Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What's wrong with email interviews?

Poynter reports that a growing number of campus newspapers have decided to ban email interviews.  The latest is the University of South Florida.  Why?
 In a letter to readers Monday, Editor-in-Chief Divya Kumar said an increasing number of sources are requesting email interviews in hopes of having more control over their message.
As a newspaper, is it our job to provide readers with the truth, directly from the source — not from the strategically coordinated voices of public relations staff or prescreened e-mail answers.
We don’t think these responses provide our readers with the unvarnished truth, and we will no longer include them in our articles at the expense of compromising the integrity of the information we provide. University departments do not have one, centralized voice, but rather are made up of a multitude of diverse perspectives.
Other universities, such as Princeton and Stanford also veto email interviews:
Princeton University’s The Daily Princetonian did so last September, saying email interviews have “resulted in stories filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”
Sure, email interviews can be convenient for fact-checking purposes or follow-up questions -- or for setting up initial interviews.  But the information you get via email always has to be slightly suspect -- and incomplete.  Plus, there's this:  even under the best of circumstances, sources will not only be tempted to varnish their replies, but are likely to keep their answers short and sweet, simply because it's more work to write a long answer than it might be to relay the same information via a phone call or in-person interview.

And, as the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings said back in 2001, -->
"The Internet is a great research tool, but when it comes right down to it, the thing that bothers me is I'm never quite sure if I'm talking to a goat."

No comments: