3 reasons media email interviews stink

pink emailWhen a reporter or blogger is looking for a source, it’s important to recognize there are significant disadvantages to participating in an email interview and not a typical phone interview.

Are email interviews the lazy person’s way to get information? Many media requests listed on HARO (Help a Reporter Out) stipulate interviews will be conducted via e-mail.

It seems a growing number of people skip the human element of exchanging pleasantries and instead hide behind their keyboards. For me, it’s simple. I prefer to talk rather than type. You?

Sure,  in our busy worlds, there’s a certain convenience to receiving information electronically. But e-mail interviews lack a critical communication dynamic that’s present when a reporter takes the time to speak with a source.

Without dialogue, the art of give-and-take doesn’t exist at a deep level.

Nudging our curiosity

We must also recognize the role that our natural curiosity plays in the interview process. Even if 10 rounds of e-mails are traded, the content will never match that of a human conversation.

The reason?  E-mail deprives a reporter or blogger the opportunity to spark their own curiosity and possibly uncover new insights and content. Nudging our curiosity is essential in developing content and learning new things. Curiosity and education go hand-in-hand.

E-mail interviews detract from the fundamental news-gathering process because they:

Lack the human exchange and conversation that gives life to interviews.  I have interviewed thousands of people, from homeless individuals to presidents. Each was conducted in-person or on the telephone. And each response within a conversation typically sparked a follow-up question or slight tangent that I, as a trained journalist and news reporter, could never have anticipated. This is why scripted Q&A doesn’t compare with live interviews. E-mail misses our communication nuances, speech patterns, and vocal vitality. These live exchanges—fueled by a natural curiosity—improved the quality of information I had been gathering that simply cannot exist in an e-mail interview.

Fail to capture the essence of the source that’s being interviewed. Based on the perspectives I have shared above, we now turn to the actual writing of the story. When a reporter or blogger is finished gathering material and is ready to sit down and write, I wonder if they can truly capture the essence of a story in the same way a counterpart could who spoke with a source.   Yes, any reporter can miss the mark and fail to truly “get” the story. But why increase the odds?

Keep people from using their communication skills. Typing responses to a series of questions limits our verbal communication and rapport building skills. We have all sent and received electronic messages that were misconstrued in some way.  In phone interviews, tone of voice, rhythm, pacing, pauses, and enthusiasm help reporters grasp a story and the person behind it. Human to human.  Some reporters even prefer to Skype with sources, as the visual adds an additional layer of valuable communication.  Skype and in-person interviews allow the reporter or blogger to observe a source’s body language, which is a significant factor in our verbal and nonverbal communication.

Do you agree or have an experience to share? Your comments are welcome.

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