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Interviews, Email or Live

UPDATED

Wired News calls Jason Calacanis “cowardly” for refusing to do an interview except by email. Pretty thin-skinned response to Jason’s fuller explanation of why that’s his policy.

Updates: Wired’s Fred Vogelstein posts the entire email exchange he had with Jason on this topic. (Fred didn’t write the item to which I linked above.) Also, it’s worth noting that the world “cowardly” is in the headline, and the rest of the Wired piece essentially makes fun of the situation, and not in a mean-spirited way. But the headline is plain nasty, and what I was referring to as thin-skinned.

I don’t mind doing interviews by phone (or in person) but an email exchange has an advantage for the interviewee: I can post the entire exchange and let people judge for themselves. And, as one of the commenters on Jason’s posting notes, email interviews allow the interviewee to write part of the story. The commenter thinks this is a bad idea. I don’t.

Here is a fact, and I say it with regret after almost 25 years of professional journalism experience. Almost every article gets something wrong, from the source’s perspective. Typically it’s not a remotely crucial point, just a tiny one. I’ve been treated pretty well, I should add. Only once can I remember a reporter (apparently) deliberately misconstruing (or outright making up) what I’d said. There’s no doubt that the overwhelming majority of journalists try very hard to get things right, and for the most part do so. But little mistakes or misinterpretations are common, even when they’re basically harmless.

Every journalist should have the experience of being covered by journalists. Nothing would improve the craft more.

24 Comments on “Interviews, Email or Live”

  1. #1 Bryan Murley
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 11:28 am

    I’ve come to appreciate instant messaging as a “bridge” between live interviews and e-mail. I don’t like e-mail interviews, no matter what Calacanis says. It destroys any sense of immediacy. i can’t ask a follow-up and get a fresh response. e-mail interviews descend into canned responses. Plus, an IM exchange allows both parties to have a log of what was actually said. I post IM interviews as “edited transcripts,” and it’s always been effective.

    I know some people don’t like IM, either. “How do you know this is the person you’re IM’ing?” they ask. Well, not any more than I’d know that the person I e-mailed was answering the questions I sent to them.

  2. #2 CrunchNotes » With Friends Like These
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    [...] And I think Dave read the Wired blog post on the matter incorrectly (or didn’t read it at all). It was clearly just poking fun at the whole situation – “we may not be as conversant with this newfangled “e-mail” and other cutting edge technologies as you, Mr. Calacanis, but that does not mean we are slow or dim-witted. In time, we even hope to make our RSS feeds available to the wider world by telegraph machine.” Dan Gillmor is similarly clueless. [...]

  3. #3 Interviews: phone, email — which is best? » mathewingram.com/media
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    [...] some pneumatic tubes installed so it can be more hip. Some people, including James Robertson and Dan Gillmor, don’t think Wired’s response was too [...]

  4. #4 Interviews: phone, email — which is best? » mathewingram.com/work
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    [...] some pneumatic tubes installed so it can be more hip. Some people, including James Robertson and Dan Gillmor, don’t think Wired’s response was too [...]

  5. #5 Scripting News for 4/24/2007 « Scripting News Annex
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    [...] Dan Gillmor: “Every journalist should have the experience of being covered by journalists. Nothing would improve the craft more.” [...]

  6. #6 Dominic Jones
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Nothing makes me more nervous than speaking to a reporter on the phone. And I am a former reporter. But lately two reporters at very prominent mainstream media outlets basically typed in what I was saying while we were on the phone. They read what they had written back to me and made edits at my request. That was a first for me, and I think it’s good practice. But it also made me wonder why we didn’t just do an email exchange. It would cheaper and quicker for everyone.

  7. #7 Sylvia Paull
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    You are so right about journalists getting their facts wrong, Dan. Recently, I was interviewed by two different reporters (for different pubs) about my mom, who died. Both obits got lots of facts wrong, and because the second reporter looked at the first obit, he replicated those errors. In the end, I wished I hadn’t talked to either reporter, but as one of my sisters said, “Good thing mom is dead….it won’t bother her.”

  8. #8 Mark Evans - No E-Mail Interviews for You!
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    [...] Dan Gillmor, another ex-journalist, makes some excellent points, including the fact journalists often make [...]

  9. #9 Mike
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Last month I made a spoken comment at a public meeting, and in the next day’s paper the reporter paraphrased my comments as *the exact opposite* of what I said. This was more amusing than annoying, but I wish I’d recorded my comments, so I could post an mp3 on my blog, and perhaps spook this reporter into taking better notes in the future :)

  10. #10 Dan Blank: Publishing, Innovation and the Web » Blog Archive » When Journalists’ Sources Have Direct Access to an Audience
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 2:05 am

    [...] Dan Gillmor tries to explain the reason that some bloggers want more control over their words in traditional media: “Here is a fact, and I say it with regret after almost 25 years of professional journalism experience. Almost every article gets something wrong, from the source’s perspective. Typically it’s not a remotely crucial point, just a tiny one. ” [...]

  11. #11 Delia
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 8:17 am

    re:”I can post the entire exchange and let people judge for themselves.”

    Dan,

    I’m thinking email is by default privileged info (in the sense of “private” — it seems to me it’s pretty much the equivalent of private letters — unless it is mutually agreed to the opposite, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, that it will NOT be shared with third parties). So… I don’t know, are you saying all exchanges of info through email are NOT private if the information is to be used for some sort of an interview?

    Delia

    P.S. Granted, it seems fair that if the interviewer misrepresents your email responses you should have some sort of recourse… I’m just not sure that just posting the emails would be an ok thing to do (if this was not agreed upon upfront). D.

  12. #12 Delia
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Dan,

    I’m thinking email is by default privileged info (in the sense of “private” — it seems to me it’s pretty much the equivalent of private letters — unless it is mutually agreed to the opposite, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, that it will NOT be shared with third parties). So… I don’t know, are you saying all exchanges of info through email are NOT private if the information is to be used for some sort of an interview?

    Delia

    P.S. Granted, it seems fair that if the interviewer misrepresents your email responses you should have some sort of recourse… I’m just not sure that just posting the emails would be an ok thing to do (if this was not agreed upon upfront).

    P.P.S I hope this isn’t a repeat — sorry if it is (I forgot to enter the email address and it looked like it didn’t get posted). D.

  13. #13 Delia
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 8:41 am

    oh… and I meant the *actual* emails would remain private (the GENERAL information conveyed through those emails was of course meant to become part of the interview in some shape or form… but not the *actual emails*) D.

  14. #14 Billy Balls
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 10:15 am

    It’s only a random thing here or there that will have much traction anyway. Most people read something and forget it immediately afterwards. I realize people hate being mis-quoted or out of context quoted but only a few here or there make any waves. Most people just remember the fact that the interviewee had an article or was quoted, period.

  15. #15 francine hardaway
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Having done a phone interview with you, and having typed furiously during the whole thing, I would have loved to have email responses :-)

  16. #16 Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Wednesday squibs
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    [...] Interviews: phone, email — which is best? A kerfuffle over interviewing breaks out on the net and a number of people have weighed on what works and doesn’t. Front link is to Mathew Ingram. Other comments worthy of note: Martin Stabe and Dan Gillmor. [...]

  17. #17 tish grier
    on Apr 26th, 2007 at 5:08 am

    In the short time I’ve been writing articles, I’ve done both telephone/taped interviews and email interviews. Yet even with email interviews, I like to “touch base” with the person via telephone just to say thank you and to hear his/her voice. Online interactionos can be terribly sterile and one-dimensional, even if they are perceived as being more accurate. Further, with email interviews, there’s always the possibility that the questions are being answered by someone else somewhere.

    And there’s no guarantee that an interview won’t go awry in the hands of an editor. One of the interviews I did that was meticulously transcribed ended up with some concepts transformed by the editor. I know the editor thought he was clarifying the concepts, but he actually misinterpreted them., thus minsinterpreting what the interviewee did. I haven’t had that happen with email interviews. Maybe it’s the editor, maybe it’s the fact that it’s email. I wonder if editors feel more inclined to edit transcribed interviews vs. email interviews….or if a transcribed interview is seen as less accurate than email.

  18. #18 BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » The obsolete interview
    on Apr 26th, 2007 at 5:08 am

    [...] get too much wrong. Listen to what both Calacanis and Winer — not to mention veteran journalist Dan Gillmor — are saying: They’ve been burned when their words in stories end up incomplete or [...]

  19. #19 Pito’s Blog » Blog Archive » A good analysis of the recent (very insider) dust-up over interviews
    on Apr 26th, 2007 at 8:18 am

    [...] reporters get too much wrong. Listen to what both Calacanis and Winer — not to mention veteran journalist Dan Gillmor — are saying: They’ve been burned when their words in stories end up incomplete or wrong. [...]

  20. #20 The New Interview Etiquette | Gauravonomics
    on Apr 26th, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    [...] See: Jason Calacanis (+), Dave Winer, Michael Arrington, Techmeme, Jeff Jarvis, Wired, Dan Gillmor, Valleywag. Share This Related Posts: Mapping the Blogosphere, Desi Blog of the Day: Saffron [...]

  21. #21 Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard » Blog Archive » The phone, email, blog interview flap
    on Apr 26th, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    [...] are we hearing about more interviewees shunning the phone? As Winer argued and Dan Gillmor argued and I agree, too many journalists get too much stuff wrong, and self-defense is a reasonable [...]

  22. #22 Jon Garfunkel
    on Apr 29th, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    You neglected in your update that they had reached a compromise.

  23. #23 alex mihaileanu | pur si simplu : Blog Archive : interviul: pe mail, prin telefon sau face-to-face?
    on May 2nd, 2007 at 2:10 am

    [...] Textul bolduit reprezintă punctele cu care sînt de acord, de fapt şi cele mai importante. Personal, sînt genul care preferă discuţiile faţă în faţă, iar în cazul în care nu se poate, prefer telefonul. În primul rînd, pentru că mi se pare că pierd vremea scriind un mail şi aşteptînd răspunsul. De regulă, aşteptarea asta e a naibii de apăsătoare atunci cînd ai un deadline. În al doilea rînd, pentru că răspunsurile vor veni mult mai greu. “People want to polish their images“, zice Heather, iar lustruirea imaginii ia ceva timp, deci altă pierdere de vreme. În atare context, trebuie băgat la cap un mare adevăr pe care îl spune Dan Gillmor: Here is a fact, and I say it with regret after almost 25 years of professional journalism experience. Almost every article gets something wrong, from the source’s perspective. [Link sursa] [...]

  24. #24 Duty to inform us about Paris Hilton? « Lines from Lee
    on Jun 7th, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    [...] fellow “self-anointed” pundits like Dan Gillmor, and Jeff Jarvis simply aren’t doing what Peter insinuates when he says: The call for all [...]