Is the media phone interview dead?

It used to be that editors would do everything in their power to coax reporters out of their chairs and into the world where they could talk to their sources and cover stories in person.

Nowadays, that has evolved to the state where reporters hardly pick up the phone to talk to sources, let alone cover stories by face-to-face meetings. Interviews are now done via email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.

During a recent talk on social media and crisis communication, Dallas Lawrence, chief of global digital strategies for Burson-Marsteller, mentioned a survey indicating that 49 percent of reporters find story sources on Twitter.

For reporters, it takes the hard work out of searching for sources, because they can simply perform a hashtag search on a topic and find numerous sources, then contact one or more of them with a targeted tweet or direct message.

This phenomenon is particularly true with the new generation of reporters who have grown up with social media and texting, said Steve Myers, managing editor of Poynter.org, a site covering journalism issues, news, and trends.

“Maybe some of it is a natural evolution of our industry,” said Myers. “There still feels like there’s something transactional about it: Send questions on email, get answers on email, and put the story together without actually physically talking to someone.”

The email interview lacks the color a phone call can have, and it loses the natural back and forth that comes from a conversation. Plus, there’s no personal relationship building, however slight, when everything is done in written form.

Though Myers conceded it is probably not the best work practice, he adds that some reporters have better results contacting people through email. Sources can take time to craft responses to questions provided beforehand instead of being surprised by them on a phone call.

I work on many statements to provide reporters, but I will always make a point of calling the reporter back, or having them call me before I forward a statement. This way I can talk to them about their story angle and provide additional background that is simply too obtuse to be included in a statement.

I’ll admit that sometimes it feels futile. One reporter recently emailed me seeking a statement. I asked the reporter to call me before I provided one.

The reporter did not call and ran the story ran without the statement. I guess it was too much effort for that reporter to pick up the phone.

(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily)

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