When most of us think of a news media interview, we usually have in mind someone talking to a reporter in person, by phone or in a TV “remote” where reporter and interviewee are in different locations. But another way to interact with the news media is through an e-mail or text message interview.
Why Journalists May Request an Email Interview
Although e-mail interviews are still the exception, they are becoming more common. For the reporter, they offer several advantages:
- These interviews make it easier for reporters to handle the greater number of stories they’re being assigned per day or week. Workloads for journalists have increased.
- E-mail interviews save time – eliminating telephone tag between reporter and interviewee.
- They can increase a reporter’s success rate in getting people to cooperate on a story. Individuals who might be reluctant to talk to a reporter often feel more comfortable communicating via e-mail.
- E-mail interviews are also useful for interviewing people in different time zones, or people who struggle speaking English but can write it more easily.
Why Journalists May Prefer Traditional Interview Methods
On the downside:
- The reporter can’t be certain who’s actually responding. The information could have been crafted by a PR professional and reviewed (and revised) by layers of management, including a lawyer.
- It’s difficult for the reporter to ask follow-up questions.
- The reporter can’t see or hear the interviewee, so a lot of nuances can be missed.
For the interviewee, a major advantage of participating in an e-mail interview is that it allows you time to develop thoughtful, precise responses. No need to worry about saying something spontaneous you’ll regret later.
7 Tips to Ace an Email Interview with the News Media
Here’s some advice to consider if you’re queried by a reporter via e-mail:
- Respond to questions succinctly. Remember the admonition that if I ask you what time it is, don’t build me a watch. Long written answers are just as susceptible to editing by reporters as are long-winded spoken responses. And you might not like what the reporter decides to use or not use.
- When most of us write, we tend toward the formal. Avoid this. Respond in a conversational style – contractions, short sentences, incomplete sentences, etc. Write the way you talk. In other words, write for the ear, not for the page.
- Don’t approach the interview in a “reactive” mode – i.e., simply responding to the questions asked. Have some key points and find a way to include them in an answer or two (see next bullet point).
- Use the bridging technique we teach in our media workshops (Q=A+1). It’s just as useful in e-mail interviews as it is in other interviews. Respond to the question (A), but then add a point of your own (+1).
- Find a way to include some powerful soundbites the reporter can’t resist – analogies, stories, compelling data, quotable lines, etc.
- Don’t feel you must answer every question. If you don’t know the answer (and cannot obtain it), say so. Ditto for inappropriate questions or questions seeking confidential or proprietary information. Politely explain why you cannot respond.
- Honor the reporter’s deadline. Respond promptly; don’t place the query aside or sit on it too long.
E-mail interviews can be a win-win for reporter and interviewee alike. Some people like them because there’s a written record of what was said. True enough. If you’ve not yet had an e-mail query from a reporter, chances are you may get one.