Of course phone conversations (and even better, in-person interviews) have advantages that e-mail or blog communication can’t match. If you’re writing a lengthy profile of someone, you want to sit down with your subject, for all the reasons John cites. But most stories involve lassoing lots of comment from lots of people. Vogelstein is profiling Mike Arrington; he wants thoughts, no doubt, from a long list of bloggers. He’s looking for quotes, not trying to capture an interviewee’s soul. And he’s saying, I don’t do email interviews. That, to me, is crazy, because, as I said, some portion of the people you want to talk to don’t want to talk to you — they’ve been burned. You can say, too bad, forget it, or you can adapt, and work with the strengths and weaknesses of an e-mail or on-blog interview.
Sure, sometimes you’ll get stiff responses or prefabricated spin. I just don’t see that it’s so much easier to provide the prefab response in email than it is on the phone. The well-trained guarded interviewee will know what to say and when to shut up whether he’s talking or typing; the loose cannon will blow whatever the medium.
John concludes with this:
I rely on great reporters to not only accurately convey what they have been told, but to filter out the noise and present me with the most important things, and often to analyze that and/or give me their interpretation. You write about filtering parts of the conversation as if such efforts are part of a conspiracy to keep the reader in the dark. Rather, it’s a way to focus the light on what is truly important.
I agree, but there’s one word that renders the whole statement largely irrelevant. “Great” reporters are rare — this is, as they say in the software world, an “edge case.” When one gets a random phone call from a random reporter, am I going to assume I’m in the presence of greatness? Or am I going to assume that, like each of the last half-dozen people who’ve written about me or my company, they’re likely to get something important wrong?
Filtering is part of the journalist’s job, of course. The bit about transparency that Winer and Jarvis and others keep harping on is this: If you write your story, but also expose the source material — either by posting full interview transcripts yourself or because the dialogue happened on public blogs — then the interested reader can go back and review your filtering. (Just as anyone reading this can look at John’s comment, or follow all the previous links in this story, and see if I’m fairly representing the issues.) Any good reporter should welcome that.
That’s the value here. It’s something you gain when you move from phone interview mode to email/blog mode. Does that gain outweigh the loss of color and immediacy and so on? Not always — but, I think, a lot more often than the newsroom gospel would have it.
[tags]journalism, interviews, fred vogelstein, dave winer, jason calacanis[/tags]
There are no revisions for this post.