Posts Tagged ‘interviewing’

An excellent way to ensure your story is not nearly as strong as it could be is to conduct your interviews by e-mail. You never know what story or information a source might have or be willing to share. Unfortunately, I see too many writers composing a list of questions, firing it off by e-mail to the interviewee, and taking the newly canned answers and putting quote marks around them for their stories. What a shame. Here are the things you miss by not picking up a phone or scheduling a personal meeting:

  • Immediate answers. When people are on the spot, they say what they think. If they get the chance to edit themselves via e-mail, they realize that it’s probably not a good idea to mention to a member of the media that the boss was drunk at the company party. Your story just lost its juice.
  • Snickers, sneers and guttural noises. In e-mail form, you don’t know if the interviewee reacts to your questions about aforementioned company party. So, whereas in e-mail, “Describe in a few words the events at The ABC Co.’s party,” the interviewee could simply answer factually, via phone you would have heard him snort when briefly thinking back to Mr. Banks spiraling off the stage while singing “Like a Virgin.”
  • The rest of the story. An interviewee may only feel inclined to type a sentence or two as an answer rather than compose a full-fledged story. You can’t blame them. The writing is your job. Tons of detail might go flying out the window when you’re depending on e-mailed explanations.
  • Pulling them in. Cold black-and-white type on a computer screen hardly gets people to open up. On the phone or in person, you get to warm the person up with the wit and good looks your mother gave you. People are always willing to tell more secrets to people they like rather than people they don’t know. Establish that personal connection!
  • Frankly, my dear … If you’re communicating by e-mail, you don’t know whether you’re talking to Rhett Butler or John Gotti. Accent, inflection, age, background noise — all of these things are critical to your story.
  • Shape, excitement and depth. E-mail interviews show that you’re not willing to give your story the time it needs or your source the attention he or she deserves. The lack of interest and enthusiasm will show through in the final product.

E-mail has a ton of perfect uses. Interviewing is not one of them. Pick up the phone. I guarantee you’ll get a better story.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review