To E or Not to E?
By John Brady
The e-mail interview is a fairly recent reporting tool that can be used to upgrade editorial quickly. Though there is still some controversy (many question whether e-mail exchanges are really interviews), it is a form that is very much here to stay.
1. Access. You can reach sources anywhere, any time;increasingly important as the globalization of publishing continues. Certain types of interviewees prefer and even excel in the e-mail format;a source who is shy, for instance, or who writes more lucidly than she or he speaks. While e-mail responses lack the spontaneity of a verbal exchange, they can make up for that with a more literary quality, while still retaining some of the veneer of conversation.
2. Speed. Writers on deadline don’t lose hours or days playing telephone tag. Your message gets through to the source. You get answers quickly, often within the hour.
3. Flexibility. You can work from anywhere;using a cell phone or a laptop or a desktop computer. Start an interview in your robe and slippers at two o’clock in the morning, then go to bed with the comfortable knowledge that your queries will be part of the source’s morning mail.
4. Time. Nothing is more tedious for the interviewer than listening to a taped conversation or transcribing notes.
5. Security. It’s unlikely you will ever hear an e-mail source say, ﾑI was misquoted.’ The words are right there on the screen for all to see before you go to press.
1. Make a Good First Impression. Paving the way by phone will give you a better response as your e-mail is then expected; large portions of cold e-mail messages are zapped as spam. If your initial approach is by e-mail, be a little formal at the outset, using Mr. or Ms. in your greeting. Include your phone number (including cell) and a mailing address along with pertinent information about yourself, the nature of the project and the publication you are working for.
2. Assist the Reluctant Subject. If a source has been burned in the past or is simply reluctant, point out that, in the interest of accuracy, they can formulate their responses with care. Explain that this is not a fishing expedition, which many sources hate; your questions are few (five, max) and focused on very specific topics. List them. Your questions should be clear and easy to understand at first reading. Chances are that you will receive a response within 24 hours, but just to make certain you have your answers next day, give a noon deadline and watch your incoming e-mail for action.
3. Follow Up for Effect. The interviewer always rings twice. Once you get a response, go deeper. Typically, an e-mail exchange is conducive to a number of rounds. Take a portion of a response that contains the most interesting information, and ask your source to elaborate a little. Or you might even request a telephone or face-to-face follow-up interview. Such is the lure of the e-mail encounter.
John Brady, former editor-in-chief at Boston Magazine and Writer’s Digest, conducts workshops for professionals on interviewing and editorial marketing. He is visiting professional at Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. Contact John at Bradybrady@aol.com .