July 1997

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Interviewing and Information in a Digital Age

by I-chin Chang

A story without any quotes is like a steak sans salt. In reporting classes, professors usually add this after handing down an assignment: "Get out on the street and find me at least three sources." And this has been the way reporters on the beat operate--walking and talking.

Take the routine of a police reporter in the old days. Usually, one started by going to the local police stations, and then to places where people gathered, such as mass transportation stations, and just talk with people. Reporters also used the telephone a lot and befriended some police officers. Seasoned reporters would agree that talking to people is the only way to get a lot of stories. "People usually don't recognize good story materials so reporters have to keep talking to them so a good story will come up in conversations," said reporter Edna Buchanan, who won a Pulitzer for local reporting.

But the scenario is now likely to change somewhat, if not entirely. With the expansion of the Internet, the chat room has found its niche in interpersonal communications, and email has provided users a faster way to obtain information without going places. Since oral conversation is not the only way to communicate with people, a significant chunk of street reporting might be simplified. In this article, electronic mail will be examined in terms of being a means of computer-mediated communication in journalistic practices, and compared with the old communication style (street reporting). --


I-chin Chang is with the Department of Liberal Studies, New York University.

Copyright © 1997 by I-chin Chang. All Rights Reserved.

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