In recent years many papers have adopted the technique of the telephone interview: a method which has the great advantage of saving time for the reporter; but that is all.
It is a selfish way of doing about things, for not only is the personal touch again lacking, but it assumes that the paper is more important than the person being interviewed-and that is a thing the person being interviewed should never be allowed to feel.
It is possible, too, that he may unnecessarily be on his guard, for anyone with an ulterior motive could bring him up and profess to be a newspaper representative; on the other hand, he may for some reason dislike using a telephone, which immediately places you at a disadvantage.
It is willingly conceded that on evening papers especially a telephone interview is sometimes necessary, but in general, it is a lazy and bad-mannered way, particularly with a stranger. With someone to whom you happen to be well-known the telephone may occasionally be a useful way of obtaining your information, but taken by and large, it should only be used in cases of emergency-it is always better to call in person.
The telephone interview has been found a useful way of getting the views of local people when you are very near press time, which perhaps accounts for the extension in its use. For instance, suppose some restriction on a commodity was suddenly lifted, and you were told to get interviews for a local-angle story: you would need to contact the President or Secretary of the Association concerned, one or two leading people, and a house-wife. From them you should obtain a pretty good variety of views, some of them welcoming it, others fearing that the sudden lifting of the regulations would cause such a run on it that the commodity would be virtually unobtainable, and so on.
Before ringing up these people, try and put yourself in their position: if you were contacted by the ringing of a bell and asked for your views, would you be able to give them on the spur of the moment? Even if you could, would you be prepared to do so, knowing that whatever you said would be made public in the four corners of your locality? Would you not prefer to have a few minutes in which to give a little thought to the matter?
These are points which the thoughtful reporter will bear in mind, and it may well be, as a result, that he will first ring up his people and ask them if they would give their views when he brings up again in ten minutes’ time. Many people are only too willing to assist, but they like to have a brief period for reflection before committing themselves and they appreciate the friendly tip that you want them to do so.
What has been said above applies to all reporting work and not merely to interviewing; put yourself in the other fellow’s place; try and understand his position. By doing this you will be helping yourself immeasurably; you will be cultivating a completely detached and unbiased outlook. Thus you will be better able to appreciate that there is another side to every question, and because of that you will gain variety of approach when hunting for news. Many young reporters today take so much for granted that they become their own worst enemies, simply because they either refuse to appreciate, or are incapable of appreciating, that there are more points of view than their own.