Should You Conduct Email Interviews? My Take.
In this third installment of blog posts about journalism, I'm tackling a sticky subject: Email interviews. We're all sitting in front of powerful communication tools every day, and it's really easy to simply tap notes to one another instead of talking in person.
Is an email interview convenient? Sure. But is it ideal? No way.
A typical email interview is a one-way conversation. You send questions to your source, they answer your questions, and you have notes to add to your story.
An interview like this doesn't allow for any kind of follow-up question. You can't ask for clarification on terms you don't understand, unfamiliar concepts, or novel ideas. Similarly, you can't ask for proof. If your source says something controversial ("It always happens like this."), you can't ask for concrete examples that might prove the statement valid or invalid.
I always prefer to conduct my interviews live. I set a time limit for the conversation, so my sources don't feel like they're agreeing to long chats when they're dealing with a busy day. But I take up every moment of our allotted time asking questions, ensuring I understand the answers, and getting the color I need to make stories really sing.
I have worked with sources who are uncomfortable with the idea of speaking live. Often, they feel more reassured with a copy of my planned questions. Preparation can help them feel like they're in control of the interview.
But if all else fails, I will conduct email interviews as a last resort. It's very rare, but if I need someone's opinion and can't get it any other way, this method will just have to do.