E-mail interview oddness

| writing

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,

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.


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

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,

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.

You can comment with Disqus or you can e-mail me at sacha@sachachua.com.