Email interviews and veracity
Pidgeon, also a former railroad media relations official, offers a perspective from “the other side.” As a writer, he’s not fond of email interviews; but, in PR, he used them to his advantage, even if it killed his inner journalist to do so. He explains, hypothetically, what could happen if a reporter sent him an email about a hot-button issue.
“I have full control over that conversation. [An email] gives me all day to prepare…to think about the soundbite I’d want to land in the media. And I’m under no obligation to be available for follow-up,” he said. “The writer loses the opportunity to gain details to serve the story, to serve the readers.”
Haase experiences the “PR touch” as well. Sports information directors often will finesse student quotes, a tactic she says removes some of the personality of young athletes. She prefers phone interviews for profile pieces and reserves email for fact-gathering or an expert quote from a secondary source, such as a team doctor.
Encountering public relations folks isn’t limited to hard news; plenty of high-profile individuals – musicians, actors, chefs, authors, politicians (especially politicians!) – may direct a writer, especially one with whom they don’t have a relationship yet, to a PR rep. And “prepared answers” isn’t limited to when a publicist serves as an intermediary. With email, anyone can take their time, self-edit, or self-censor – or ask a friend or family member for help “sounding good.”
Who do you really want telling your story? Do you want pre-fab or coached answers, or authentic ones? Do you want polished statements or personal anecdotes?