The phone is still the best call for reporters doing interviews

Consider this my plea to honor the phone interview.

Consider this my plea to honor the phone interview.

We live in a world where anyone can easily set up their own information distribution channel, at no or nominal cost, to create textual, audio, or video contact with the outside world.

At times, these channels, through comments and trackbacks, provide a rich, passionate dialogue with multiple parties located in different places. At other times, they masquerade as "dialogues" where indignant shouting meets silence. A comment responding to a comment doesn't necessarily make a conversation.

As it pertains to journalism, there is a fear that more PR pros and their clients will resort to only agreeing to do e-mail interviews, as occurred recently between former AOL SVP Jason Calacanis (a former boss of mine) and Wired contributing editor Fred Vogelstein (the man who, seemingly unable to bat away free publicity, was mistakenly sent Waggener Edstrom Worldwide's file on himself). Calacanis requested an e-mail interview, citing previous instances when other reporters misquoted him, and Vogelstein refused.

Calacanis then called Wired's policy of eschewing e-mail interviews as "ironic," considering their dedication to "radical transparency." Wired, on its blog, poked fun at Calacanis' decision. Oddly enough, both sides eventually got what they wanted.

A lot of this is inside baseball, but it underscores an important point. True journalism is not an exercise in cutting and pasting some sentences written for maximum efficiency by a source after a few days of contemplation. If the road of interlocution is diverted down the path of written text without any immediate interaction, it does the public, as a whole, a disservice.

The media have to realize they are no longer the only game in town. As Calacanis noted, his blog is a perfectly fine information dissemination and promotional machine. They also must realize that below-reproach and duplicitous deeds done by dishonorable colleagues have lowered public opinion of journalists.

But both journalists and sources must recognize the benefit in verbal interviews. Even the most ardent proponents of transparency must acknowledge that filling out an e-mail questionnaire will give them pause to come up with the "safest" answer.

Inasmuch as it is easiest for the journalist in me to find Calacanis as the villain in this one-act play, it is, in fact, journalists (though not Vogelstein) that might need to reevaluate how they conduct interviews. If a source is concerned about being misquoted, journalists should not merely take a "my-way-or-interstate" approach. Some common ground might be found through podcasts of the interview or making one's self available to questions on the source's blog or podcast.

Navigating today's media landscape is tough for both reporters and sources, and the only way to common ground is through fair diplomacy.

As for Calacanis and Vogelstein, the story began and ended almost as quickly as it took to write this column. Calacanis taped his interview with the Wired contributing editor for his own podcast show.

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