The Difference Between Phone and Email Interviews

I took a class titled “Newsgathering” in during my undergraduate days. It was focused on teaching journalists how to get the information necessary for crafting a quality story. One discussion that has stuck with me was on the topic of interviews.

I have an admitted preference for email interviews — in most circumstances, they take up less time for everyone involved, and it’s significantly harder for someone to claim that you misquoted them. But my professor still stands by the in-person interview. He settles for phone interviews when he has to and considers the email interview Plan C at best.

The general idea is that an in-person interview is more adaptive: you can change the questions and don’t have to do multiple follow ups if an interview subject’s answer sparks a new idea. Furthermore, a good writer seems to be able to pull answers out of a subject when talking to them that the writer might not get in an email.

But an email interview is acceptable in most instances. I really have only two situations in which I make it a point to do a personal interview, or even a phone call:

  1. When I’m essentially cold calling a subject with whom i have no connection. If I’m picking names out of a phone book, I know I’ll have a better chance of getting my questions answered if I make a phone call than if I send off an email that could easily slip into a spam filter.
  2. When I’m working with an emotional and hostile interview subject. There are plenty of situations when I’ve wound up interviewing someone who really didn’t want to talk to me and an email just isn’t going to get an honest answer in those situations.

How do you conduct your interviews? Are you cool with emailing off a couple of questions? Or are you going to track down a real live person to talk to?


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  2. AmyM   •  

    I do about 3/4 of my interviews for my site via email. The articles are short, usually less than 750 words, so I’m not looking for a whole lot of depth. I do maybe one follow up email if the subject is a “man of few words” but sometimes I don’t even have to do that. I always give my subjects a choice of phone or email so it really lies in their hands. You’re right in that you can glean more info in a phone or in-person interview, but the key is figuring out what you want to know, what you will use and then tailor your questions to get those responses.

  3. Kerrie   •  

    I am contributing editor for a local women’s magazine, so the subjects I interview are all in our small city of 130,000 people (so there really is no excuse for me not to meet them in person). I write profiles for the magazine, so it is important for me to conduct my interviews in person. Then I can redirect the questions as needed and I get a better understanding of what this person is all about. They do take more time and cause me a little anxiety beforehand, but I am always glad I made the in person connection. It makes the article easier to write.

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