The E-Mail Interview Debate: They Give More Control to Sources, and They Can Be Stilted and Scripted. Some Journalists Resort to Them Too Easily. A Number of College Newspapers Have Banned Them. but E-Mail Interviews Remain an Essential Part of the Mix

By Lisheron, Mark | American Journalism Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The E-Mail Interview Debate: They Give More Control to Sources, and They Can Be Stilted and Scripted. Some Journalists Resort to Them Too Easily. A Number of College Newspapers Have Banned Them. but E-Mail Interviews Remain an Essential Part of the Mix


Lisheron, Mark, American Journalism Review


When asked about the decision of a handful of college newspapers to stop using e-mail interviews, David Royse tells a story about a recent deadline.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One of Royse's Capitol reporters had been chatting up a source who told him Florida Gov. Rick Scott was about to stun his fellow Republican governors by agreeing to expand the state's Medicaid program for nearly 1 million people.

Royse, executive editor of The News Service of Florida, by temperament and necessity a working reporter, had seen the same tip a little earlier on Twitter. Immediately, Royse's small staff was a blunderbuss, blowing frantic shotgun blasts of phone calls, e-mails and tweets to sources for confirmation.

Royse caught one of his reliable sources with an e-mail query, and the two began an exchange while the source was on the phone talking to another reporter.

Just before Royse posted what they had to the service's Web site, Will Weatherford, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, e-mailed a statement reacting to Scott's decision. Before Scott had made his announcement.

Royse pressed the publish key.

"You had four forms of newsgathering going on there," Royse says. "It was shoe leather at the Capitol that got it started, but seeing it on Twitter made me pretty sure it was true. We're on the phone and e-mailing, and that's how we get the speaker's reaction statement."

Why, Royse wondered, would anyone want to take e-mail out of the mix?

For the same reasons that journalism professionals put e-mail at the very bottom of their interviewing hierarchies, below the interview in person, below the phone interview.

Veteran reporters who benefit from e-mail every day think too many of their colleagues are relying too often on e-mail interviewing. They think it's lazy. They think readers are cheated. They think they are cheated by sources who want an advantage in an interview situation.

E-mail deprives the reporter of all of the sensory advantages of the other interview styles. Facial expressions, gestures, posture. The sound and the cadence of the voice. The emphasis on words or phrases. The pauses.

As fast and convenient as they are, e-mail interviews are never really conducted in real time. The timing of the response, the allowance for measured and edited replies create an artificiality readers recognize.

"I understand the impulse to ban e-mail interviews altogether," Sandy Banisky says, although she doesn't do it herself.

Banisky has been teaching urban affairs reporting for the past five years as the Abell Professor in Baltimore Journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She came to the school after a long career at the Baltimore Sun, where she was deputy managing editor for news when she made the switch.

Students come into her reporting classes with computer researching skills beyond anything she mastered in 38 years at the Sun. Most of them prefer to communicate with their closest friends via computer and smartphone. Most have no idea of the advantages of getting up from their desks, knocking on a door and asking questions of someone in person.

"I strongly insist that they first go to see somebody. Show me you knocked on a door. Make a contact. If you call and don't get an answer, call again. And again. And again," Banisky says. "I'd like to see evidence of a different effort before you use e-mail."

Banisky teaches her students to use e-mail like it was a grenade, "a tool that can be wildly useful, but it's also fraught with dangers."

Deciding where e-mail fits into the equation isn't exactly new. "I still think it can be great for interviews, but as long as you use it, and don't let it use you," Staci Kramer, journalism blogger and then at-large director of the Society of Professional Journalists, told AJR. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The E-Mail Interview Debate: They Give More Control to Sources, and They Can Be Stilted and Scripted. Some Journalists Resort to Them Too Easily. A Number of College Newspapers Have Banned Them. but E-Mail Interviews Remain an Essential Part of the Mix
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.