Thursday, April 26, 2007

Debate over email interviews continues

This story just will not die (probably because people like me keep dredging it up). Jeff Jarvis weighed in today on the question of whether journalists should be willing to conduct interviews by email.

Jarvis basically says that there's no good reason journalists should avoid email interviews because:
  1. If journalists want to set the terms of the interview and refuses to interview those who don't play by the rules, the stories could be "less complete, less informative, or less accurate."
  2. What's wrong with giving someone time to think of a thorough, complete answer to a question? Insisting on live interviews only assists journalists trying to get document the "gotchya" moments.
  3. Reporters get things wrong too often, and maintaining a record of the conversation helps both the interviewer and the subject in the event that someone's words are taken out of context.
Generally, these are all good points. Except there are a few reasons journalists prefer live interviews that have nothing to do with tricking their subjects into saying something untrue:
  1. Tone of voice absolutely matters. It's not just so you can add color to the story, but so that you can tell if your subject is being evasive, sarcastic, or holding something back.
  2. In some situations, giving your subject extra time to think of a thorough response is appropriate. But under other circumstances what you're doing is giving them time to develop a story that they think will sound good in the paper, whether it's complete or not.
  3. While this wasn't the case with Vogelstein's article, reporters often work on tight deadlines. Waiting for emailed responses just doesn't cut it.
As for transparency, I think the Vogelstein and Calacanis reached an excellent solution for this story. They went ahead with a telephone interview and recorded the whole thing. Calacanis included it in his CalacanisCast podcast.

And while I was dubious of the value of this podcast, it was actually a pretty interesting listen. Vogelstein and Calacanis start off with a slightly bewildered discussion of how this little dispute turned into such a big story. Most of the podcast covers Vogelstein's questions about Michael Arrington and technology blogging and Calacanis's responses.

The podcast solution allowed Vogelstein to conduct the interview in real-time, with tone of voice cues. And Calacanis got a complete record of the discussion and was able to distribute it widely which will protect him from being misquoted (or at least if he is misquoted, he can easily point it out).

The discussion did raise another interesting question though. Vogelstein writes for a monthly magazine. And at this point, everybody knows exactly what the story is he's working on. In some ways he's been scooped by dozens of bloggers, and any other magazine, newspaper, or website with an earlier publication date than WIRED can scoop him as well.

Does this mean paper magazines are obsolete? Or does it just force them to step up the quality of their reporting. Vogelstein's article will still hold some value in a month or a year if he can conduct a series of insightful interviews and connect the dots in a new and interesting way.

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