t have the visual or aural that might tell you that your source might have more to say, or that you should proceed gently because you are treading on painful ground.

Besides, depending on who the interview subject is, you can’t be sure that your questions are being answered by a source. How do you know that the politician or executive you queried didn’t just fob your questions off on a PR staffer?

Some email “interviews” are really requests to co-author the piece with you.

If you send a series of questions that require a subject to write paragraphs in response that you then reproduce at length, who’s article is it?

 

 

 

Posted in Journalism, Teaching and tagged , , .

professorkim

My professional background is in public information, magazine journalism, blogging and journalism education. My current research is founded on the premise that democracy requires the broad participation of a computationally fluent citizenry. Civic media industries must reflect the communities they serve at the level of ownership, research and development, news gathering, presentation and community engagement. This adds greater urgency to the already critical need to broaden participation in computing. To that end, I have collaborated on curricular models for infusing computing into journalism education at both the scholastic and collegiate levels, and for promoting civic engagement in computer science education. My current interest is in exploring the potential of stochastic networks and as enhancement to social computing tools for broadening civic participation.
While most of this blog is devoted to my research in computational journalism and trends in journalism education, I occasionally do some storytelling of my own. This blog picks up where my other blogs, Professor Kim’s News Notes (http://professorkim.blogspot.com) and The Nancybelle Project (http://kimpearson.net/nancybelle.html) left off.

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