Monday, May 21, 2007

Whither the interview?

Jay Rosen reproduces and comments on a Howie Kurtz' column exploring claims that the traditional interview is outmoded. Growing numbers (especially from the blogosphere) argue that an email interview is better because both sides have a full record and reporters can't distort things as easily. Rosen offers what seems to me a nuanced view.


  1. Anyone who has tried to conduct an "interview" by email knows the limitations, spin being just one hazard. I am currently interviewing my dad via email (for an upcoming column) because of time zone/ availability issues -- a friendly subject, but I'm going to have to pick up the phone to get what I need. The email "interview" takes away a significant element of voice-to-voice or in-person interviews, which is the ability to ask followup questions, to observe facial expressions or tone of voice, to capture candid reaction to question and so forth. Moreover, many official sources will not be answering their own questions in "email interviews," though they might be at the other end of the email address.

    Also, Rosen's attitude toward doing interviews is disappointing. Many of us know how much we rely on long interviews with people whom we never quote. This is part of reporting to gain understanding of subject matter. If Rosen only counts the value of being interviewed by his minutes of screen time, he's rejecting an important part of the reporting process.

  2. I didn't say any of the things Melanie objects to or argues against.

    I didn't say email interviews are the equivalent of a phoner, and I wouldn't say a phone interview is equivalent to a face-to-face. They're different forms. Each has limitations as well as strengths.

    I didn't say I quit doing "traditional" interviews. In fact, I told Kurtz the opposite: "I’ve done hundreds of interviews with reporters... consider it part of my job, generally enjoy it and have no complaints.... Usually I learn something from reporters. In fact, I did a phone interview on the same subject—the correspondents’ dinner—two days after my [Rutenberg] post."

    Just to make sure there was no doubt I added: "There will be plenty of situations in which a face-to-face sit down will be the best option, others where a phone interview under the old rules will work splendidly. So should the 'traditional' news interview be junked? No, it still works; it’s an essential tool in the craft."

    I guess she skipped over that part.

    I also didn't say I counted the value of being interviewed by the amount of screen time. But I did try to head off that knee-jerk reaction by being as clear as I could about the nature of my original complaint. Thus I wrote...

    "I simply said that I was re-considering. But not because I only got a few lines in the play and waaaaaahhhhh I wannna bigger part. By my participation in Jim Rutenberg’s story, I ended up perpetuating a lame, wrong-headed and outworn interpretation of a failed ritual."

    Melanie's crude reading is thus disappointing.

  3. Jay,

    You have misread my comment.

    The first paragraph addressed the general issue of sources saying they prefer to be questioned via email. This is becoming fashionable, the latest in a series of ways sources try to control how their messages are conveyed.

    The second paragraph referred to your comments. I apologize for the lack of clarity. Howard's post reminded me of several things I've read lately on this topic, and my response was to the general trend rather than to your views.

    I agree with Howard that overall your take on it was reasonable.

    I'd also say I find email useful for clarification and followup, and for fact-checking in particular.