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Are questions and responses by email going to replace face-to-face interviews for journalists?

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I have been conducting media training since I left the CBC in 1991. The content has evolved over that time, but that's mainly because of updated video samples, and to keep up with current trends.

 

One such trend struck home last week and it got me to wondering how much of a journalistic norm it has become, and what it means to journalism. I'll get to it in a second but first, let me set it up.

 

One of the questions I inevitably get in every workshop is whether it is OK to ask the reporter for his or her questions in advance.

 

For years my response was always “no”. And I would explain that that wouldn't be considered professional.

 

To back this up, I would explain that I would never show someone I interviewed the questions in advance, because while I might have half a dozen questions in mind, the response to the first one might take us down a completely different path, and if that happened, they would accuse me of misleading them. So to keep life simple, I would never do it. And neither would any of my journalistic peers, I expect for similar reasons.

 

But then a few years ago it started. There would be someone in the workshop who would challenge me on that, explaining that they have asked for questions in advance, and got them.

 

So I became left definitive, and in fact started relaying that people in previous workshops told us that they have done it and the reporter gave them the questions. I did notice though that these were people in rural areas, dealing with the local community paper, and there is a different dynamic at play with community papers. They were the exception to the rule.

 

Now fast forward to last week.  We were setting up media interviews throughout the Maritimes and Quebec as part of a client's national campaign. There were logistical problems because the spokesperson was travelling, so making the person-to-person connections was a challenge.

 

What we found is that several reporters preferred to email the questions and get email responses if that would be faster. Not complaining because it makes it easier for us, but I do wonder if this has become the new norm.

 

And this isn't just questions in advance. This is a step beyond that. These were submitted questions followed by submitted answers and the reporter and the interviewee never interact beyond that. They don't talk.  

 

I asked a friend and former colleague who is now a senior person at the Telegraph-Journal about this. She says they don't like to do it that way, but they do sometimes, especially with cabinet ministers because they are hard to nail down.

 

So I guess it is the way journalism is going. I'm not sure what it means in the big picture. In the small picture it means further tweaking of our media training content.

 

Journalists won't like to hear this, but I have to wonder if questions and answers via email back and forth will become a standard condition for interviews? Is this the logical next step?

 

Obviously TV needs pictures so it's not practical for that medium, but I can see it in the print world. And I can see where media consultants and PR people would love it, because it affords their clients more control and eliminates much of the risk.

 

Something to ponder. In fact if you are a journalist, what are your thoughts on this? 

 

On a related issue, we are starting to take names for our next media training course. 
The date isn't set yet but it will probably be next month.  
Details on our media training can be found here. 
Zap us an email or tweet if you're interested in a seat. 

 

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