• By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 02 2011

Is it just me or do others feel this way? I hate this new trend in journalism of the emailed interview. I get asked to do interviews regularly, from students writing papers for class to bloggers, magazines, and newsletters, and 99% of all interviewers now email their questions for me to answer. And I absolutely hate it. Honestly, I feel it takes me more time to answer in an email than a phone call would take; I feel it completely removes any personality from the interview; and, as a former journalist, I just feel it’s plain lazy.

Frankly, I’m doing fewer and fewer interviews because emailing my answers takes longer and more work on my part, more work than it takes the journalist honestly. The journalist is throwing five questions on a page and sending them to me. I’m spending an hour answering those questions so they can be used in a simple cut and paste, and, honestly, as I’m typing this I’m becoming more and more annoyed by the process.

I’m happy to do interviews. I’m happy to teach people what I know about publishing and to talk about publishing. In fact, I LOVE talking about publishing, but I love a discussion, and emailing your questions is not a discussion. It does not allow for follow-up questions and it’s not a true interview. So I have a new policy. If you want to interview me and if I feel I have the time to participate I will, but I will only give interviews over the phone.


39 responses to “Interviews”

  1. Avatar Loralie Hall says:

    I don't have too much opinion about conducting the email interview, but I can say that from a reader perspective, I don't tend to read them. Like you said, it's not a conversation. I don't want to read a series of pre-processed form questions and typed answers. The personality and chemistry of reviewer and reviewee is missing in a case like that.

    So I skip them unless it looks like a verbal conversation took place. Something where both parties can bounce off each other and one answer logically leads to the next question. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

  2. Avatar wry wryter says:

    You go girl!

  3. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    As a freelance writer who conducts hundreds of interviews yearly, I prefer over the phone, even if it adds time to transcribe, simply because you get better follow-up questions and fewer canned responses. However, sometimes e-mail is the only way to go. I recently interviewed a physician doing work in Bangladesh and e-mail was definitely the best approach to take.

    Too often, I notice with corporate officers being interviewed, that they will want email interviews and my feeling is that most of the time it's somebody in corporate communications that writes the answers for the CEO, CFO, etc.

  4. Avatar Manon Eileen says:

    I would agree to that. I don't enjoy reading "emailed interviews", either, because they are often shallow and not very inspiring (unless the questions are exceptional).

    However, consider this hypothetical situation: I'm from The Netherlands and calling to the US would be expensive (unless we could use skype but in this hypothetical situation we can't :p).

    Would you take an interview via instant messaging?

  5. Avatar Phil Hall says:

    Back in the day, I used to review video games for a high-profile video-game website, and we did email interviews all the time–mainly because developers are the most busy people to get on the phone, and this way they could "take" an interview at their leisure, return the email, and be done with it. No more scheduling time for a half-hour call, no putting things on the back burner because this agreement was pre-existing. Just a couple of words here and there, and done with it. Then back to business as usual.

    In so businesses, this is standard jazz; but I can see where this might rub you the wrong way. After all, you're a literary person, and used to paper, voice, and real person-to-person communication. So this method is sort of alien to your way of thinking. I can grok that. The problem is, the world is moving more and more to electronic communication and away from paper and voice.

    Sort of like being the new-kid-on-the-block type uncomfortable. But I think it's definitely here to stay.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Are you kidding me? I'll take the softball please. The chance to craft an answer over winging it? I won't do phone interviews if avoidable. (Still, one should be competent 'on the fly'; face to face at conventions and such).

  7. Avatar enewmeyer says:

    I'd personally rather be given the time to ponder my answers. As a teacher and photographer, I prefer to communicate by email if it can't be in person. It allows me time to ponder my answers first so I don't wind up sounding like a total tool. In person is always best, but I avoid the phone nowadays.

  8. As a freelance journalist, I feel the same way. It just seems lazy to me and there is definitely something lost over e-mail from an interviewees demeanor and inflection when speaking.

    I'll send e-mail questions only if time is an issue and I'll be busy during their available time. Sometimes, though, they ask for the questions to be e-mailed. They're just more comfortable that way.

  9. Avatar ElizaO says:

    It's definitely a two-sided coin. On one hand, if I'm being interviewed I like the time to think it out and really come up with a clear and thoughtful reply instead of something that just happens to fall out of my mouth because I need to say something. On the other hand having a conversational style interview is most often more interesting and informative to read.

  10. Avatar Jane says:

    It seems to me that a journalist of all people would want to hear the responses in order to pick up hesitancy, self-correction, self-contradiction that might be edited out of an email interview, and signs of enthusiasm that might make for a truly great interview.

    Plus, you can't really have follow-up questions. If I email an agent to ask what was her favorite project to represent, and she tells me about a memoir about juggling torches, only she didn't sell it, I can't then say, "Why do you think it didn't sell?" because, well, I'm not there to ask the question.

    I can see emailing the interview questions ahead of time so the person knows what will be on the agenda. But the interview itself should be with voices in realtime.

  11. I recently finished an internship at a magazine, and our instructions were to never e-mail a source unless there was a really good reason (such as language barrier or significant time zone difference). I always crafted my questions so that I could get to the answer I needed (I was fact-checking pieces already written), while still being open-ended and leaving room for any follow-up questions I might need to flow out of the conversation.

    Nothing can beat that person-to-person interaction and we definitely need to get back to that in many ways.

  12. Er, I'm a writer, so I much prefer email interviews. It gives me time to think about the questions and to structure my reply to, I hope, be more informative, true, and entertaining than it would be if I was being asked the question over the phone or in person. And I think I tend to feed off the interviewer and give them the answers I think they want or expect–or maybe I'll get ornery and take issue with them, but their personality enters into the picture. Which might be more fun to read, but doesn't necessarily help the quality of my answers.

  13. Avatar Alexis Grant says:

    It is journalists asking you to do this, or bloggers?

    As a journalist, I insist on phone or in-person interviews in almost all situations. But as a blogger, I e-mail questions for Q&As, partly because yes, it takes less work on my part, and also partly because that's usually what the interviewee prefers. (I have done an in-person Q&A for the blog when the interviewee preferred that instead.) And I put more effort into keeping the interviewee happy as a blogger than I do as a journalist, when my primary goal is getting the right information (and keeping the source happy is only secondary).

    From my end, I tend to think more about how the information I collect varies depending on how I collect it. Too much to write here, but that's why a phone interview is better.

  14. I'm a full-time freelance writer, and I've found an increasing number of subjects want to answer my questions through email. Some of them may not be eloquent, some of them may be shy. And I'll admit, it's easier for me too.

    That said, it takes away one of the best interviewing tools–silence. I like to let the silence drag at the end of an answer. People feel compelled to fill that silence, and that's when I find I get the most authentic material.

  15. Avatar madameduck says:

    I don't do interviews yet (blog or otherwise), but just from a technical point of curiosity, how do you record a phone conversation for later transcription? Or do you type away while you're on the phone?

  16. Yes! Right behind you. You can always tell the difference as a reader, because no matter how interesting or bizarre the answers the next question just soldiers on. Telephone does seem potentially inconvenient, but maybe a chat-based interview could be a happy medium…?

  17. Avatar Jc says:

    You would be surprised, I also thought skype interviews would be better (because we are all online all the time!), however, the number of people who say they are too busy to allocate time for this and would prefer the questions instead are huge.

    Blame it not on the interviewer but rather the lazy recepient.

  18. I would've been glad to conduct our interview via phone had I known, but since I didn't…

    As for myself, I prefer email interviews. I like the time to prepare my thoughts, plus the fact that the interview is at my convenience rather than a prearranged time that might be less than ideal for both parties.

    The one time I gave a radio interview I felt I glossed over things that could've been said more succinctly and with more information.

  19. Avatar Sheila Deeth says:

    Good point, though I have to admit, I'd probably rather do an email interview than any other. At least I'd know what was "heard."

  20. THANK YOU for deciding to stick with phone interviews. I much prefer that format, for all the reasons mentioned above.

    I also agree with Mark, though – while phone is better, sometimes corporate types want the interview via email, and yes, it is absolutely because their communications people are vetting the responses (at least in my fields). And sometimes people's schedules just make a phone interview impossible.

    Also, like Alexis said – certain interview formats do work well for email, like a Q&A. Likewise, I have sent out questionnaires for research projects via email before. If you are asking multiple subjects the same questions on tough topics, sometimes it's helpful to get those responses in writing (especially if there's a chance anyone might try to duck out of their responses later, after figuring out what the other subjects said). However, I usually do phone calls prior to the questionnaire and after, too, to follow up on loose ends.

  21. Avatar girlseeksplace says:

    I definitely prefer phone or in person interviews, but can also see the convenience of an e-mail interview. For me, it's more about the opportunity to talk to that person than the method I had to use to talk to them.

  22. Avatar Janice Hardy says:

    I can certainly see your point, but the writer in me likes answering the email questions. That way I can make sure I'm saying what I mean and not just babbling on (which I tend to do, especially if I'm excited about a topic). It also lets me think about the answers overnight and I can double check things.

    Of course, emailed questions has be the primary way I've been interviewed, so I really don't have much to compare it to. I've only done one or two live ones. I might feel differently if that's how I knew interviews.

  23. Avatar TheLabRat says:

    If I were the sort of person who got asked to do interviews, I would prefer an emailed one. I'm a much better writing thinker than I am a speaking thinker. And I've read more than a few email interviews that ARE conversations (emails back and forth are noted in the interview)

  24. Avatar Angela James says:

    I don't think people realize just how long email interviews take to complete. I end up letting them sit in my inbox until I absolutely must complete.

    Also, I've had two bloggers in the past 3 months ask me for interviews, questions that required very detailed answers and several hours to complete, and then never post the interview. That makes me want to cry. And throw things.

  25. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I actually prefer an emailed interview–it gives me time to think of my answer and sometimes makes me consider aspects of my writing I'd never really thought of. I have a guest blog up right now that is a good example of an emailed interview–it's asking my take on reviews and reviewers, and the questions forced me to really think about things.

    Since a guest blog with an interview is easier than me writing an entire post on my own, I have to admit that I do prefer them to a phone call–where I can be misquoted–or writing the entire thing on my own. The difference here, of course, is that a guest blog for me is purely promotional, which means the owner of the blog is doing me a favor but inviting me to participate.

  26. Avatar G says:

    From a business/guv'ment standpoint, I perfer answering people's questions via the e-mail, for two solid reasons.

    1) I can give incredibly detailed and highly organized answers.

    2) I have problems with trying to organize my thoughts verbally, so the written word is often easier (and safer) for me to do.

    But I do see your point from a publishing/writing perspective. 99% of the time, I eschew reading print interviews, simply because of what you stated.

    And if you think e-mail interviews are bad, how 'bout those pre-processed radio interviews that follow the same type of format?

  27. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I found it interesting because a sixth grade student of mine was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview a former famous hockey player for a research project for my class.

    He actually tried to do the interview over the phone, but the former hockey player said he would *only* answer questions via email. His reasoning? He'd had other kids interview him over the phone in the past and they misquoted him. He figured with an email kids would be less likely to misquote him.

  28. I'd much rather hide behind my screen than talk on the phone.

    Yo, introverts represent!

  29. It might be easier on the interviewer's part, yes, but I believe a lot of these emailed interviews are done out of attempted consideration for the interviewee. The interviewers believe this gives you time to craft your answers rather than being caught off-guard or forgetting to mention something on the phone, and you can answer the questions on your own schedule.

    That said, they do lack any sort of interesting dynamic between interviewer and interviewee, which makes interviews more compelling to read.

  30. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I just did one of these. The questions sent to me were the same questions the blogger had asked the last half-dozen or so authors she'd interviewed. I can see it was a great time-saver for her; she didn't even have to read the books.

  31. I'm a writer (pre-pubbed) and blogger, not a journalist, and e-mail interviews are a regular weekly feature on my blog.
    I can't believe how many comments mention that e-mail interviewers are lazy! I wonder if there are interviewers out there who are giving the technique a bad name. I put a lot of thought and research into my interview questions, combing the subject's on-line presence to get the most interesting questions, even if I find the answer at the same time. I sometimes send "pre-questions" so that I can direct my questions a certain way, and build in "follow up" questions.
    The main reason I do interviews via e-mail is that it puts most of the work on me, not my subject. We're doing each other a favor; they usually have something to promote, and I get something interesting that draws traffic to my blog. But I'm the one spending hours crafting just the right 20 questions, and most of my subjects find they have ready answers.
    If an interview will appear in print, I believe it is fine for it to start that way. And, as other comments have pointed out, it cuts down on the incidence of mis-quotes, lets the subject answer in their own time, and ensures that the answers are well thought out.

  32. Avatar Mint Kang says:

    As a journalist, I'd like to defend the email interview. About half the interviews I conduct are email, half are face to face and a very few are by phone.

    Firstly, let me point out that not every interview is meant for a Q&A reproduction, or a profile of the person. For those, it must ALWAYS be face to face. No two ways about it.

    When the interview is for a wide-angle commentary that sources multiple viewpoints, however, email is often much more practical and usually interchangeable with phone. This is especially so if you are sourcing one-line soundbites.

    Now, I cover the corporate beat, and people in these areas tend to be (a) a lot more careful about what they reveal (b) closely monitored by the communications people (c) have no time for a face-to-face or phone conference. The trouble is that a face to face interview or a phone conference for people in these three areas requires scheduling, both of the interviewee and of the comms person monitoring him/her. I have NEVER interviewed a corporate individual without his/her minder standing by, whether in person or by phone conference.

    And then of course, there are the times when you have to interview someone overseas. Travel and time zones make other options impractical. If I were to interview Jessica, for instance, I would have no choice but to do it by email because I live on the opposite side of the world from you.

    There are ways to compensate for this, however. Usually I do a lot of research ahead, so I don't end up asking questions that have already been answered elsewhere.

    To round the whole thing off, I want to add that firstly, the method of interview is really very dependent on the kind of article the interview is meant for. And secondly, an email interview need not be impersonal, not any more than the comments posted here. It all depends on how much effort the journalist is willing to put into adding that personal touch.

  33. Avatar Beth says:

    This is interesting. I'd actually prefer to call some of the people I've interviewed but thought they would prefer to email me at their convenience.

  34. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Actually, I was recently asked to do an AIM interview, which I thought was a nice compromise. On the one hand, it allows for a few extra minutes to think about your responses before you give them. On the other hand, it also allows for a dialogue, and gives the interviewer opportunity to leapfrog off of responses.

  35. Avatar Mint Kang says:

    Argh!! I wrote a long essay in defense of the email interview, and first it got posted twice, then when I tried to remove the double post it removed everything! (Thanks for telling me, Maril)

    Let me try again. I'm a journalist by profession, and half the interviews I conduct are done by email. The rest are face to face, with a very few being over the phone. I find that email interviews are unavoidable, very often necessary, and by no means as evil as many seem to feel. Why?

    Firstly, the interview medium is highly dependent on the kind of article the interview is meant for. In the case of profiles or Q&A articles such as most commenters seem to be referring to, a face to face interview is a must. No two ways about it.

    However, if the article is a wide-angle commentary featuring many sources, it's far more efficient to communicate by email or phone – the two are interchangeable. Now, I work the corporate beat, so this may not hold true everywhere. But as has already been pointed out, interviews with corporate big shots have three sticking points.

    1) They are careful about what they say. Very careful.
    2) They are closely monitored by their corporate communications people. I've NEVER gotten an interview with a CEO/CFO/you name it without their minder hovering close by.
    3) They are busy people. A face-to-face or even a phone conference needs to be scheduled, not just for them but for their minder. It's just not practical to set one up for something like a one-paragraph or one-line soundbite.

    Then there is the geographical and time zone factor. If I were to interview, say, Jessica, I would have to do it by email because I'm based on the opposite side of the world from her. Again, no two ways about it.

    Finally, there is the journalist's own due diligence. Bear in mind that very often, information about the interviewee is already available. Thus when composing questions for any kind of interview, you have to make sure you ask relevant questions that haven't already been answered elsewhere. Certainly not pre-processed form questions!

    In short, email interviews are not to blame. They don't have to be impersonal any more than comments posted here. It's about the journalist's own effort to make the interview thoughtful and, if not unique, then at least not flavourless.

  36. Avatar jfaust says:

    Such great responses. Thank you everyone.

    I guess I should have clarified. My frustrations is not with journalists who are writing articles and asking my opinion among others, my frustration really is with those writing profile pieces.

    Most of the interviews I'm asked for are by bloggers writing profile pieces which means I do spend a very long time crafting answers, often to very similar questions from blogger to blogger, and they are simply posted. In other words, the blogger spent an hour putting together a form and I spent two hours or more writing the article for them. It's frustrating and, frankly, I miss the day when people actually wrote articles, let the story take on it's own life and created a real story. One I'd actually be interested in reading.

    I get that many of the people journalists interview want to carefully craft their answers and prefer email. Of course they do, not only does it limit the risk of misquoting, but let's face it, they can control the story that way. And that also bugs me, giving the power to control the story to the source. One of the cardinal rules when I was a journalist was that you never allowed the subject to "approve" the story. Which is what's happening in this case, but that's another tangent.

    Maria: Please know that this was not directed at you. It was a recent tirade when I realized that I had to sit down and answer roughly 4-5 different interviews and I was spending an entire day doing it when it seemed to me that the questions were not taking any of these writers an entire day the post was simply going to be a cut and paste. I'm not targeting any specific person it's just a conscious decision really about managing my time better and phone interviews will do that, plus I enjoy the conversation.

    I also want to note that recently I was one source of many in an article. The author asked me to give her a few quotes on the subject via email. That didn't bother me. I had a lot to say, but knew I didn't have to carefully type it like I was writing the article. I knew she would take what I was saying and use it with what others said to carefully craft the article. It took me 20 minutes or so, it probably took her hours.

    AmyBeth: If you're asking people to answer 20 questions you might be spending hours crafting them, but I'm spending more hours answering. That's a lot of my time.

    I should just refer to Mint Kang. I think she said what I want to add perfectly. Thanks.

    Thanks everyone. Great discussion!

  37. Avatar ryan field says:

    I only get interview offers through e-mail. And being they are often from European journalists…usually Italy and Germany…e-mail just makes it easier.

    And, I actually prefer e-mail interviews. For me, it's faster.

  38. Avatar Lia Mack says:

    Or over a cup of coffee or lunch at a great bistro, right? 😉 Email and texting. Facebook and IM…It might 'connect' us across the world at light speed and make us feel as though we're in touch with all and everyone we know. But there's NO real interaction when it's just on paper, words typed.
    Where's the, like you said, personality? Connotations? Sarcasm? Smiles don't really cut it for a true smile, grimace, smirk. It's sad really. I've lost touch with most of my friends I used to have regular conversations with simply because they'd rather be 'facebooked' or txt'd.

    I think, with all the info we put out there about ourselves, all anyone would have to do to 'conduct an interview' with us is look up our facebook, myspace, website, read a bio or two that we've forgotten about and bam! 'Interview' born… Boring…

  39. Avatar Susan says:

    As one of the many former journalists chirping up here, I agree that the phone interview is the "real" interview–it's the "in between the questions" talk that usually yields the best gems.

    That said, I understand why bloggers use e-mail–they aren't journalists but want to spread your gems about the industry to their constituency. The bloggers have their 40-hour jobs and their (hopefully) 40-hour writing jobs, and we know that phone interviews can be 10-times longer to do and then transcribe. Plus, the bloggers may be thinking that because they aren't "real" journalists, e-mail may be more palatable to the interviewee.