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Why I Prefer Doing Interviews by Phone or in Person

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April 26, 2007

Why I Prefer Doing Interviews by Phone or in Person

Heather Green

Minor hullabaloo online about a Wired reporter's attempts to do some interviews by phone and Dave Winer and Jason Calacanis responses on why they want to do them by email or respond on their blogs (this correction added in response to a comment below) and how the reporter is missing out on interviews by not agreeing to this.

Jeff Jarvis raises the question of whether reporters prefer interviews over the phone because it gives them an opportunity to get a gotcha moment. Maybe this suspicion is simply a reflection of the state of the way folks see reporters these days. But I wanted to talk about why I prefer to speak with folks over the phone or in person.

First, I like reporting because I like learning. And reporting gives me the opportunity to talk to folks who teach me about subjects and issues. Of course they're smarter than I am on these subjects. And absolutely they're doing me a favor when they're willing to talk to me.

But here's the thing about a conversation. Since I don't know what these people know, a conversation allows me to do follow up questions. The way someone says something, the emphasis they give, these little cues and nuances prompt me to dig deeper into certain areas. We're human, we practice this ability to listen to cues all the time. It's an amazing thing.

But here's the other thing about conversations. Often they lead to stories that aren't exactly what the person wanted. Is that bad? If the story is accurate, no. And here's the thing about email interviews or allowing people to review a quote before it's printed. People want to polish their images, they want to control their images. Again, we're human, we want people to think well of us or we want to be powerful or we want to make money and often the way to do that is through the control of images and information. Of course, this isn't true for everyone. But it's something that explains why a phone or face to face interview might be better in some cases.

Take the example of George Allen. I think that part of the reason that Macaca-type language never came up in one of Allen's recorded interviews was because he was very aware of being recorded. At the speech where he uttered those words, I doubt that he understood the implication of what would happen, that his frustration was going to be seen so widely online. But now politicians are learning that lesson, just at they learned to guard what they say when they're being interviewed. In fact, political consultants are recommending that candidates go so far as to record themselves at all times.

Of course, there are no absolutes. I do my share of email interviews. And I think that the solution of taping the interview and releasing it as a podcast that the Wired report, Fred Vogelstein and Calacanis came up with is pretty clever. If that makes Calacanis more comfortable, great. And he's just following in the footsteps of some companies that I have understand already tape interviews,

11:27 AM

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? Why email might make news media interviews obsolete. from Scatterbox by Steven Silvers

Theres much debate in the world of business news about conducting interviews by email, rather than by phone or face-to-face. Increasingly, stories are being built around this practice.Just recently, a Dow Jones reporter asked a trade association that I... [Read More]

Tracked on April 27, 2007 02:24 PM

I'm thinking if there is a middle ground to this? Maybe a Skype interview? with video?

Posted by: The Pageman at April 26, 2007 03:02 PM


email "interviews" are ok if you're only looking for one fact or quote. But they don't usually go anywhere. I rarely "learn" anything valuable from an email interview, because they usually traffic more in facts than ideas. Most of them are stillborn.

In that sense, to use an analogy I've been heard to use before, e-mail interviews are intelligent design. You're supposed to know everything and ask intelligent questions at the very start. Face to face interviews are evolution. They go somewhere. There are some clunkers, some moments where you don't connect, but you adjust. If I'm dealing with a person who is worried that things might be taken out of context, and for that reason wants an email exchange, I'll usually offer some quote and context clearing.

Posted by: steve baker at April 26, 2007 07:32 PM

Interestingly Dave Winer rails on his blog how he doesn’t do interviews by email.

So either Dave has suddenly had a change of heart or Heather has some splainin’ to do...

Posted by: Michael Maggard at April 27, 2007 01:42 AM

So why not use instant messaging?

Posted by: Kevin Marks at April 27, 2007 03:47 AM

I updated the post to include the point that, yes, Dave Winer says he doesn't do email interviews, he offered to respond on his blog.

Posted by: Heather Green at April 27, 2007 10:25 AM

Hey The Pageman,

Those are good suggestions and they a lot like what Calacanis and Vogelstein came up with.

RE The question about why not use instant messaging. Again, the discussion is happeninig through writing, and short bursts of writing at that. People tend to edit themselves when they write because it takes longer to type than to say something or because there is a big difference between looking at the words on the page and just saying them. And as powerful IM or email is, it really is hard to hear the tone of what the person is saying.

Posted by: Heather Green at April 27, 2007 10:30 AM

Hi Heather,

I'm the Editor of and I throughly love doing interviews in person or phone. You can do follow up questions and get a much better feel for an issue than via email or otherwise.

HOWEVER, increasingly I've found so many tech execs repeat the same information - we have a unique product, no one is serving the small business market and etc.

I find that when PR is on the phone, at times the conversation is much more restricted.

Ramon Ray

Posted by: Ramon Ray at April 27, 2007 06:45 PM

E-mail questions, sent prior to a real interview, are helpful. E-mail-based interviews are no better than a ready-meal, PR preparation. Instant messaging? Never used it as an interview technique but it sounds sporadic and unstructured without the benefit of two people (shock horror) actually talking to each other.

Posted by: Stuart Rock at April 28, 2007 06:01 PM

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