Interviews: phone, email — which is best?

by Mathew on April 24, 2007 · 12 comments

Another flash fire seems to have flared up in the blogosphere over interviews with reporters: Jason Calacanis says he won’t do an interview with Wired unless they can do it by email, and says this is ironic (in an Alanis Morrisette kind of way, I’m assuming). Dave Winer says he likes to do interviews via his blog because it’s too easy to be misquoted.

snipshot_e410cella6ru.jpgMike Arrington, meanwhile, seems more than a little bemused to be the spark for this little journalistic contretemps, which apparently started with some interviews for a story involving him, and figures Wired probably won’t do the story now. And Wired makes fun of the whole “ironic” thing in a blog post, pointing out that it plans to get 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 funny.

Funny or not, the thing I can’t get my head around is why the writer didn’t want to do an email interview. I love it when people want to do email interviews, because it’s a lot faster, and you know you’re going to get what you want without as much potential for misunderstanding . And I can see why certain people — like Mark Cuban, for example — like to do it that way, so that they don’t have their words twisted (yes, that occasionally happens in journalism).

Ian Betteridge makes a good point in his post, which is that a phone interview can produce something different than an email interview because the discussion can go in different directions. And that is definitely true. But there’s a lot to be said for the speed and accuracy that email brings too.

Update:

The Wired writer, Fred Vogelstein, has responded to Jason and the kerfuffle (or is it a brouhaha?) on the Epicenter blog, and has posted the email trail with Calacanis. Ironically, he says that he doesn’t do email interviews because there’s too much room for interpretation — but he agreed to call Jason and tape the interview and then send him the file. Jason’s reaction is here and the Podtech podcast is embedded below. Jeff Jarvis has some thoughts here.

 

Gratuitous egotism:

In the Podtech podcast between Jason and Fred Vogelstein, Jason is talking about how anyone can become part of the A-list, and he mentions yours truly. Thanks, Jason (although it’s the Globe and Mail by the way, not the Globe and Mall). The cheque is in the mail. And thanks to Pete Quily for mentioning it in the comments here.

  • http://www.onlinemediacultist.com Eric Berlin

    Mr. Calacanis is a master at drawing attention to himself — even a non-interview ends up as above the fold Techmeme-fodder!

    I agree that while phone interviews can be far more intimate and can yield more interesting answers, e-mail (or IM) is by far the more efficient means of communication in the 24-hour publishing environment of the web.

  • http://blogs.zdnet.com/social steve

    A good journalist knows which tool is best for which job. Email interviews work well with some people, with a certain kind of story. The advantage is speed and accuracy of quote. On the other hand, I wouldn’t ‘cross examine’ an interviewee via email.

  • Ken

    The reality is that a one-on-one conversation often results in a better understanding of what the person means.

    Sure, via email there is little risk of being misquoted but there is a huge risk of being misunderstood.

    As a reporter, efficiency does not trump being able to hear a person’s tone, the subtleties of inflection, whether they are being sarcastic or serious. Emoticons do not allow me to write, “He chuckled to himself, then said…”

  • Mathew

    I agree, Ken — and good points from Eric and Steve as well. Thanks for the comments.

  • http://www.podtech.net John Furrier

    Hey Matt, the best format is a podcast or video blog :-)

  • http://www.geekzone.co.nz/juha Juha

    I think it’s hilarious – Calacanis ends up looking like a precious, misunderstood prima donna without understanding it. Old Fart Media 1 – Bloggers 0.

    Email can work for stories, but many, many people are not comfortable using it. Ken’s comment is good, and explains rather well why The Meatspace Interface still rocks.

    Of course, I’m just being “ironic” here.

  • http://adultaddstrengths.com Pete Quily

    Jason is the grand master of link baiting. Usually he has interesting content so it’s not just hype. But it’s true, it is ironic that a magazine calling itself wired and promoting all things digital is afraid to do an interview via digital means.

    He mentioned you and the Globe and Mail in his most recent podcast http://www.calacanis.com/2007/04/24/calacaniscast-25-beta/
    although he didn’t know how to pronounce the mail part.

    Plus he said he’s not sure who read the paper. Don’t know if he really believe’s it, or is just trolling for a Canadian reaction for link generation purposes.

    he mentions you about 44-45 minutes in the podcast.

    He says you’re now an A list blogger.

  • Mathew

    Thanks for pointing that out, Pete — I’m famous!

  • http://www.collegemediainnovation.org/blog Bryan Murley

    I’ve come to appreciate instant messaging as a “bridge” between e-mail and phoners – and both sides can have a transcript of the “conversation.” It takes a little getting used to so you don’t step on each others’ comments, and can take a while, but a sensible compromise, overall.

  • http://www.taoofjoe.com Joe Tao

    just wanted to point out the whole thing is wrapped up with the phone interview,http://www.calacanis.com/2007/04/24/calacaniscast-25-beta/, in which you are mentioned a fairly long way into the discussion between fred and jason. Jason definitely has mastered self promotion.

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com tish grier

    The real story here is, perhaps, isn’t about which interview technique is better, but what’s the difference between “kerfuffle” and “brouhaha”–and does the difference have to do with the size of the teapot in which the tempest occurs?

    oh, and congrats on your promotion to the A-list . ;-)

  • Mathew

    Thanks, Joe — and thanks (I think) Trish. I’m available for autographs between 3 and 5, and personal audiences, baby-kissing etc. in the evening for a small fee.

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