The obsolete interview

The interview is outmoded and needs to be rethought.

There’s no better demonstration of this than the recriprocal snipes we’ve been seeing from and around Wired magazine from its attempt to interview people about Michael Arrington. (If you know the tale, skip to the next paragraph.) See Jason Calacanis’ quite reasonable effort to respond to Wired writer Fred Vogelstein’s questions via email and Dave Winer’s equally reasonable offer to respond in public on his blog. Now see the blunderbuss response from Wired in a blog post by Vogelstein recounting the email exchange and his dogmatic rules — “I never do email questions right out of the gate…” — and also in a blog post from his colleague Dylan Tweney, calling Calacanis “cowardly” (it appears to be an awkward attempt to be cute) and in an even clumsier attack from Ryan Singel: “What happens when a top tech figure has an online soap box, a Silicon Valley-size ego, millions in the bank and a grudge against the mainstream media?” Arrington piped in, fearing the fuss would cost him his publicity. And unable to resist any post about Arrington, Valleywag joined the journalism seminar. Vogelstein — who came to Kofi Annan agreement to record an interview with Calacanis — emailed me, too, but I told him I was about to blog about this snit and he probably wouldn’t want me. Finally, Wired Editor Chris Anderson joined in, saying in a comment on Calacanis’ blog, “I don’t impose any one policy.”

But maybe, given your vow of radical transparency at the magazine, Chris, you might want to at least impose openness to new ways, or at least an open discussion about the state of the art of the interview in the time of the empowered interviewee. A few discussion points:

Who says that reporters are in charge of interviews anymore? Why should they set terms? They are the ones who are seeking information. As Calacanis pointed out in their email exchange, Vogelstein was willing to give up two interviews because the subjects would not follow his rules. So the story suffers — it’s less complete, less informative, or less accurate — because of the reporter’s controlling rules? That wouldn’t make me happy as an editor, subject, or reader. If you need the information, shouldn’t you be willing to get it however you can? Isn’t that what reporting is all about?

Are interviews about information or gotcha moments? Vogelstein said in his email that he wants phone interviews to get the tone of the subject. Why? If this is about information, what does that really add? Or is it about the reporter’s effort to characterize the players in a narrative? Is this about information or drama? As a subject, wouldn’t you be wary of that? Or does the reporter want to catch the subject in a slip of the tongue? But what does that really accomplish? Isn’t it better to get considered, complete answers? What’s so wrong with enabling a subject to think about an answer, to review it and get it right before sending it? Isn’t accuracy and completeness the goal? When I came up in the business, I was taught not to review quotes with subjects before publication but now I see magazines doing just that; as Valleywag points out, reporters even negotiate quote approval. The only reason not to do that is that you don’t want to ruin the gotcha moment: ‘You said that.’ ‘Well, I didn’t mean it.’ ‘But you said it. Gotcha.’ ‘But it’s wrong, so can’t we correct that?’ ‘Gotcha.’ We’ve all misspoken. Should we be able to take back our own words? The only reason not to is if the reporter believes he has indeed caught us. And there is a place for catching people (George Allen couldn’t take back “macaca”). But in most stories, that’s simply not the case, unless your agenda is to get someone.

Too many reporters get too much wrong. Listen to what both Calacanis and Winer — not to mention veteran journalist Dan Gillmor — are saying: They’ve been burned when their words in stories end up incomplete or wrong. Gillmor’s right that reporters should be the subjects of stories to learn what it’s like to be on the other end of that pen. I’ve certainly learned that lesson myself.And by making complete interviews public, as Calacanis insisted, even on audio, we get to check the reporter. If, again, the goal is accuracy, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s a better way. Try combining the Calacanis and Winer methods: Perform the interview in writing, in public. As Winer says: “So if you want to work together, let’s find a new way to do it. I’m fed up with the old system. The way we start the reboot is to do all our work out in the open, real-time. Not via email, but in full view of everyone.” Examine the possible benefits of this: The reporter asks a question and I answer it. But I get it wrong and a reader pipes in to give a correction. Isn’t that a better way? I read my answers as I write them and improve them myself. What’s wrong with that? Why should the reporter get the opportunity to rewrite and edit and I don’t? Why should the reporter get to look smarter than the subjects? The best reporters, after all, go to find people who are smarter and know more than they do to get the best story. Ah, but I can hear some of you saying, wouldn’t this blow an exclusive? Well the exclusive has a fleeting value of about 30 seconds anymore anyway. And what’s exclusive about what Dave Winer has to say about Mike Arrington? If anyone owns that exclusive, it’s Dave, no? And Dave’s stance is that if he has anything to say on a subject, he’ll say it on his blog. Welcome to the transparent era, my fellow journalists. You want transparency? This is transparency.

My words are mine. Enough said.

Quotes need no longer be taken out of context. Isn’t that the greatest problem subjects have with how their words are treated? But that need no longer be a complaint. Why shouldn’t every quote, every snippet and soundbite, link to its context in the fuller interview? If the reporter has done a great job on the story, no one need click on those links. But if you want more or if you want to investigate the context in which this person said this thing, why not make that readily available, now that we have the ability, thanks to hyperlinks and permalinks? In fact, doesn’t this change the very structure of the story? Why shouldn’t that change, too? I’ve been arguing for sometime that online, there’s no reason to insert the standard background paragraph when you can link to full background. Ditto for interviews. Think of the finished story as a summary, a guide to more information. It may give you everything you want. Or it may link you to background if you’re new to the tale. Or it may link you to more depth if you want to dig deeper. Every story becomes a table of contents to knowledge. Let’s not just reexamine the interview. Let’s reexamine the architecture of the article.

Interviews and articles need never end. And never start. A story can begin with a reader’s blog post: ‘I wish I knew…’ Or it can begin with a reporter’s blog post: ‘I’m looking at doing a story about ____. What do you know? What do you want to know? What should I ask? Whom should I ask?’ Who says the reporters should ask all the questions? Shouldn’t the readers? Shouldn’t even the subjects (good interviewers usually ask whether there’s anything they didn’t ask)? Then the interviews can appear online to be challenged, amended, and corrected by writers, readers, and subjects alike. Why shouldn’t it be a collaborative effort when it can be? Won’t that only yield better information? Then the reporter writes a story. Make no mistake: There is still and always will be great value in that. For the vast majority of subjects and stories, I don’t want to go digging through original material and reporting-in-progress. I want the reporter to do the work of packaging it for me. Absolutely. So the article remains a keystone. But who says the story should be over then — done, fishwrap — just because the reporter’s finished writing it? The story is online and as we see every day, it continues to live and grow as people add their knowledge and perspectives and corrections via links and comments and remixes of the information. So the article isn’t a product. It is a process. It is collaborative. It is three-dimensional, linking to background and depth. It’s alive.

Yes, it is a favor. Vogelstein said in his email to Jason that “no one talks to me to do me any favors.” Oh, they most certainly do. In our gift economy, every act of sharing is an act of generosity, a favor. No reporter or reader should ever forget that. This is the essential human trait that makes the internet — let alone libraries, newspapers, and magazines — valuable. Reporters think that they are the ones doing the subjects the favor and, indeed, that used to be the case and to a lesser and lesser extent, for some, it still is: The reporter holds the key to the presses and with the reporter’s choices — ‘I’ll quote you but not you’ — the reporter grants attention, publicity, legitimacy. Or that’s the way they thought it worked. But this is the essential lesson of the democratization of media: We don’t need you and your presses to be heard. Calacanis in his email to Vogelstein: “Besides I have 10,000 people come to my blog every day–i don’t need wired to talk to the tech industry.” Winer: “Like Jason, I don’t have any trouble getting my ideas out on my own.” Or hear the students at Virginia Tech who got sick of reporters bugging them about the stories they’d already told on their own .

That should force reporters to reexamine the human economics of the interview: because they have to and because they can, because the power dynamics of journalist-subject have changed and because they now have new tools to do interviews — and articles — in better ways. Why not at least try?

Vogelstein wanted to talk to me about Arrington. But I didn’t want to talk to him about that. I wanted to talk to him about this. And I just did it, in writing, in public. And I hope he talks back and that you will, too. Yes, news really is a conversation.

Meanwhile, elsewhere at Wired, they are trying radical new ways working with Jay Rosen and NewAssignment.net on their Assignment Zero. I was interviewed via email and posted the results immediately, as did the reporter; they also solicited questions and wrote about doing interviews this way. Not a lot of conversation around that because I was long-winded, pontifical, and boring. But hey, the internet and conversation are meritocracies. We talk about what’s worth talking about.

  • http://www.pr-squared.com Todd Defren

    Interestingly, I found this post via a Twitter by Jason Calacanis. The story mutates across channels.

    One quick, tactical question, Jeff: while I applaud much of the sentiment and ideas expressed here, are we … 1) Discounting the role that hardcopy journals still play? You can’t click links & follow the narrative threads on an airplane, after all… and, 2) are we thinking too bleeding-edge, here? These ideas are transformative (and cool), yet I am not at all sure that the general populace is ready for this level of hyper-connected narrative.

    Great post; I am sure it will get plenty of thoughtful reaction.

  • http://LenEdgerly.com Len

    As a former newspaper reporter, I know the power a journalist used to have. It was god-like. One small thing I could do is piece two quotes together, like this: “Vogelstein wanted to talk to me about Arrington,” Jarvis wrote on his blog. “We talk about what’s worth talking about.” The second quote comes later in your blog post, but the arrangement of it implies that it immediately followed the first. I believe I never used this tool to do violence to what my interviewees were trying to say, as opposed to tightening up the flow of ideas and information. But damn, it’s easy to play with reality, and tempting. Thirty years later, with all this interactive ability, there is no reason for a journalist to hold onto the old ways of monopolizing the conversation. Good for Winer and Calacanis for pressing the point.

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  • http://craigslistcriticism.blogspot.com/ Delia

    “Who says that reporters are in charge of interviews anymore?”

    true and sad! those who are actually doing their job (collecting all relevant info, checking for accuracy, inconsistencies etc. seem to be a disappearing bread — just look at all the misinformation about craigslist, for instance).

    “Isn’t accuracy and completeness the goal?”

    absolutely! but how can it be accomplish if the interviewer has become the interviewee’s stenographer and is supposed to bow and thank him for the privilege?

    Yes, it is a privilege to be granted a *real* interview (where the interviewer’s words are NOT the gospel and real questions are asked and answered so the truth can come out) but it is an insult to be offered anything *less*…

    Might just as well skip it or seek employment with the interviewee as a PR person (at least then just repeating what your employer said and marveling at it whether it makes any sense or not wouldn’t be deceiving people…)

    Delia

    P.S. otherwise, great points! (especially on transparency, built-in context links and the “never ending” interview/article) D.

  • http://craigslistcriticism.blogspot.com/ Delia

    re: a disappearing breed

    oops… that was breed (not bread… — I guess I’m getting hungry…:) D.

  • http://www.mannagroups.com Matthew Manna

    The internet as place – a description that continues to satisfy.

    The conversation is better served if part of it occurs under the unique stress of a live pointed examination distributed via exact audio/visual reproduction. This is the place that provides insight into the essence of the interviewee.

    As for manufactured ‘Gotcha’ moments … I understand the View is hiring.

  • http://blog.stealthmode.com francine hardaway

    Great piece, Jeff. I am working on Assignment Zero, which is still finding its focus, and I intereviewed Dan Gillmor by phone on crowdsourced journalism. I had to type furiously the whole time, and I’m sure I missed things. I would have loved to have an email interview, or a public interview from his on his blog. But I guess that wouldn’t have been good for Wired.

    The reporter used to be in charge of the story, and could misinterpret the subject according to bias, incompetence, or sheer mistake. Now the subject has a chance to clarify in real time, and that can’t help but make information more accurate.

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  • http://newmediaseries.syr.edu Eric Hansen

    Our college newspaper interviewed me for a piece about blogs. I agreed under the terms that I would see the article in advance.

    It was riddled with all kinds of errors and misinformation not to mention misquoting me. The reason: The editor assigned a rookie reporter with zero knowledge/experience of technical subjects, let alone the blogosphere.

    The reporter got in trouble for sending me the advance copy even though it enabled me to correct much of the information and clue the reporter in.

    After all that I was still totally burned.

    This post needed to be written. The system is upside-down. Thanks, Jeff!

  • http://fredvogelstein.com Fred Vogelstein

    Here is my email conversation with Jeff Jarvis yesterday before he posted this. Remember to read from bottom to top.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Vogelstein, Fred
    Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 11:41 PM Eastern Standard Time
    To: ‘Jeff Jarvis’
    Subject: Re: wired mag story

    Well, have at it. I didn’t think it came across as a snit fit. That certainly wasn’t what I was thinking. I’ve just found that phone or in person interviews work better for me. Jason finds email works better for him. I tried to convince him to see it my way. He tried to make me look silly for doing that and not seeing it his way. And in the end we worked it out in a way that worked for both of us. Seems like standard reporter source interaction to me – save for it being public. I apologized to winer for dragging him into it. Not sure there is a right or wrong answer here. But, if it reads like i’m having a ridiculous snit fit, I guess I should craft my words in emails more carefully – or is it that email – because you can’t hear the writer’s voice – can be easily misinterpreted?

    Sent from my Treo
    Expect Typos
    Fred Vogelstein
    510 435 9630

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Jeff Jarvis [mailto:jeff@buzzmachine.com]
    Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10:20 PM Eastern Standard Time
    To: Vogelstein, Fred
    Subject: Re: wired mag story

    I am about to blog about your rather ridiculous snit fit over email
    interviews, so you probably won’t want me.

    Vogelstein, Fred wrote:
    > Jeff –
    >
    >
    >
    > I’m a writer for Wired. I’m working on a piece about Michael Arrington
    > and the impact he is having on the Valley and on blogging/media in
    > general. I thought you might be helpful. On or off the record is fine
    > with me. What’s best way to get in touch. FV
    >
    >
    >
    >
    >
    > Fred Vogelstein
    >
    > Contributing Editor
    >
    > Wired Magazine
    >
    > 520 Third St. #305
    >
    > San Francisco, CA 94107
    >
    > (415) 276 4922 – o
    >
    > (510) 435 9630 – c
    >
    >
    >
    > Blog: http://www.fredvogelstein.com
    >
    >
    >
    >

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  • http://alexapostol.com Alex Apostol

    Excuse me for my profound misunderstanding: I had no idea that journalism is about patching together PR and not about digging around. Maybe we should examine witnesses over e-mail? So they can own their words, of course.

    I would prefer your so-called “Gotcha moments” over sound bites any day.

  • MonkeyT

    “Interviews and articles need never end.”

    Fiction writer Stephen R. Donaldson has long referred to a blog-like Q&A section of his website as “The Gradual Interview”. He recently added a search engine to make it easier for viewers with specific interest to locate questions about those particular topics. It’s been running since February, 2004.

  • http://www.exacteditions.com Adam Hodgkin

    The tone of this doesnt seem right. Surely interviews are not ‘obsolete’ though one can agree that they may need to be re-thought. The view that Blogging or the Web renders newspapers (or magazines or books) obsolete is plain wrong. Just as wrong is the idea that Blogging which extends the ‘conversation’ is rendering ‘interviews’ obsolete. All these modes of communication can survive and they will. The true conversational style is to recognise, welcome and accept the different modaliies they encourage. Newspapers, magazines, interviews, blogs and conversations all need to be rethought and deployed elegantly and with convivial and congenial generosity.

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  • http://www.prompt-communications.com/blog/index.html Sean McManus

    I’ve worked both as a tech journalist and in PR. I’m going to (mostly) defend journalists here, based on my experience:

    – telephone interviews are harder to fake. That’s why newshounds like them – PRs are a lot less likely to impersonate a client on the phone than they are to, say, ghost email answers.

    – it’s quicker. On the phone when new ideas come up, the interviewer can pursue them. No email tennis going back and forth.

    – You get more natural quotes. When you give people quote approval, they strip out all their quirks, mannerisms and creative use of language. They try to make themselves look clever, and end up looking dull.

    – journalists need to offer something exclusive to their readers. They’re doing the legwork tracking down quotes and thinking up the angles. That’s why they want to be first to publish them. Yes, the person quoted is doing some work. But for a decent article, only one person is bringing all the strands together.

    – journalists are offering exposure to the people who are quoted. Some people need that more than others. Brian Eno made a landmark agreement with Wired that he would be paid for interview time since he didn’t have a product to plug. You’re right, though, that most people are doing journalists a favour and both sides need to recognise there’s give and take here.

    – for most people, it’s much, much easier to get coverage in a print publication that reaches 10,000 people than it is to build a blog that reaches 10,000 people. Yes, media is democratised. But just because everyone has a chance to say something, doesn’t mean everyone is listened to equally. Print media still holds the dominant influence in many circles.

    – misquoting happens really extremely rarely. If you’re worried, tape the interview. Having an email offers no greater defence against being misquoted – it doesn’t stop it happening.

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  • http://ryantate.com Ryan Tate

    I simply could not do my job using written interviews. There is a massive, massive loss of information in written interviews. Tone matters, pauses matter, physicality matters. This is why we use them to select mates, presidents, etc.

    The written word is great for conveying certain types of complex information. That’s why I use email. But don’t count on someone to be honest about their feelings, intentions, doubts, nervous ticks etc on email.

    It’s also, critically, much much SLOWER in terms of followup. On the phone I ask my followups instantly. This actually gives the source MORE power to set the agenda. On email I have to front load everything, or do a very slow ping pong process. And when I front load my questions on email, the source is more likely to think I have an agenda, because I am trying to come up with a bunch of questions with little information, with no feedback along the way from the source about where I am wrong.

    Think about it this way, Jeff: do you think the president would be right to insist only on written interviews? How about the Defense Secretary? Your governor? Your mayor? The superintendent of your child’s school?

  • http://www.CascadeWebDesign.com Baiss Eric Magnusson

    “Interviews and articles need never end. And never start.”
    Yes, thanks for putting this thought so succinctly.

  • Mouths.And.Ears.Are.Obsolete

    I think those of you that think interviews are obsolete need to step out of your circle a little bit once and a while. You’re clearly living in a vacuum.

  • http://techworking.wordpress.com Greg

    Jeff, you accusing someone of a “snit fit” is a bit of the pot calling the kettle…, no? In your constant rush to condemn anything and everything that has the whiff of “old media,” you look silly. You know damn well that (powerful) sources have always exercised an enormous amount of control over press interviews. Jason set a take-it-or-leave-it deal and Fred left it. If Jason won’t do it on Fred’s terms, why expect Fred to do it on Jason’s. Finally, context is overrated.

  • http://eventful.com Brian Dear

    I was recently inteviewed by a well-known political magazine. Originally, I was contacted by a reporter from the magazine. We did some phone-tag and weren’t able to connect; then I get an email from someone else at the magazine (whose name, I noticed, wasn’t on the masthead like the reporter’s was) saying that the reporter has asked her to do the interview instead, and would I call, etc.

    So I called and we did the interview. It was a disaster.

    I felt like I was talking to a high-school student who was not only utterly un-prepared to conduct the interview, but also did not understand the subject matter.

    What’s worse, she’s was clearly reading from a prepared list of questions. And she recited them over the phone as if she was nervously speaking at a podium to a huge audience. Some terminology she couldn’t pronounce; many of the questioins used a neologism, let’s call it X, where I was supposed to answer in terms of how my company treats X, how X is changing the internet, how my competitors are dealing with X, etc. I asked her, well, please define X — how exactly do you define it?

    My question caught her off-guard. She didn’t know what X was, and she couldn’t offer any insight into what the magazine was looking for in terms of angle.

    I left that interview thinking a) I wish I’d recorded it and put it up on my blog; b) I dread thinking about what the magazine is going to make of that interview and what the final published story is going to look like.

    Since the whole interview was a canned series of questions, they should have sent it to me as an email, that I could have blogged the answers to or at least just replied with answers via email.

  • http://www.hammer2006.blogspot.com Alex Hammer

    Jeff, I like the fact that you look at many dimensions of this. You are thoughtful as always (and productive)!

    And you make us think. That’s probably why there is a persistent clamoring across major news outlets for your participation!

    Anywy, email responses are more measured. Of course, in a “gotcha” interview context (generally speaking, not applying that to any specific) that is a, if not the, major point. None of us want to be “taken out of context”, and with the fractioning of audiances based upon the explosion of available news outlets (so we created our own monster in some sense), copy that is boring (i.e. unread) is just as deadly, perhaps (I don’t think so but some might say) than that which is, by shades – not outright, innaccurate.

    Here’s some comfort. If we bloggers worry about formal interviews, give a shout out of sympathy to the politicians we cover whose every move can be YouTubed (has anyone else used that as a verb before?).

    At a miniumum, as our exposure as bloggers and new media types is less than theirs, we should make sure that our collective level of complaint, perhaps, if we really want to spread the wealth of risk, does not surpass theirs.

    Alex Hammer
    Politics 2.0 – What’s now and what’s next!

  • http://emoglasses.org/ Nathan Harrison

    Though I’m only a student journalist thus far, I think my experience is just as applicable. Thankfully, since I work for a campus paper I can interview most of my sources personally and record them without a problem if need be. Doing that over the phone is a bit trickier, but not impossible.

    Email is less than optimal for an interview, for multiple reasons that have already been given here. The time issue is huge — if I try to call you and don’t get through, I know where I stand. If I email you with questions, I’m left sitting on my ass waiting for a reply. Until you do, I have no idea when to expect my answers. That’s no good in a profession where the deadline is the bottom line.

    There is a difference between a “gotcha” moment and someone truly speaking their mind, and live interviews are what the latter try to capture. Email lets a source do too much PR consideration in their head, and the resulting product is a tame, tepid collection of words devoid of flavor or interest.

    This, really is the most important thing: if you are quoting someone, it should be something that no one else would say — unique and human. Email is rarely either. The pure information that this post talks about doesn’t belong in quotes; gathering that from email is fine. By all means get background from email.

    As for live interviews, I wish more subjects understood that tape recorders are for their protection as much as mine. Too many seize up and act like I’m digging for the next Deep Throat when all I want to do is be damn sure I’m getting things right, for both our sakes.

    Real journalists do not chase after “gotcha” moments — the only reason it seems so is because, like most other sectors, the worst and most fame-hungry examples get all the attention.

  • http://www.bazeley.net/blog Michael Bazeley

    As a former reporter, I have no problem with transparency. I’d have been happy to record and post most all of my interviews. It’s the sources who usually have something to hide, who are worried about misspeaking and insulting someone, saying something they shouldn’t have or mangling their thoughts.

    But let’s be real: Email interviews are almost always a disaster. They have their place. I’ve used them successfully. But they’re typically stilted and boring and very time-inefficient. Although I usually assume that the person on the other end is the real person, I can’t be sure.

    They very rarely lead to insight. I can’t count the number of times I went into an interview thinking I understood something, but gained new insight when the conversation veered left or right or down a rabbit hole of some sort. Or because the source uttered something that raised a red flag with me. Or vice versa – I uttered something that the source realized is wrong or needed clarifying.

    Worst of all, though, email interviews dehumanize the process. There’s often a dance at the start of each interview where the two sides suss each other out. “Do I trust this guy?”‘ “Is this guy a moron?” “Should I be completely open with this reporter?” “Does this source know what she’s talking about?” The answers to those important questions come more naturally during a conversation.

    So the question on the table, then, is trust. And the simple answer is for the reporter to read back the quotes at some point, in their context, so that the source is comfortable with how she/he is represented. What’s so hard about that?

    (And yes, I have been the subject of media interviews, and yes, my words have been taken out of context, and yes, I hated it as much as the next person.)

  • http://www.lot49.com Thomas Claburn

    *Why should [reporters] set terms?

    They shouldn’t if you’re issuing a press release. When interview subjects set the terms, you may end up with Judith Miller and weapons of mass distraction.

    *Interviews and articles need never end.

    Narrative form demands that they do. Collaboration and open discussions are great, but they’re a different form. Narrative form exists for a reason: It helps people understand things in a way that a Q&A doesn’t.

    * Yes, news really is a conversation.

    Sometimes, when it’s a conversation between reasonable parties. But a conversation might also be a lecture, self-promotion, propaganda, irrational blathering, or any other form of biased interchange. That’s not necessarily news.

  • http://deleted Tansley – addendum

    Well, I have trouble deciding whether your post is an analysis or a manifesto. Either way, I like it…BUT—

    What you truly seem to be saying here is not that ‘the interview’ itself is dead, but that the established FORM of conducting/reporting an interview is due for/now experiencing radical change. You seem to see the interview now as an interminable conversation – nothing wrong with that – however, maintenance of exclusivity in the face of eternity, as you justly point out, is indeed ephemeral at best.

    The written interview itself began as a representation of a conversation in textual format. The writer always maintained exclusive control over what was shared with the writer’s public, and what was left out. This has enabled occasional manipulation of fact, typically to the detriment of all concerned. The fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to pull this off is a benefit to all.

    But video makes all of this a bit moot, doesn’t it? Sure, you can edit video the same way you can edit text…but it’s way easier to spot the edit points, and thereby know that something was excised. Once everything goes broadband, the necessity for text will continue to decline – perhaps eventually even vanish – leaving us with a purely video medium, here. Keyboards will vanish as computers become audio-interactive.

    Literacy continues to decline as bandwidth increases…Harry Potter or no. This isn’t coincidence. Sooner or later, it will all become audio/video, and ancient artifacts such as this blog will become, for example, will be accessible only to scholars trained in the arcanum of the written word.

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  • http://emoglasses.org/ Nathan Harrison

    @Tansley:

    I think the idea that we will abandon the written word for news and interviews is absurd, for the same reason I loathe voicemail: the demand it makes on my time.

    Any theoretical video news show in question can’t be skimmed like print can — if that timer readout says the clip is five and a half minutes long, then that’s how long it takes to watch, goddammit.

    Going back to “re-read” something in a video interview is also more of a hassle than in print, thanks both to streaming content and imprecise playback controls. This is a limitation that will eventually disappear, but it’s still a factor in the here and now – important, since that’s where we live, not in some mythical future.

    Maybe most importantly, video demands power. Print demands only light. Your utopia of online video leaves out a significant part of the world that doesn’t even have electricity, let alone TV or internet access.

    And besides, unless you’re interviewing a fantastic conversationalist, there’s no way the video of a whole talk will be interesting. By all means make it available for reference, but don’t make the mistake of thinking people want news media to make *more* demands on their time, not *less*.

    I’m no Luddite, but I realize that the bulk of people often want what’s easy, not what’s better or more complete. That’s why gatekeepers will always be necessary.

  • http://www.wordymouth.com Michael Sommermeyer

    The other day Barack Obama stammered his way through an interview in Las Vegas. He struggled to come to a complete thought after a question on his plans for healthcare. In print, he looked a lot better. But we all would have missed his struggle to answer without a live interview.

    Transcripts always differ from what was actually heard; the pauses, the struggle for words, the inflection. These things are what make a live interview more poignant. Journalists use these subtleties to shape up an article. They help subjects seem more human.

    I can carry on an exchange in writing and feel good that I put exactly into words what I wanted to communicate. You know what? It always comes across as dull and lifeless. I would rather work to build trust between a journalist and a source rather than dump the interaction of a telephone or live interview. I would rather appear human.

    And your ideas of allowing others to chime in is a good one, but at some point the news gathering has to come to an end and the writing must begin. We still need gatekeepers, writers and editors to help us boil down the news to a manageable chunk and present it in a format that doesn’t require days or weeks to read.

  • http://yevaud.blogspot.com Michael Moore

    I have read each of the blog pieces from each of the major players in this story. The way I see it, Fred V. has been nothing but reasonable, and while he has a point of view that clearly differs from the bloggers in question, it is the bloggers who have been abrasive and abusive first.

    True, other Wired journalists were more aggressive and abrasive, but Fred V. has been nothing but a gentleman in all the email threads i have read.

    These Gods of Blogging also nearly tanked a Wired article on TechCrunch – which is a selfish act IMHO – doubly-so by the fact that they actually know Mike. Read his response and clearly he feels he got screwed by their need to parade a request for a phone interview into the blogosphere.

    Think about how much that Wired article might have meant to Mike A. That’s a huge loss for him – both in exposure and credentials. Even better, he has his “friends'” self-righteousness to thank for it. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

    The tone of the whole coverage for this has been misleading, from my point of view. I found from the way the stories were presented on places like Techmeme that I was on the side of the bloggers – until I actually read the articles and found Fred V. to be the reasonable one.

    I’m not saying Jason & Dave were not possessed of good points – I think they (and you) make a good case for doing interviews in more internet-aware ways – but the way the points were made, and at the cost of their colleague’s article in Wired, showed a real lack of class in my book.

    In closing, I would like to thank Fred V. for diligently posting the actual email threads that relate to the blog postings so that I could see the real facts of the case and form my opinion based on them. Rest assured, Mr. V., that at least in my case, it made all the difference in my understanding your true role and the respect you are owed.

    -Michael Moore (yevaud42@gmail.com)

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  • http://deleted Tansley – addendum

    For Nathan Harrison:

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I hardly view an exclusively audio/video future as ‘utopian.’ If anything, I see it as a DYStopia. I’m an advocate of the written word, all the way.

    Unfortunately, I just happen to see it as ‘the way things are headed.’ I don’t fault your logic one iota…in fact, I agree with it.

    However, I feel that circumstance is heading us in the direction I’ve outlined regardless of ease or brevity of review via scanning text. Gatekeepers can function in an audio/video environment as easily as they do for textual one.

    Have you noticed how much more rapidly some people SPEAK these days? There have been some studies done of this – much of it is attributed to the advent of computer technology. Young people, in particular, often talk much faster than, say, people of a mere generation ago, some employing verbal shorthand which, carried to extremes, can become increasingly indecipherable for someone more accustomed to accurate diction, and thoughtful pauses. (It is likely that they also THINK faster, as well. Some case studies even suggest that computer use helps to accelerate thought processes, over time.)

    And nowhere do I indicate that we will ‘abandon’ interviews. I simply suggest that the WRITTEN interview (and script in general) may well go the way of the teletype, the mimeograph, or the crank-to-start automobile. The publication of the Harry Potter books may have slowed the general decline in literacy, but they have not reversed the overall trend. Given a choice between watching an interview on video, or reading it, the youngest more often opt for the video – and yes, it is typically edited for brevity.

    I sincerely hope you are RIGHT. What I FEAR is that you’re very likely WRONG.

  • Chris Newman

    There needs to be a change in the way interviews are done. I agree that a reporter should blog about what he or she is going to write and get feedback and questions from their readers. Also, if interviews are made public, then viewers can go back and listen to the entire conversation. That can help with potential problems like the “gotcha” moments and quotes taken out of context. As the way news is presented changes and evolves, so will the interviews. The way blogs are effecting news is going to help the evolution of interviews.

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  • http://blogspotting.net steve baker

    Every once in a while, I have a luminous interview. It’s usually a face to face discussion. I learn during the course of it, and it produces new ideas and new connections in my head. If it’s a really good interview, the other person feels the same way. Those are the interviews I treasure, and I’d never want to give them up for an email exchange. I’ve used e-mail “interviews” through the years for the routine gathering of facts or quotes. Not one of them has been memorable. I figure that the people who insist on this don’t want to talk to me, for one reason or another. That’s ok. If they’re feeling that way, we probably wouldn’t have a very good conversation anyway. That happens. By the way, if a person wants to converse but is worried about gotcha quotes or context, I’m happy to provide them with all the quotes and the surrounding context. It helps get things right.

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  • http://emoglasses.org/ Nathan Harrison

    @Tansley:

    Fair enough, and I’m relieved that you don’t consider a Bradbury-esque possible future a rosy picture. And I don’t think I claimed that you said interviews would disappear altogether — only interviews and news media in text form.

    Though I may be wrong, consider at least this: All the abandoned forms of communication you mention are technologies, where as the written word transcends media. It’s just as at home on paper as on a screen, and when you consider the proliferation of text online, it should be heartening. YouTube viewers have the option to comment with videos in response to other videos; how many do? The level of entry isn’t very high, as every teenager with a webcam knows.

    At the end of the day, what will save text is time. Text is elastic; the only barrier is your own reading speed. Video plods along at its own rate no matter how good you are at watching it. As media proliferate, so do the demands on our time; brevity is both the soul of wit and the absolute necessity to flourish in today’s torrent of media. Just look at Twitter.

  • http://www.pass-ed.com/blogger.html Amdrew Pass

    Jeff, Great article. But, unfortunately, I think it’s about five years too early for the general populace. Most people still read hard copies. They take the word of the reporter as gospel. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure that the average person knows how to bring skepticism to reading. Even if they read something online they likely accept it as truth, for it’s wrirten down. I recently saw a statisic of the perentage of people that read things on the web who actually write things on the web, as well. It’s about 2% I believe. People aren’t ready and/or willing to question.

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  • http://dotnetjunkies.com/WebLog/paul/ paul

    You guys have missed this;
    http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=303144

    What is really going on with Fred?

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  • http://www.ianbetteridge.co.uk/technovia Ian Betteridge

    “Dave Winer’s equally reasonable offer to respond in public on his blog…”

    Sorry Jeff, but that’s not a “reasonable” response and Fred was right to reject it. The way that Dave wants to do “interviews” is the antithesis of transparency. There are no follow-up questions; there is no opportunity to press Dave on specific points. Dave’s method allows him to pick and choose the questions he answers, without giving the journalist the chance to point out when he’s evading a question.

    That’s not a conversation: it’s a statement in response to a question. Jason’s eventual acceptance of recording the interview and putting it up online *was* a conversation and was transparent, and he (and Wired) are to be applauded for doing it that way.

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  • jim

    Chat interviews are one way of addressing the concerns of (1) documenting the discussion in a way that can be posted on a blog (2) the journalist being able to get an immediate response (3) the interviewee actually having to answer questions himself instead of having his PR team make up answers

    Personally, I use chat logs as documents all the time, though usually just to mail them back and forth among the participants for subsequent discussion.

  • http://www.stevensilvers.com/2007/04/why_email_might.html Steven Silvers

    From Scatterbox… There are some good reasons to be concerned with email interviews, and why more and more companies are especially going to insist on them.

  • http://www.NewsMax.com/?s=bl&promo_code=3317-1 ShelbySpeaks

    I wish I could have been there for this little blog war, sounds fun! -NewsMax

  • Szabi

    Jeff, I used to enjoy your blog, but I must admit, lately I find it very hard to like the contents. Your reasoning is getting dumb and sometimes the only logic I can find remains a childish hatred for newspaper reporters, which is getting sort of annoying.
    Well, interviews are of course not obsolete, as speech remains to be the most simple way of communicating between two people.
    Though, I can see, that you guys who spend hours online a day, seemingly should get more real life interaction — if you like, ‘interviews’.
    Dialouges.
    Small talk.
    Life.

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  • http://www.kcdance.com Mike Strong

    “- misquoting happens really extremely rarely. If you’re worried, tape the interview. Having an email offers no greater defence against being misquoted – it doesn’t stop it happening.” – Sean McManus

    I have been interviewed various times, as has my partner. She has been in print a long time and I was in print and on radio so both of us have an “inside” perspective as well. So, with minor dismay we note that neither of us has been quoted accurately at any time.

    These were facts in terms of background bio data rather than off the cuff statements about changing or new situations. My old bio information doesn’t change from year to year. So I have no doubts about providing consistent information. Yet the quantity of wrong information printed was astounding to me each time.

    No one was ever trying to nail either of us. In my case I’ve been interviewed for my photographic art work. Standard, non-offensive, descriptive pieces. Nothing harmful or otherwise heat seeking. Also, nothing that was worth correcting in terms of a need to get the facts straight. In one case the reporter managed to add ten years employment at a newspaper where I spent two years, among other items. That was kind off large but then I’m not putting on my resume those ten years the interviewer added.

    The point of this is that in the few interviews I have had, and those of my partner, the percentage of wrong information in just a few paragraphs is illuminating as well as dismaying. Also, hard to forget. Everytime I read an interview, or other story, I remember my own experiences on the receiving end.

  • Laura Marshall

    I’ve been both a journalist and a PR professional for more than three decades now, and it’s interesting to know both sides of these issues.

    As a journalist, I’d fight–kicking and screaming–any idea of ending the interview. Not only is it often more honest, it’s also a way to learn something you didn’t know, which really should be the point of doing the interview in the first place. Sometimes the interviewee will mention a topic or a tangential thought that takes the story in a whole new direction. That won’t happen with email.

    As a PR professional, I’ve prepped people for, sat in on, and been the interviewee for more interviews than I can remember…and whenever I’ve seen the story the next day, and it hasn’t really been accurate, it’s been largely the fault of the interviewee, not the interviewer.

    Far too many people go into news interviews entirely unprepared. They think an interview is the same as a conversation, and just ramble on as if they were Newt Gingrich’s mom talking to Connie Chung.

    With good prep, and an understanding of what reporters need and how to communicate clearly and accurately, I’ve rarely seen an interview result in anything but an accurate story. This is more often true with the writers for the big outlets–NY Times, for instance–but even the little papers and small-town TV stations get it right if the person doing the talking knows how to communicate.

    I’m convinced wars have begun because of inept communication. It’s no surprise, then, that unprofessional communicators can screw up an interview.

  • http://www.wadenelson.com Wade Nelson

    Esprit d’escalier.

    The wit of the staircase. It often refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument has ended.

    The quote you WISH you’d provided the interviewer.

    I believe Esprit d’escalier is why I became a writer. In conversations, I NEVER spoke just like a baronness.

    More like Mel Tillis. Not physically stuttering, but mentally.

    Given a day or two of editing though, I might come across halfway intelligent. Even witty.

    Why should the interviewer be the only one able to call upon E d’e? Why not the interviewee?

    I recall interviewing Phil Bronstein one time. He nailed me with one particular deflection. He said, “You’ve obviously had loads of time to think about that question. I couldn’t possibly answer it in 30 seconds when you hit me with it out of the blue,” or words to that effect.

    Bravo, Phil!

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  • http://basilatlarge.blogspot.com Basil

    I think it’s a sign of the times that when I started using RSS, it was to keep up with BBC and wired, and now, I never read either of those feeds. If it’s an interesting story, I wait for a blogger who’s taste I share to link to it. The balance of power is shifting- bloggers are putting the firehose jet of information into context, and prioritizing what’s important for their readers.

    A sign of a good journalist is one who can create good primary source information- you can often gauge their effectiveness by looking at the number of blogs that link to them. Technorati is built on this principle. “Secondary source journalism” (opinions, reworking information to analyze it from other angles) is becoming the territory of bloggers. To be honest, I like it better this way- journalists are hired and fired by the owners of the journal, while bloggers have to attract readers based on what they say. It’s a more democratic way of reading :)

  • http://serverspecs.blogs.techtarget.com Mark Fontecchio

    Frankly, I think that Fred V. and Jason C. came to a good agreement — to do the interview over the phone, record the whole thing, and make it available online. Both showed flexibility in how the interview was to be conducted, so I don’t understand what the big deal is.

    • LakotaMan

      Right You are Mark! These were facts in terms of background bio data rather than off the cuff statements about changing or new situations. http://lakotacash.tv they say – radical transparency at the magazine

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