Multimedia ethics: E-mail interviews

In our text, Advancing the Story, we talk about some of the ethical issues raised in the digital age of newsgathering.  One newsgathering technique that’s becoming increasingly popular is the use of email to conduct interviews.  So, what is your responsibility for telling the audience about the way in which you gathered the information?  Here’s a good example of why it may matter from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits contributor Peter Zollman.

Yesterday I was reading a article about , the obituary site that’s part-owned by the Tribune Co. faces a potential threat from — a new obituary site being spun off from by one-time head Jeff Taylor .

The article referred to “ CEO Hayes Ferguson ” and later says, “He added in an interview… [etc].” Well, Hayes is a woman. (If you Google for her image, you may even spot one reference to “a very pregnant Hayes Ferguson” — an old image.) Also, she’s COO , not CEO.

This made me question whether the “interview” was actually an e-mail exchange or a more traditional interview — which in my opinion implies face-to-face. Way back when, when I was a reporter, it was drilled into me that the context of the information delivered is important — a telephone interview, an in-person interview, a newspaper or broadcast quote, or an e-mail exchange. (Oh, wait: We didn’t have e-mail back then…)

I shot the writer an e-mail (two, actually) pointing out the errors. Within an hour, they were fixed. Well done with the fast correction.

Zollman was actually using the piece to comment on how quickly the information was corrected online, but you do have to wonder if an e-mail interview contributed to the error.


2 comments for “Multimedia ethics: E-mail interviews

  1. October 22, 2009 at 3:26 am

    It seems that you are maintaining a steady blogging pace. Well done! Looking for more updates from your end. Thanks a lot! regards

  2. Jennifer
    October 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    As a Communications Director I’ve noticed the members of the press who most frequently misquote the entity I represent are also the ones who nearly demand that we conduct phone interviews even after they have demonstrated a lower verbal comprehension level than their peers. I’m quite appreciative of the tech savy reporters who are able to develop rapport over email and allow for dialoge while I am otherwise detained in a meeting or teleconference. I’m certainly more available to them and they get a broader range of responses when I circulate their question throughout our organization.

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