Interviewing in the new age.

Posted: March 2, 2011 by Sara Power in #7 Ethics

It is getting easier to sit at your desk and write a story from start to finish without moving, let alone leaving the apartment or having pick up a phone.

Before the internet, background information had to be gathered manually. Phone calls had to be made, people tracked down and interviewed. Now, with a few clicks, all that is done.

Tons of information is useful, but also frustrating and easy to be inaccurate, depending on the website and its reliability. Reporters need to be careful, and double check everything with reliable sources.

Also, interviews can be set up via email (which is definitely an asset), but when a reporter chooses to conduct an interview by email, that is problematic.

a) because the person being interviewed has time to make their words sound just the way they want.

b) very little emotion (and that makes the best quotes!)

c) it’s hard to get the details, or pick up on things with an email. A conversation flows, even in an interview, the interviewer picks up on things and explores them. All of the technics we have go out the window, There is no use for a long pause or a nod, the person being interviewed can give small stilted answers. And what else can you do about it?

d) its lame, and lazy. If you can go somewhere to interview them, do it. There is so much more you can do with that. You get to see the way they dress, and talk, if they fidget. The phone is second best. Then email as a last resort.

Using email, facebook and twitter, etc., to find sources is great. It’s fast and simple, but thats where it needs to stop. Or we’ll all get lazy.

And I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of doing just that. I hate the phone. I’m not sure why, but I hate the phone. I’d much rather interview somebody in person. And I have resorted to picking quotes out of facebook chat conversations or twitter when I’m really stuck. But there’s this little twinge of shame that I get when I do it (and I hope that twinge never goes away.)

This week, for example, I set up an interview with Robert Gray, who is involved with the 48 hour film festival. I contacted him via email.

Email is great because it is not impolite to email at any hour. You can be sure that if you get an idea at 3:00 AM, you can email somebody then. And they’ll get it when they wake up. It’s marvelous.

If I was running a newsroom, I would make it policy that social media tools can be used to set up interviews and to gather information (that was triple checked!!). In very rare and extremely important circumstances I would allow quotes be taken from social media tools, but it must be said where and when the quote was taken (because things can be changed online), and as soon as possible, have the quote taken followed up with a phone conversation or live interview to provide context if needed. But that is a last resort. Because the best quotes do not come from online media, they come right out of people’s mouths when they are trying to express something.

Most of the time, what people think makes them sound intelligent in an email is just really flat and boring and fake-sounding in a news story.

And if reporters don’t try to get something better than that, its just lazy, bad reporting.


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