Are you living with phone phobia as a young journalist? Breathe

In a generation of texting, Snapchat and Instagram, do people pick up the phone and call one another for a conversation? The lack of time spent on phone conversations may affect young journalists who need to hold quality phone interviews.

Above photo: Many of the iPhone generation could be facing phone phobia because these young people prefer to communicate via text or email. Flickr photo

By Hannah Lester, reporter, SizingUpTheSouth.com, Auburn University

While some could refer to this as a “phone phobia,” Dr. Pamela Dorsett, clinical psychologist and journalist, said it is likely not an actual phobia. A phobia restricts people in their daily lives from completing tasks. However, phone conversations may cause some anxiety, she said.

The iPhone generation is entering and leaving college, joining newspapers and magazines and taking jobs in journalism. In order to perform well in any of these careers, journalists need to be able to conduct good interviews.

Many may prefer to conduct their interviews by email rather than picking up the phone to call a source or meet in person. While there are multiple factors that could influence this decision, ease is one of them. Emailing someone a list of questions could take a lot of the stress, and effort, out of an interview.

Many professional news outlets do not allow the practice of “interviewing” by email, said Dorsett. Photo right: Dr. Pamela Dorsett, supplied photo

“When you do an interview and get responses in writing, doesn’t that take a whole lot off of you? I mean, then you don’t run the risk of misquoting, you don’t have to take copious notes, you don’t have to make a mark where the good quote is on your recording.”

Dr. Pamela Dorsett, clinical psychologist and freelance journalist

While all of this can contribute to a journalist wanting to conduct an interview by email rather than by phone or in person, another contributing factor could be just general anxiety. This generation is at a disadvantage because the culture has a “phone aversion,” Dorsett said.

“I think it comes with being nervous about where you are in your career and nervous about your confidence in yourself and your ability to be a reporter,” said Jessica Sparks, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Savannah State University and faculty adviser to The Tiger’s Roar student news outlet.

At The Tiger’s Roar, Sparks will hold practice interviews with her students to show them not only best-case scenarios but worst-case scenarios, too. Photo right Jessica Sparks, supplied photo

“When you don’t learn that skill of how to have a conversation with somebody, then that phone phobia becomes even worse, right? You’re not just nervous about having to speak with somebody who you might find intimidating, you also have just this plain old ‘how do I have a conversation with somebody over the phone’ fear. You don’t have practice at it.”

While The Tiger’s Roar does allow both text and email interviews, they try and train reporters to conduct in-person and phone interviews. During these practice sessions, sometimes they will just train reporters to hold a conversation.

If a journalist becomes comfortable with an in-person interview, a phone interview becomes easy. Pexels photo


With phones away, students are asked to talk with one another, with no preparation beforehand, on a given topic.

Other tactics include going over what might happen if a source said one thing or another, or refused to give a comment, Sparks said.

“Once you get used to the in-person interview, the phone interview is nothing. It’s easy,”

Jessica Sparks, assistant professor, multimedia journalism, Savannah State University

The Crimson White, The University of Alabama’s student newspaper, pushed in-person interviews, said Rebecca Rakowitz, former news editor. She is now editor of Alice Magazine based out of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Sometimes, in order to help relieve anxiety,  she would tell a reporter to schedule a phone interview by email, to help break the ice. Photo right Rebecca Rakowitz, LinkedIn photo

“Whatever professional language you would use in an email, just do the same thing on the phone,” Rakowitz said.

“Be respectful, and leave several ways for them to get in touch with you if you leave a voicemail.”

Rebecca Rakowitz, editor, Alice Magazine

Chris Delboni is a journalist, a professor and a life coach. In her classes, she does not allow the use of email interviews, she said.

Journalism really starts with good research, and good research comes from good interviews. “That’s the basis of any good news story,” she said. Photo right Chris Delboni, supplied photo

Part of the problem is that educators and other journalists do not properly teach students how to conduct interviews, Delboni said.

“If we trained young journalists to do phone interviews, to do in-person interviews, then I wouldn’t even think we would be talking about a phone phobia,” Delboni said.

Chris Delboni, professor and life coach

Dorsett suggests ways to help deal with the anxiety a reporter may feel at the thought of having a phone interview. First, breathing and relaxing the muscles will help calm the body and mind down. Second, Dorsett recommends building up to more difficult interviews.

Dr. Dorsett suggests breathing and relaxing the muscles will help calm the body and mind down before making an interview phone call. Pexels photo

Some journalists may even want to have someone else accompany them on their interviews, to provide feedback later, Dorsett said.

Sparks said that at The Tiger’s Roar, the younger journalists are not the ones to handle the breaking news or harder hitting pieces.

“The only way to deal with a fear is to face the fear,” Dorsett said. “It’s just a matter of being equipped with some effective and useful tools to allow you to do that.”

Editor’s note: SizingUpTheSouth.com as a publication does not support email or text interviews. With that said, there are circumstances beyond our control where alternative ways of communicate might be allow such as for breaking news or Q&As. – Sharon Dunten, editor of SizingUpTheSouth.com

Hannah Lester was the 2019 SPJ Region 3 spring intern and reporter for SizingUpTheSouth.com. She graduated from Auburn University in May 2019 with a major in journalism. hannah.lester.spj@gmail.com

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