(Published in Span Magazine, May-June issue, 2009)
Utpal Borpujari, special correspondent, Deccan Herald
What are the positives and negatives about e-mail interviewing as opposed to in-person or phone interviews?
a) The interviewee can give detailed or short replies (depending on the requirements of the interviewer) at his/her own time-of course, within the deadline requested by the interviewer.
b) There is no chance of any person being misquoted. And facts and figures can be provided in detail by the interviewee.
c) One can think of additional questions even after an interview is through, in case there is a requirement felt.
d) You can interview people even in other continents without spending any money-I think this could be an important aspect in recessionary times!
a) One cannot depend much on e-mail interviews for hard, daily news which are often done against a steep deadline.
b) You never get to talk to the person being interviewed, which robs the interviewer of giving a personal touch to the subject-it becomes a mechanical Q&A.
c) You can never do sensitive stories based on “sources” and “off the record” information through e-mail interviews, for obvious reasons.
When doing an e-mail interview, what precautions do you take about knowing the source? For example, do you call the person before or after? Why or why not?
While doing an email interview, it is a must to ascertain the source-and a verification of the mail ID is a must, and though it may not be possible to call a person always for this purpose, it is advisable to the maximum possible extent. A brief telephonic chat before sending the Qs is always better.
Have you got a cautionary tale about e-mail use for reporting, or an anecdote about a story you could only have gotten through e-mail?
I have not heard any cautionary tale as yet on this. Personally, I interviewed Brendan I. Koerner, author of Now the Hell Will Start over e-mail to get a very interesting story sometime back. This book is on a black Armyman during the Second World War, who was sent to construct the Stilwell Road (also called the Ledo Road) connecting Burma and India, and how the biggest manhunt of WW II was launched to nab this man after he had shot a white superior. A superb book which has not been launched yet in India, I read about its launch on the Internet, and searched for the author’s e-mail id, and then contacted him through mail to interview him.
What do you think of using other new technologies for reporting? Instant messaging? Text messaging? Twitter?
Use of new technologies are always welcome-who could have thought of use of computers for writing out stories and dispatching them even 20 years ago, but now all journalists do that even in remotest parts of the world. There was a time when the typewriter was the “must” instrument for reporting. In that sense, any new technology or mode is welcome, as long as it helps in faster and accurate dissemination of news.