Newsweek (the one with the cover that reads, After Bush) had an interesting piece about “the journalistic interview in the user-generated 21st century.” In a nutshell, Wired writer Fred Vogelstein wanted to do a piece about a Silicon Valley blogger named Mike Arrington. Vogelstein, like any good journo, set out to interview Arrington’s fellow bloggers. Only problem was, the bloggers would only do the interview via e-mail. One of them even said he would reply to the e-questions on his blog. A big thumbs down for Vogelstein. The reason: they didn’t want the writer or any writer to paraphrase them or twist their point around by using only part of sentence.
Good reasons, I suppose, but the author of the Newsweek article makes a very valid point as to why the interview — either in person or over the phone — is so crucial to good reporting.
Says Steven Levy,
A live interview allows me not only to follow up quickly but to sense the verbal cues that direct me to more fruitful topics. In e-mail, people talk at you; in conversation I can talk with subjects, and a casual remark can lead to a level for discussion that neither party anticipated from the beginning.
Ok, I confess. I have been known, when necessary, to send questions via e-mail, and while it’s nice not to have to transcribe a tape every now and then, Levy is quite correct. The exchange between the interviewer and subject is key to telling a compelling story. Otherwise, it would be like Matisse painting one of his great works in three different shades of gray. Boring.