The Internet is an awesome piece of technology. The phone was a world changing invention, but person-to-person contact is still king. We humans are community-oriented beings. We desire to connect with others on a regular basis.
We writers have become comfortable interviewing sources through all the different electronic means and this has opened up a world of possibilities for freelancers to contact sources from around the world without ever having to leave their home or put a note on their expense account. With these advances in technology, we have begun to move away from the best interviewing style imaginable – face-to-face work.
Whenever possible, writers should work to meet with their sources in person. Now, before the majority of you get your noses out of joint, I don’t mean traveling on your own dime – without reimbursement – to Bali to get a three sentence quote about a specialized tree. I’m talking about lengthy interviews with people in your own area.
Get out and meet those people!
Three major reasons that an in-person interview is better than a phone interview or email interview:
A phone interview is convenient. No one has to get dressed, and you can do other things while on it. STOP! That’s the problem. Not only can they talk to you they can talk to anyone else that comes along and if the line of questioning gets a little too close to home, they can always claim someone’s come into their office or they’ve got another call. Hard to lie about Bob coming into the office when you’re sitting right there.
PR folks have their place. They are definitely useful, but their set objective is to make the source look good and keep them on message. That’s helpful for the source, not so helpful for your article when readers want more than rehearsed sound bites and rep approved lingo. An email interview virtually guarantees someone beyond your source will take a look at the response before you get it back. Sometimes the PR people are the ones responding for the source.
The same thing happens on a phone interview. It’s all too easy for a rep to be on the line and I’ve had at least one incident in which the PR rep kept interrupting the dang interview!
PR reps can be present during in-person interviews as well, but they usually try to be more discrete in person. Usually.
The good old fashioned language that speaks volumes without saying a word. I use my body language to relax my subject – taking off glasses, leaning in, nodding, sharing their excitement. When subjects loosen up they give better interviews. Not gotcha interviews – better interviews with real opinions, thorough information and the true personality of a person.
There’s no substitute for an in-person interview. It’s real, it’s engaging and it’s not to be dismissed lightly in favor of more distant interviewing methods. Heck, try to get a Skype interview before a phone or email interview, at least you’ll get facial cues!