In a recent posting on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog, Paul Bradshaw tackled questions over who owns the interview in an era where reporters are increasingly relying on e-mail not only as a form of communication but also as a way to interview sources.
Interestingly enough, the blog post prompted some discussion over e-mail with one of my colleagues. Citing budgetary woes at publications, he defended the use of e-mail interviews despite the many issues raised by Bradshaw. In the spirit of Bradshaw’s post, I’m posting most of my comments from the e-mail exchange here:
My take is that e-mail interviews should be a last resort, if a resort at all, and that’s what I teach. Too many journalists (including our students) use it as a first resort because they’re too lazy to go interview someone in person or on the phone. Point taken on budgets but I don’t think that is why journalists use e-mail to interview.
The main issue that arises, as this article points out, is one of interview control. The interviewer loses control to the interviewee when conducting an e-mail interview — that’s what Bradshaw is talking about when he mentions a shift in the balance of power.
Consider that in an e-mail interview, we don’t even know if the person e-mailed is the one answering the questions — it may be some PR person in the office. And, yes, body posture and ‘stuff’ is important — it can often tell a larger story than what the person is actually saying. I had one interesting case during the bootcamp where students were able to get the cell phone number of the PR person at Health Services simply because they went to the office and started chatting up her office mate, who gave up the information when asked (which never would have happened via e-mail.) In the era of ‘text-first, talk later” the value of face-to-face communication cannot be undervalued — especially in journalism.
In Bradshaw’s case, he asks the reporter if it’s Ok to publish the e-mail exchange on his blog *after* the story is published. Unlike a face-to-face or phone interview, the reporter here has provided the interviewee with the transcript of the interview and evidence perhaps that some key information was left out of the story — so Bradshaw wants to publish the raw information. There are plenty of bloggers/writers out there running transcripts of their email and IM interviews so it’s an interesting, developing area. Not sure how you would say ‘no’ here and clearly the reporter struggled on how to handle this. And, as this case shows, Bradshaw got more mileage out of the reporter’s negative reaction.
On the larger scale, Bradshaw’s example goes to the whole concept of journalistic transparency. As we continue to move toward a circular form of communication between editor/reporter and reader/user, shouldn’t we be Ok with this form of transparency? The era of reporter/editor/writer as deity/sage is gone. It’s all about transparency and letting the reader/user in. That’s how publications are going to grow their audiences — not by diving behind copyright law.
As for Facebook, it occupies this grey area of public/private, although too many people (including our students) think it’s private. Twitter is a publishing tool and those on Twitter acknowledge the comments of others via retweeting — Twitter language for attribution in 140 characters. There is actually a new culture of attribution/acknowledgement arising in the Twitter world. It’s interesting to watch/take part in.
And, I agree, it will be fascinating to watch the law develop in this area.