On media interviews

This whole fracas between Wired reporter Fred Vogelstein and bloggers Jason Calacanis and Dave Winer — the former prefers interviews by e-mail or recorded audio, the latter prefers to blog responses to media questions; both decline to be interviewed by phone — reminds me of what I learned both during my brief journalism career and when I was in media demand during DFL’s first season:

One, the reporter needs to talk to you much more than you need to talk to the reporter. It meant that as a reporter soliciting information from my small-town neighbours, I had to be on my best behaviour. It meant that they weren’t necessarily awed by the prospect of being in the paper (especially not the local weekly). It also meant that, when the shoe was on the other foot, once I reminded myself that I didn’t have to reply to every media inquiry (especially when it became clear that off-line media coverage had no impact on my traffic), I felt a good deal less put upon.

And two, the story the reporter is working on is not necessarily your story. It’s not a question of objectivity, simply that there’s a compelling story that’s driving the reporter (or at the very least her desk editor). That story may not match up with what you want to talk about, so your words may be put to unexpected purposes.

Reporters, in turn, need to realize that regardless of the “gotcha” implications of phone or in-person interviews (which is what has been getting most of the attention in this debate), any media interview is an inconvenience to the interviewee. An e-mail response may take as much time as a brief phone interview, but it’s much less emotionally and mentally taxing, and is minimally disruptive to a busy schedule. (Live interviews are the worst, even if it’s by phone and you don’t have to go into a studio.) That, more than anything else, is why I’d rather do things by e-mail than by phone or in person: it’s less work and stress.