Press releases and e-mail quotes are like nails scratching down a chalk board to me. In many instances, they are a necessity, but there are limits to what you can do with them.
In some cases, the Mississippi Business Journal just will not accept them. There are so many limits on their effectiveness.
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In email interviews, you can’t do follow-up questions based on the subject’s answers, and the reporter can’t take body language into account. Then, in a statement, how are you to know the quotes are the quotes of the person they are attributed to?
The media is already getting a bum rap too many times about not getting it right, when taking a quote from an e-mailed statement is a guaranteed way not to have a guaranty of who authored the quotes.
Veteran journalist Jim Stasiowski preaches on this subject often.
“What I tell reporters and editors all the time is, we get our best responses the closer we get to our sources,” said Stasiowski, writing coach for The Dolan Company, which owns the Mississippi Business Journal. “We get better information if we can be there in person to ask questions; if that’s not possible, then the telephone is the next best way to interview because even though we’re not physically right next to the person, we’re communicating with him or her in real time, and we can sense from voice inflection, pauses, laughter, etc., what that person’s mood is.”
The point is email separates us from the person, both in time – he or she can answer an email whenever – and in the experience of being together.
“Think of it this way: If, as a tornado was roaring through a neighborhood, if a reporter could get on the telephone a resident, frightened to death and huddled in a basement, would that interview be dramatic?
“OK, now, let’s say we emailed that person when the tornado was approaching, but he or she already was in the basement, far from the computer,” Stasiowski continued. “If, two hours later, he or she found that email message and responded, yes, the response would be thoughtful and worthwhile, but it would lack that very human element of wondering what was about to happen.”
The list of difficulties with email interviews should scare every reporter, but he says the truth is, “Some reporters like the easy way to get information, and email exchanges are easy.
“I want reporters who treasure the difficulties inherent in the in-person or over-the-telephone interview. And I want reporters who get as close as possible to the people they are interviewing.”
It’s important to remember that email is not terrific for sorting out issues of great complexity. In this respect, an actual conversation can do wonders. So, when at all possible, getting the news from the horse’s mouth is the best avenue to take.