Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Any Thoughts about Improving This?

Suggestions for emailing faculty asking for interviews

· My advice to faculty who ask me what form cooperation with student journalists should take is that they should refuse to answer your questions by email but should offer you the opportunity to talk with them face to face or by telephone.

· Therefore, my advice to you is always to begin by requesting a time when you may meet with them or telephone them. Offer to buy them coffee at Crossroads. Never behave as if you assume that an email exchange is sufficient. If that is the mode of communication they choose, so be it. But you always want to make human contact so that you can respond immediately to their responses to your questions.

· Always say something like, “Would tomorrow work or would sometime Monday or Tuesday be better?” That is, assume your source will talk with you and that all you are doing is negotiating when that conversation will occur.

· Always have questions! Don’t just say you want to talk without saying what you want to talk about. At this stage of your research, you should have a clear idea of where your story is going. That should make it possible for you in your email to pose 3-5 specific questions. For instance, you might say, “Dean X says USF students have gotten much better over the past five years. The Dean also says that teaching at USF has become much easier for faculty as a result. I’d like to talk with your for 15 minutes to get your opinion about those statements.” You will, of course, have a list of follow-up questions so that no matter what your source responds, you can move the interview forward.

· Among other things, you are trying to convince the faculty member you want to interview that you are working on a story idea that would be stimulating to discuss and that you have some fresh information that will make the conversation interesting to them.

· If they refuse to talk with you, email them back thanking them for considering your request and saying that in your story you will simply say that they “declined to comment.” Such a statement is permissible only if your faculty source understands exactly what your story is about and exactly what some of the questions you want to ask them are. Copy the email to me.

· Faculty are busy, and sometimes they do not have time for even a five-minute “walk and talk” conversation. However, speaking for myself, I usually do have the time – if I clearly understand the reason for the request and if the request is made in a respectful manner. If you behave in a professional manner with a clear notion of what specific information or insight you hope to gain from the interview, you need not feel apologetic or that you are abusing the student-faculty relationship. You owe us your courtesy and your patience and, I like to think, your gratitude. You are not automatically “entitled” to our attention on your demand, at your convenience. However, I think we owe you a reasonable fraction of our time even if we do not have you as a student in one of our classes.

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