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 MidwestBusiness.com article about Legacy.com , the obituary site that’s part-owned by the Tribune Co. Legacy.com faces a potential threat from Tributes.com — a new obituary site being spun off from Eons.com by one-time Monster.com head Jeff Taylor .

The article referred to “Legacy.com 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.

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