July 1997

Root Page of Article: Interviewing and Information in a Digital Age, by I-chin Chang

"Live" Interview and On-line Interview--Visuality v. Textuality

Journalist Alexander Wolfe found an interesting remark by a mathematician in a newsgroup, which said that he had found a bug in Intel's Pentium processor. The story intensified when Intel admitted that it had already known about the flaw, failed to disclose the information while continuing to sell the chip. A bigger controversy developed when IBM, a major customer for the chip, said that the flaw was much more common than Intel had let on. Consumers flooded Intel with complaints and queries until the company agreed to replace chips with corrected versions.

Another journalist, Bill Clede, writing in Quill, March 1995, details how he read a message in an online Police Forum where an officer speculated if members of the force complied with seat belt laws better than other motorists. "I gathered all the replies, asked some questions of my own, collected leads to other sources for telephone follow-up, wrote the article and sent it to the magazine," says Clede.

What the two reporters have done with an email forum was cruising it as every journalist would a beat, digging up story ideas.

However, computers should be used for computer-ASSISTED reporting, not computer-COMPLETED reporting. In short, the computer is a tool like a telephone. "Reporters have been burned by quoting from messages that were went under one name but actually written by someone else," say Steel and Cochran in the article "Computer- Assisted Reporting Challenges Traditional News-gathering Safeguard."

According to reporter David Milliron for Gannet News Services, after the Oklahoma bombings, "someone on America Online identifying himself as Timothy McVeigh posted several messages--which were picked up and reported without confirmation." To outwit this, some publications have developed their own policies regarding quoting from online resources. As suggested by the Norfolk Virginian Pilot, "in quoting from electronic communications, we will make certain the communication is genuine, as it is easy to fake Internet return addresses or log-on as someone else."

Furthermore, since online communications is not spoken conversations, the attribution is also an important issue. As pointed out by Goldstein and Johnstone "'Said' could mean 'said in a face-to-face interview.' Or 'in a telephone conversation.' Or' in response to a question posted electronically to all comers.' Or 'in a conversation with experts monitored by this reporter."

Still, many media watchers bemoan that technology has taken away human contact. Journalists deal as much with people as they do with data and facts. But as technology makes everything easier than before, it could become less appealing for some reporters to go out on the street, and talk to people face to face. Ron Meader of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says of online interviews: "The risk to me is that we rely too much on cybertext rather than personal human contact and connection." This lack of human contact might be aggravated by the World Wide Web itself. --

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