The Good And Bad Of Email For Journalists

from the blessing-and-a-curse dept

Last year, we were surprised when the folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project came out with a study that said most people didn’t get spam at their work email addresses. Apparently, some reporters were so appalled at the idea – which ran completely contrary to their own experiences – that they refused to run the story. It’s really not a surprise to find out that journalists are a “special class” of email users – and for them it’s both a huge blessing and curse. It’s tough to tell which side outweighs the other. For communicating with people and getting tips, it’s been wonderful. However, since their addresses are out there, the spam/virus/irrelevant PR person problems can be overwhelming. The article also discusses the issue of the “email interview”. Some like it, others can’t stand it. It generally makes life easier for both sides in the interview itself, but may be less likely to elicit deeper truths. I’m not sure that’s true, as a good email interview should be something of a back and forth where the reporter is allowed to delve. Most reporters stick to a single list of questions and go with that – but a few (good) reporters who have interviewed me have made it much more conversational where it started off with just a few questions and went back and forth over a period of time. I think many reporters are too attached to the live interview, since that often puts people under pressure and makes them say stuff they didn’t mean. That might work for interviews where you’re trying to put someone on the spot, but not for informational ones. Amusingly, all of the interviews done for the article linked here (including from those who trash the idea of email interviews) were done over email.

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Comments on “The Good And Bad Of Email For Journalists”

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Anon says:


As a writer myself, the editor prefers live interviews, I prefer e-mail. It’s easier to get a hold of the subject, and you’re allowed a certain degree of back and forth, not to mention it’s easier to transcribe quotes. 🙂 There’s always additional questions that arise as your mind digests the subject matter, and getting a follow up phone conversation can be nightmarish….

Phone interviews are handy if you’re trying to get someone to slip and issue a quote they don’t really mean, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that good journalism. Any good PR rep has heard or is prepared for the tough questions, and will give you the same boring line over the phone as they will in e-mail…..

Zonker (user link) says:

Hate phoners

I’ve done too many interviews with PR folks and PR-trained folks. You might as well do an e-mail interview with them, because you’ll get the same stock answers no matter what. With actual humans, phone interviews are a bit better and do allow for some back-and-forth that can be beneficial. Too many times I’ve been on tight deadlines and realized that there’s a question I’d like to ask, but there’s no time. If I’d been doing a live interview, then it would’ve occured to me to ask… but it’s just so much easier to zip off ten or twelve questions and the responses are much more thoughtful via e-mail…

It also depends whether you’re looking for factual information or longer, more anecdotal answers. If you just need to ask some dry, technical questions, then e-mail is fine.

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