E-mail interview oddness

I received an e-mail interview from a Philippine-based popular IT magazine, and something about the interview made me think about how e-mail interviews are conducted. I've copied the letter here sans identifying details. I plan to write articles in the future, so this reflection will help me remember tips for when I'm the one conducting an e-mail interview. You can find my comments below.

Dear Ms. Chua,

Good afternoon. I am XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, a writer for XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. I am writing an article for the magazine XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, where the story will focus on Filipino teenagers and the cyberspace. I plan to angle the story on the general behavior of Pinoy teens online as well as that of the parents on the idea of their kids linking up to the cyberspace. I also hope that my interview with you will help in shedding light to teens and the MMORPG industry.

I have below a set of questions; pardon me for this, but may I request for your answers by Tuesday morning? I hope that it will be alright with you.

If you have any questions or objections/clarifications, you can text me at XXXX-XXX-XXXX. Thank you for having the time to read my letter. Have a nice day.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Generally, how do Filipino teenagers see the Internet? Is going online a more common phenomenon among teenage Filipinos? Do they prefer this more than other types of media like TV or radio? How so?

With only a small percentage of the local household owning computers, as well as going online through cafes and getting connected are still expensive for some, is linking up to the cyberspace a difficult affair for Pinoy teens? What do you think should parents as well as the government do about this?

Should chatting, Instant Messaging, or joining social network services like Friendster be allowed to teens? How so? Should parents allow their teens to build relationships =96 platonic and/or romantic - online? Again, how so?

How about blogging, should teenagers go for this online trend? What do you think is its appeal to Filipino teenagers?

What dangers do these services pose to the Filipino teen? How about the other malicious elements lurking the cyberspace?

What makes MMORPGs very popular among teens? How do these affect teenagers? Should parents let their kids go for online gaming?

Should teenagers pursue their entrepreneurial spirits online? How is it helpful to teenagers?

How do you think can the Internet help teenagers become responsible adults? What should parents do to ensure this happens?

How often are you online? What do usually do when online?

I like journalists. Journalists have a hard job. They always need stories, and they're always chasing deadlines. They never have enough time. I love helping journalists as much as I can, pinging them when I hear about something interesting. I've even taken a few hours to review articles and provide additional information and stories.

There's something about this e-mail interview that distracts me from replying to it, though. I started happily replying to a couple of questions, but then I trailed off. The interview felt wrong.

What gave me that feeling? The questions were too generic and too broad. There's nothing of me in it, nothing to show how I would bring a unique perspective on the issue. I felt like filler material that can be dropped in to help the writer meet the word count. This didn't make me too keen to spend a lot of time imparting pearls of wisdom, not that I had any in the first place. ;) This kind of shortcut-taking also made me wary of cut-and-paste quoting, which would require me to think in terms of soundbites and could lead to me being quoted out of context.

One way this e-mail interview could have been better is if it focused on one or two key points, mentioning my background and showing how I'm relevant to the issue. The entire e-mail was about the writer and what the writer wanted, and I didn't feel like my participation was at all that I didn't matter as long as the quotes came from somewhere. It felt like a totally generic e-mail. Had the e-mail opened with a note about how the writer found my blog or a personal referral from a friend, talked a little bit about why the writer wanted my perspective, and asked a couple of questions that tapped into my interests, then I would've probably spent more time and energy answering those questions than I did writing this blog post. As it stands, it gives me the feeling of doing someone else's homework, y'know?

I like journalists a lot. I've been tapped for quick quotes before, and I've always risen to the occasion with helpful thoughts and summaries. I hate to be unhelpful, but this e-mail interview doesn't make me feel good. I have great personal stories to share about how blogging can be an incredibly good thing (I have no end of examples for that!) and how people should be encouraged to explore their entrepreneurial sides online (like my laptop ad campaign), but I don't want to be just filler, just a short line in a grab-bag of quotes.

<sigh> Is it a matter of just getting my ego stroked? I don't think it's just that. I won't say anything just for the sake of saying something. If I'm going to say something and be quoted for it, I want it to be based on personal experience. I want to be able to stand by it. I'm not going to wave my hands and generalize about entrepreneurship for teenagers, even though I think it's a terrific thing. I'd rather tell my story of taking a crazy idea and running with it, or stories like that of Gary King, who started a Web business when he was in high school and managed to talk his way into a Web 2.0 conference even though the student tickets were sold out. I don't want to say dry facts that anyone could say. I want to tell stories.

I'll give this issue some time first. If I happen to blog a story related to the questions the writer asked, then I'll send a link along. If not, well... it'll be the first time I've said no to a journalist. <sigh> Ah, those important little things.

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