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No E-Mail Interviews for You!

Jason Calacanis is pissed because a Wired writer took a pass after Calacanis asked if he be could be interviewed via e-mail. Jason, you’re absolutely right – and my perspective comes from more than 15 years as a daily newspaper reporter. One thing reporters take for granted is people are obligated to talk to them just because you’re deemed to be an interesting/necessary source. Truth be told, if you don’t want to talk to a reporter, you can ignore them/not return their phone calls/e-mails. Of course, many people find it difficult, if not impossible to resist the siren’s call of the media for some strange reason that I’ve never been able to figure out. Maybe it’s because talking to a reporter is seen as a ego-stroking exercise.

In terms of Calacanis; if it wants to conduct an interview by e-mail, that’s his prerogative, and if the reporter doesn’t like it, tough. In many ways, e-mail is a better tool than a phone call because you can take your time to answer questions and you have a record of what exactly you said. If your quotes are misinterpreted or misconstrued, you have a way to go right back at the journalist. It is interesting that more people such as Calacanis and Mark Cuban prefer to do e-mail interviews. As far as I can tell, Cuban rarely does voice interviews, although he’s extremely accessible if you ping him via e-mail.

Update: Dan Gillmor, another ex-journalist, makes some excellent points, including the fact journalists often make mistakes – albeit little ones. Meanwhile, Mathew Ingram – a working journalist until we lure him to the dark, entrepreneurial side – says he loves e-mail interviews.

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  • http://www.bettersoftwareatwork.com Patrick Pichette

    I can see where Wired is coming from. Can answering questions via email be considered an “interview”? If you’re a reporter, conducting an interview allows you to get real spontaneous answers, which makes the story more interesting. But by email the “interviewee” (or his/her communications people) can take the time to carefully craft a response, filled with corporate speak and marketing verbiage.

    Personally, I hope email interviews do not become the common practice.

  • http://www.techfold.net rod

    Mark – have you followed the various Wired comebacks and blog-dialog around this? Funny stuff. Winer brings it all together here:

    http://www.scripting.com/stories/2007/04/24/transcriptionErrors.html

    Patrick – fwiw, email interviews have a place, depending on context. If you’re interviewing a F500 PR flack, I can see your point. Conversely if you’re having a conversation with Calacanis, you can pretty much guess its going to be off the cuff whether email, phone, or what.

  • fvogelstein

    Mark –

    What I don’t understand is why anyone has to choose what is the best way to do an interview. Some people like email. Others, like me, would rather do it in person or on the phone. There is no right or wrong answer here. What I basically told Jason was that I would rather not do the interview than do it by email. I also said I was happy to tape it, if we did it on the phone (which is what we ultimately did). But if neither condition suited him he was free not to talk to me at all and move on. I have versions of these conversations with people every day. No one talks to me to do me any favors.

    Fred Vogelstein
    Wired Magazine
    415 276 4922

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  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    Fred,
    You’re right that the interview “choice” works both ways depending on what each party wants. As much as interviewees get to choose how they want to an interview (and if they want to do one), journalists have the same right as well. If an e-mail interview doesn’t provide the “color” you’d like, you can ask for another option. And if that doesn’t materialize, you have the choice to move on to the next interview subject.

    Mark

  • http://www.reputrack.com Joseph

    I’d prefer to talk, just because I spend a lot of time typing out code each day.

    One thing that occurred to me recently was that my words and ideas were attributed to another person mentioned in the article. The journalist did attribute part of my thoughts in the article in the proper context, but unless the other person who was cited was wire-tapping the phone line during the interview, I just can’t see how it would have been possible for both of us to have used the exact same words. I completely understand why some people would choose email, especially in light of my own experiences with misrepresentation.