Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

3 reasons email interviews stink

 Audrey Hepburn

When a reporter or blogger is looking for a source, it’s important to recognize there are significant disadvantages to participating in an email interview and not a typical phone interview.

Are e-mail interviews the lazy person’s way to get information? Many media requests listed on HARO (Help a Reporter Out) stipulate interviews will be conducted via e-mail.

It seems a growing number of people skip the human element of exchanging pleasantries and instead hide behind their keyboards. For me, it’s simple. I prefer to talk rather than type. You?

Sure,  in our busy worlds, there’s a certain convenience to receiving information electronically. But e-mail interviews lack a critical communication dynamic that’s present when a reporter takes the time to speak with a source.

Without dialogue, the art of give-and-take doesn’t exist at a deep level.

Nudging our curiosity

We must also recognize the role that our natural curiosity plays in the interview process. Even if 10 rounds of e-mails are traded, the content will never match that of a human conversation.

The reason?  E-mail deprives a reporter or blogger the opportunity to spark their own curiosity and possibly uncover new insights and content. Nudging our curiosity is essential in developing content and learning new things. Curiosity and education go hand-in-hand.    

E-mail interviews detract from the fundamental news-gathering process because they:

Lack the human exchange and conversation that gives life to interviews.  I have interviewed thousands of people, from homeless individuals to presidents. Each was conducted in-person or on the telephone. And each response within a conversation typically sparked a follow-up question or slight tangent that I, as a trained journalist and news reporter, could never have anticipated. This is why scripted Q&A doesn’t compare with live interviews. E-mail misses our communication nuances, speech patterns, and vocal vitality. These live exchanges—fueled by a natural curiosity—improved the quality of information I had been gathering that simply cannot exist in an e-mail interview.  

Fail to capture the essence of the source that’s being interviewed. Based on the perspectives I have shared above, we now turn to the actual writing of the story. When a reporter or blogger is finished gathering material and is ready to sit down and write, I wonder if they can truly capture the essence of a story in the same way a counterpart could who spoke with a source.   Yes, any reporter can miss the mark and fail to truly “get” the story. But why increase the odds?  

Keep people from using their communication skills. Typing responses to a series of questions limits our verbal communication and rapport building skills. We have all sent and received electronic messages that were misconstrued in some way.  In phone interviews, tone of voice, rhythm, pacing, pauses, and enthusiasm help reporters grasp a story and the person behind it. Human to human. Some reporters even prefer to Skype with sources, as the visual adds an additional layer of valuable communication. Skype and in-person interviews allow the reporter or blogger to observe a source’s body language, which is a significant factor in our verbal and nonverbal communication. 

Do you agree or have an experience to share? Your comments are welcome.  

PS: Want to learn tons of tips and ideas for pitching news stories and working with the media? Order my new Kindle book, The Badass Book of Social Media and Business Communication.

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  1. Susan, my Entrepreneurial Web Marketing class is discussing your post. They are agreeing that a face-to-face interview is better because you can see body language and see/hear emotion much better than is possible online. The interview process, when held in person, allows you to pick up cues from the environment and allows readers to feel more like they’re actually there. It can also be helpful to also have email exposure, to see how differently they communicate with the written word than in person. Another student added one’s command of the English language (or lack thereof) impacts their communication by any medium. Because of the fast-paced society we live in, people appreciate more personal communication now – because most of us walk the line of living in a social and digital world. It’s easier to communicate emotion and draw people’s stories into your heart when you’re looking at them in the eye. A good writer or speaker can do this – but there are few of this caliber. The relationship you have with your subject often comes through in the written word. Email is great for some folks being interviewed because they find the format much less threatening than doing it “in person” with someone they don’t know. (But we all agree on the importance of being able to speak well for any business person.) The interviewer’s ability to speak/think on their feet and react to what has been said (in person or online) is critical; asking follow-up questions can change the whole tone of an interview.

    Thank you for allowing us to have the experience of discussing and commenting on your post!

    • Wonderful insights from your students. I have found that most interviews (pre-email) were done on the phone. If there was a good visual, especially involving children or pets, reporters like to visit firsthand, catch the action, and do interviews on the spot. But the past 10 years or so have seen serious cuts in newsroom staffing and resources. As a result, most reporters are tied to their desks.

      You are spot-on in saying that the interviewer has to speak/think on their feet. I think this is much more important than people may believe. Thank you for sharing!


      • I agree it was not long ago that CNN had ended the investigated journalist dept. Meaning they rarely will be going to on site investigation.
        We had heard the interview on Bill Maher show on HBO. We were very surprised by this . The we I refer to is my Husband and myself. Thank you for the oportunity to add to this conversation. I was one of the students in the class listed above and agree with your point of view.

  2. I found your blog thought-provoking mainly because of the many positive, and yes negative aspects in regards to email interviewing. Thanks Peggy for your response to the fact that it seems as though e-interviewing may be very well on its way to becoming the “newest thing” in business trends. I remember in elementary grade school when my teacher had first introduced to us second and third graders the concept of the picture phone. I remember how afterwards and weeks later I had secretly become so imaginatively pre-occupied with the idea of this strange picture phone thingy. I kept wondering how very strange it would look, I was intrigued! So many different technological advances have been made so rapidly that I suppose we’d might as well get used to the possibility of e-interviewing.

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