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  1. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Interviews by Email

    Discussion in 'By Writing Form' started by John Calligan, Apr 13, 2019.

    Any advice on, or recommended book about, the procedure for carrying out interviews by email?

    I've been starting with a short introduction of the person, and then going into questions, usually 8-12 depending on how long they are. I'll email the questions to them, then send a follow-up set depending on their answers. After I have the answers, I'll go to editing.

    With editing, my goal is to try to cut all of the less interesting tangents, repetitions, and conversational elements of the replies so that I'm left with their intended message, in as many of their own words as possible, keeping their voice.

    Of course this is an art. I try to shore up the weaknesses by (since I'm not a journalist) sending the edited versions back to the person I'm interviewing for their approval.

    Anyone have any tips on the etiquette, the ethics, or the style of this kind of writing?
     
  2. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Personally i would be more inclined to do it live over skype or skype messenger so you can ask follow ups as you go along
     
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  3. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    That's how journalists normally do it, right? Long conversation by voice recorded, and then picked apart for quotes and questions, which is why the reported version is so coherent and clean, compared to how people really talk. At least that's what I heard.
     
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  4. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Senior Member

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    I've done a number of emailed interviews in my current degree field. They have been informal (as emailed interviews are), and limiting in the sense that they are not really time sensitive.

    In one class, I was writing a paper about library animals. I emailed a number of libraries in my surrounding state at the time, explaining who I was, my university, the concept of my paper, and what I'd like from them. In concluding the email, I asked if they would be interested in answering a few of my questions.
    I waited for a response.
    When they responded on the affirmative, I sent them a list of questions (no more than 5).

    Some responses for formal.. as in they answered each question, but answered it like a test. Others were less formal and their responses read like a conversation.
    Based their responses, I'd ask more questions. The email thread grew and grew until I had what I needed, then I concluded the "interview."

    Basically, it starts off as an intro, then a questionnaire, then follow-up questions.

    There is probably a better way to do it, but this is how I've done it in the past. If your interview must be virtual, is there is a way for you to do it by chat? For example, Google chat?
    One of my classes covered conducting interviews threw chat, and I found it much easier. I'm impatient, lol. I dont like waiting for an email in order to continue a convo/interview.
     
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  5. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    I've never been fond of doing interviews by email and avoid doing them this way, for four reasons:

    1. By email, you don't know who's really answering the questions. If it's a celebrity or other person with a PR rep or PR department, there's a good chance the PR person is answering the questions for them.

    2. Little to no chance for follow-up. Usually your allotted questions are it.

    3. Timeliness: People are notorious for missing deadlines and tend to lose the questions.

    4. It's fun meeting interesting people.
     
  6. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Senior Member

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    1. Let the interviewee decide his/her level of co-operation and control.

    2. Let them decide how much you'll have their voice and how much yours.

    3. Make it fun to them.

    4. Keep things as short as you can.

    5. Let them have an open word session if they want to.

    6. Let them check everything they want to.

    7. Ask if they have PR-photo collections where you could pick material for your article. (If they have, they give you it's address and a password. You see all/most of them but you can download one or few, not all.)

    8. Don't make stupid, too obvious or leading/loaded questions.

    9. Before starting talk with few people who have been in several interviews.

    10. Rethink and rewrite every question until it really captures reader and interviewee.

    Like....

    When you was interviewed in Xxxxxx you said that you want.... ==>

    You have said that you want to... ==>

    Do interviews repeat your words or something else? Do you want to give examples? (Now there is something, but it still needs working.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2019
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  7. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Those two guidelines are absolutely, 100% against the rules of journalistic integrity.

    Rule #1: Never let the interviewee control the interview, ever, if you want to get the truth.

    ETA: Also:
    No. Absolutely not.
     
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  8. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Senior Member

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    1. No they are not.

    - In email interview interviewee in fact does have all the time possibility to decide his/her co-operation - and control.
    - Being open about this fact helps getting the atmosphere of interview open and that is a good way to get the truth out.
    - That rule number one is obsolete. It works only in situation where journalist are the gatekeepers of media and interviewees need exactly that media and exactly that journalist. That has not been the case for long time.

    2. Of course interviewees must have a possibility to check everything.

    That is not the same as letting them edit, rewrite or change things. It's just a way to get facts right so that you don't publish "interpretation" or "disclosures" which are nowhere near truth or logic.

    Interviewee should never, never, never trust the professionalism or honesty of a journalist. So... Never give an interview you can't check. Never give an interview if journalist has an aggressive - open or hidden - attitude. Never give an interview to a journalist or media with a hidden or half hidden political agenda.
     
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  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I've been interviewed a number of times by local media in my current and previous roles - I've never been given the chance to check anything, and they hardly ever used email - mostly it was by skype or in person

    However john is not talking about journalism - it sounds more like its an interview for a book - in those cases it is more usual for the interviewee to have some control over what goes in... if you read the back matter of books that deal with this kind of thing they often say xyz reviewed the manuscript before publication and...
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Are you planning to publish this interview? @Shenanigator is right about what she said when it comes to journalism and I do think some of that applies here, depending on your intentions. If you are just interviewing someone for your own sake to help with research for a separate project or something, then it's probably fine to do things the way you were thinking. However, if you are trying to get this interview published, I would not show the person you are interviewing the final product. I would also not change their answers other than some cutting perhaps and any grammatical type errors. If this is being done over email they already have a copy of what was said. You should mention that you plan to edit for clarity and space as needed, but I really wouldn't change anything they are saying. Interviews are not so much creative writing, not when published in interview form. People want to know what the person you're interviewing has to say, not you. But I would really think twice about showing someone this sort of thing if your plan is to publish it. I think if there is some sort of change you want to make for clarity, it's okay to run that changed section by the interviewee, but I really see no reason to give them a look at the whole thing. It sort of like giving them a chance at a do-over and they could want to change everything, putting you back at square one.
     
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  11. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Supporter Contributor

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    I see both sides of the argument. I'm a scientist. As I've been on the answering side of the equation, I am appalled that journalists publish something with facts wrong, and all of the mistakes I've seen could have been avoided by checking with the one interviewed. Editing—shouldn't be done by the interviewee, I agree with this also, but showing them the pertinent passages for getting facts right? Absolutely. I also agree with @deadrats that interviews should not be creative writing, but unfortunatly a lot of the time they are.
     
  12. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I've done a couple interviews for my blog. I didn't consider that I was doing any kind of journalism--more like free marketing victory laps for people who want to talk about their new book or venture, as a kind of literary citizenship.

    But even for that, I imagine there is some kind of etiquette, some natural way of striking a balance between pleasing reading material, maintaining the interviewee's voice and message, and so on.

    This isn't a problem I've had with any interview I posted to my blog so far, but imagine I'm interviewing someone who wrote a book about a white guy, a black guy, and an Asian guy who become cops and investigate a crime. It's mentioned twice in the press release that there is a diverse cast, so I ask:

    "Why is diversity important to you?"

    And they reply: "There is nothing to it for me, because I don't see color."

    They may think they are being liberal. They have voted democrat down the line on every ballet since 1982, marched at BLM, donated to the ACLU and PP, and so on. However, they aren't used to being asked about their feelings, and their language is stuck in the 90's when "I don't see color" was a liberal stance.

    Now, I know that this is a trigger phrase and if anyone notices the interview at all, it's going to get slammed by highly motivated internet activists who are going to be enraged. So, I have some possibilities:

    I can cut the question to protect the person.

    I can ask them to clarify, risking them putting their foot in their mouth.

    I can email them, explain that this answer is a problem, and ask them to do it over.

    It's not journalism. It's suppose to be friendly, but the format is Q & A and implies some authenticity.

    What do you do?
     
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  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Print what they said and let the chips fall... and be prepared to ban highly motivated internet activists from your site
     
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  14. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Supporter Contributor

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    In my darker moments I'd publish it without editing. After all, it's going to generate a lot of publicity for the lucky author :D

    ETA: I'd probably email and ask to clarify. This is simply making sure that what they said (without context) is what they meant.
     
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  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    this is also a symptom of being interviewed by a small concern - people don't prepare or give the same degree of thought to their answers.

    If they were being interviewed by the NYT they'd probably trot out a prepared answer about how diversity is important because they want to reflect reality and blah blah blah
     
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  16. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Oh absolutely, but every post is like a lottery ticket, and I don't think people really want to go viral for winning the "imprecise language super power ball" that you have to answers for, for the rest of your life.
     
  17. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    You should avoid email interviews at all cost.
    What you'll get are choreographed answers to your questions, which will tend to be short on nuance and long on bullshit.
     
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  18. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Senior Member

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    Then you don't publish them. You tell that you wanted an interview, not a pitch. And you will never publish a politically correct, substance empty pitch as a interview.

    Interesting people give interesting answers. There are a lot of that kind of people in the wide world. And via email it does not bother if the distance is long.
     
  19. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Usually it's clear, via the context, whether the person intended to say something or just got carried away. If it seems the person just got carried away, I'll contact them for clarification.
    Or, it may be how they actually feel. One of the jobs of a person doing the interview is to try to remain objective and not assume agendas.

    I was taught to approach interviews as if the reader and I are agenda-free Martians who are there to learn about a person or subject. Approaching interviews this way keeps the journalist out of the story and yields much more revealing interviews, because the interviewee is much more relaxed and open. ETA: No one wants to be interviewed by someone who is inherently suspicious of their motives. The journalist's job is to learn and gain understanding about a person or subject , not assume.
     
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  20. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    To play devil's advocate, that sounds like a convenient stance for someone trying to sell ads guilt free. In the current political climate, a lot of what counts as racist dog whistling or SJW "virtue signalling" is, imo, not immediately obvious to most people. I think it creates an effect where people of average intelligence and average interest in politics can accidentally use words that no longer mean what they think they mean. More than that, once the words are used, no amount of clarification or apology is going to matter to anyone.

    So, if the Goal of the interviewee is to tell you how cool his "two sun hyperspace magic" is, and he says something like, "my characters are more three dimensional than Rey," he might not know he's dog whistling and about to get comments full of crazy shit that don't have to do with his book. Maybe he doesn't want that. It's weird.
     
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  21. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    It's a pretty standard method of achieving objective reporting that was around for decades before ad revenue became a thing. You can always place a blanket Disclaimer at the end of interviews on your blog stating that the opinions expressed by interviewees are strictly those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect your own opinion, yadda yadda yadda. Just make sure you add the disclaimer to every interview, though. Otherwise that is in no way objective.

    Again, I would just ask for clarification. It's not the journalist's job to try to guess or assume what the interviewee meant. It's the journalist's job to make things understandable for the reader. Asking for clarification (or better yet, asking the same question in a different way) will either make the interviewee double down on their stance with clearer words that make the reader see exactly what's meant, or it will make the interviewee realize they inadvertently said something they didn't mean at all and gives them a chance to state it in another way.

    The context of their other words is everything. If the person seems innocently unaware, I'd phrase the followup in a way that explains how it might be misconstrued and asks if that's what they truly meant. If the surrounding context indicates it was an intentional dog whistle, my followup question would be phrased in a way that the interviewee would be forced to state things more obviously.

    In other words, clarification either gives the interviewee a chance to demonstrate their innocence or gives them enough rope to hang themselves.
     
  22. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    We are physical creatures and our body language often tells the world more about us than do the slippery words coming out our mouth. Sure, if the interview is for a "fluff" article, emails are fine. But if it's something more important, certainly an investigative piece, then a face-to-face or Skype interview is far better.
     
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  23. jannert

    jannert Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Possibly. But it also gives the interviewee time to think about what they're saying and present their view in a way they feel is accurate. It's too easy to say the wrong thing when you're in a face-to-face confrontation—even if it's a friendly one. Or, even more annoying, forget what you actually wanted to say ...especially if you didn't expect the question.

    Some people can be fantastic at speaking face to face, but that doesn't make them right or truthful. In fact, they can be master Bullshitters. (Just watch the political chat shows if you don't believe me.) Other people can be awkward when speaking, yet be more truthful.

    It might be an idea to ask the interviewee how they prefer to be interviewed. That tactic might also get more people to say yes to the interview.

    I know if I was a poor speaker or not very fast on my feet, I would not agree to a Skype interview. I would be much more likely to say yes to an email one, that would give me time to think before I spoke. The opposite would be true if I was a poor writer but a good speaker.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
  24. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    True enough, but an interviewer, leastwise one that's fair and interested in getting at the truth would pick up on those things and proceed accordingly. For a journalist, especially an investigative reporter reputation is everything. Or else nobody would agree to talk with them.
     
  25. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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