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Thursday, February 24, 2005


Last Resort Interview -- Part Seven

Editor’s Note: This post is the seventh in a series of basic steps to writing the magazine article. If you are wondering about my headlines. I know it’s a bit different but I’m changing the headlines and extending the parts since they are connected.  Check out the previous articles: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four and Part Five, and Part Six.

When I discussed the types of interviews yesterday, I missed one possible option—the email interview. With this valuable question from a reader, I’m going tackle this type of interview in this post.

Last year, a magazine assigned me to write a story which was printed just before the release of Glorious Appearing in the Left Behind series (over 60 million books in the series). My editor wanted me to interview retailers along with some people from Tyndale House Publishers plus the authors. The last persons on the interview list proved to be my greatest challenge.  I’ve known Jerry B. Jenkins, the writer, for more than twenty years and he graciously gave some time for the short interview.  I could not wrangle an interview time with Tim LaHaye—despite years in this business and the fact that I’ve interviewed more than 150 bestselling authors over the years. My last resort was an email interview with Dr. LaHaye.  I submitted my questions ahead of time then waited for a response. Thankfully it came before my deadline and I was able to include some of material in my article. As a journalist, it’s an unsatisfactory experience to interview someone via email and only used as the last possible option. It’s not something I recommend writers use for several reasons:

  • The interview is totally outside of your control for what information you gather.
  • The person you are interviewing via email might never answer your email or send it late after your deadline.
  • There is no opportunity for follow-up questions or clarifications or immediate insight. Yes, you can send email follow-up but again you abdicate (yes strong word) your role as the writer to the person you are interviewing. You essentially lay down and put the volume and information in their hands. From my experience it leads to poorly crafted articles—because you must start with great material for a good magazine article.

Some of my best magazine articles came from a follow-up question when I was personally interviewing someone. The questions weren’t on my list of questions but they were asked and brought out some fascinating detail. It happens on the telephone (my least favorite medium) and it happens in person (my recommended choice for interviews if at all possible).

Also let’s examine this question from the role of the person being interviewed via email:

  • Yes, they can answer the questions at their own convenience.
  • I’ve been “interviewed” via email several times and I find the experience a lot of extra work—and I’m a writer. Imagine it for a person who doesn’t like to write. How do they handle it? Or skip it?

Yes, it takes time and energy to set up face-to-face interviews or telephone interviews. But the pay off is better information for your magazine article and the opportunity for give and take interaction. It’s also simpler for the person being interviewed (yes they have to think about who they are talking to and what information they are providing) but they simply talk (in person or on the phone), then hang up and go on with their activities.

Only use the email interview as your last possible resort. It will lead to better writing and more creative and revealing magazine work. Now tomorrow, we return to what you tackle after your information is collected. 

 

1 Comment:

At 9:42 AM, Blogger violet Left a note...

Thank you, Terry, for answering my question...although I don't entirely agree with you when you say: From my experience it leads to poorly crafted articles—because you must start with great material for a good magazine article.

A personal experience article (as-told-to) I wrote based entirely on email interviews won a first prize in the 2004 Word Guild Awards (Canada) last year.

But it was a huge amount of work. The storyteller lived in Thailand, so I don't know if I even could have reached her by phone. It meant emailing back and forth numerous times to get a story to which she would sign her name. And it took a lot of time! Fortunately she was willing to answer my questions and requests for clarification.

Thanks again for giving me much to think about.

 

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