Friday, July 31, 2009

Chatty Interviews

I've been interviewing friends on a variety of technology and art topics. Before I interviewed Lily Tung Crystal, I explained to Lily that I wanted to interview her using an online chat (Yahoo Messenger, Skype, AIM, name your poison). Lily, an oftentimes journalist, had never interviewed or been interviewed by chat. She told me she always interviewed by talking with her subject. I realized that maybe this was a new way of interviewing.

A long time ago, I worked in the news department of WDCR & WFRD radio. Most of my news broadcasts consisted of reading news stories from the teletype, but sometimes I got out of the station to investigate stories in the Hanover area. When sugar prices spiked, I went to the grocery store to ask shoppers about how higher sugar prices might impact them. Very exciting journalism, as you might imagine. Hanover wasn't spilling over with breaking news except every four years when the presidential primaries marched through New Hampshire.

What I've found by interviewing in the online chat medium versus the tape recorder medium is that I get less spontaneous responses from my subjects, but better thought out responses. If I were a news reporter or a criminal lawyer, I probably would miss the spontaneity of a verbal interview. For the interviews on this blog, though, I prefer well thought-out answers from the interviewees.

Here's a list of interviews I've done so far using online chat:
  • Brad Rubenstein: the latest on low-budget film production from the producer of Red Hook.
  • Chris Perez: the latest on Art Basel and the Venice Biennale from the owner of Ratio 3 gallery.
  • Peril Digest: the latest on 'zine culture from the (anonymous) publisher of Peril Digest.
  • Chris Chebegia: how Building Information Management technology enables the realization of very complex architecture.
  • Lily Tung Crystal: managing a "portfolio" career and the latest on Asian-American theater.

One big advantage of using online chat for an interview is that I can edit and annotate an interview with web links as the interviewee responds to my questions. A typical interview takes about 30 minutes, although slow typists may stretch that time. When the interview is over, I usually show the interviewee a first draft of the post in five or ten minutes to make sure there are no glaring problems.

I hope you're enjoying these interviews as much as I do. Online chat and all.

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