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The Slow Decline of the Informal Interview - and Why We Should Be Sad About It

In the wake of the pandemic, the world of PR and journalism have seen quite a few changes in the way they operate. Instead of the usual face-to-face interviews, many journalists are now turning to video calls. And who can blame them? We all know the perks of teleworking, especially the invaluable time it saves us.

But while we can all appreciate what the new work paradigm offers, it’s hard not to wonder - what are we losing in return?

The rush to make an impact

Elevator pitches. Bitesize videos. Quick-fire facts. Soundbites. Us PR professionals are well-versed in the art of crafting short memorable formats.

Their success is easily understood - in a busy world where everyone is juggling multiple tasks and commitments, it only makes sense that we consume information like shots of vodka.

In a piece on culture wars, famous historian Yuval Noah Harari highlights that political pundits face the pressure of being engaging when they have limited time for TV appearances. Their focus isn’t so much on accuracy or honesty, but on being galvanizing. That is the essence of the short format, which is primarily designed to be effective. But do interviews also need to follow that trend?

Striking a balance

Within this landscape, we need to understand how important face-to-face interviews are. Those of us in PR have witnessed this time and time again - true knowledge of any topic is not built in quick, condensed formats. When a journalist meets an expert over lunch or coffee, whatever the topic is, and however prepared the speaker is, there tends to be moments of hesitation, digression, and spontaneous insights after a journalist approaches the topic with a fresh new angle. That twilight zone of conversation is where a lot of relationship-building happens. And also where the most interesting articles are born.

The utilitarian way of interviewing also brings with it another problem - the lack, or even absence of follow-up and closing questions, a part of the interview where many seasoned journalists can uncover the most interesting information - candid insights, a new unexpected topic, a moment where a CEO unwittingly discloses a valuable piece of leadership. Video interviews, while incredibly convenient, will never replicate the trust and understanding that face-to-face interviews can foster.

It seems like the era of the long informal interview is behind us. And while we willingly provide specific information when journalists request it from an expert we work with, the long interview will remain a vital tool for skilled journalists. Even in a future dominated by AI and social media.

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