Paul Ford just wrote a very good guide to being interview in the media. He makes some excellent, excellent points, it’s really amazing how much of it hits home for me. It got me thinking about mistakes I made long ago when dealing with media stuff.
I started 2 blog-hosting sites, Pitas.com and Diaryland.com, in 1999 and they got big quite fast, because this was the time blogs started exploding, so I wound up getting approached by the media a fair amount for at least a year or two. One thing that’s really amazing about how reporters work, that I didn’t realize until I saw it in action, was that I could go for 2 months with no stories mentioning me or my sites, but as soon as one was published, I would invariably get a bunch of reporters phoning/emailing me immediately, to be interviewed for some extremely similar story they just decided to write.
Anyway, every time I showed up in a print story, they misquoted at least 1 thing I said, and quite often it was the dumbest, most pointless misquote possible. In these cases, the misquote wouldn’t change any part of the story, but would just irritate me, like I’d think “Why did they say Italian restaurant when I clearly told them Mexican?” or something (not a real example). One time the Globe and Mail did an article about a certain Pitas blog on their front page and they called it a chatroom, after I had quite clearly explained to the reporter how a blog is not anything like a chatroom (and this was way past the point where anyone should have made this mistake).
I wound up on TV three times, and they were all huge disasters. I’m going to write them out in what I think the actual order was. I’m not 100% sure on this, but it doesn’t really matter much.
There was a Canadian show called Shift TV that I think was based on a sort of WIRED-like magazine called Shift. I think I was interviewed for the magazine over the phone with someone, and then some time later, I wound up on this show. I was living in a basement apartment in Toronto at the time, which constantly looked an absolute fucking slob and spaz lived there (not sure why), and I remember that when they contacted me and said they would come to interview me where I live, I just said “okay sure”. It didn’t even occur to me that I should remove the 20 empty pop bottles that were all over the counter and the top of the fridge, or replace the lightbulb in the bedroom that burned out about 1 month after I moved in and I never fixed.
The crew was supposed to come over at 11 in the morning, or something like that, but they phoned a couple of hours early and asked if they could just come right over, and I said “okay sure” and hopped in the shower. This is why I think Paul’s article is so good, because it tells people “hey take a second to give the media an answer, and you’re allowed to say no”. I was never intimidated by the media, but I’m just the kind of guy who generally goes “Oh sure, whatever works man”, and I also don’t really think about long-term like “Hmm, what if I wind up being interviewed with soaking wet hair that needs to be cut, looking pale as hell, in a weirdly lit shithole apartment and then they for some reason replay this show 3 times a week for SO LONG”.
I guess these days maybe people are smarter, and not just big idiots like me who go “Oh uh TV crew coming over whatever” but anyway I will say this: Thank god Youtube wasn’t around and that show seems to have shuffled off into obscurity.
There was some Canadian TV channel called.. I think TALK TV maybe? It was around for a couple of years, and there was a very nice lady on it who was a Pitas user, and she hosted an hour-long (if I recall) show where people sat around on couches and talked about the Internet (sidenote: She went on to be a Muchmusic personality and then I think politician??). So anyway, someone from her show invited me to come on and talk about blogs.
The line-up was the host, me and some Toronto lady who had a blog (and I want to say maaaaybe there was a fourth person but probably not so I’m going to go ahead and write as if there wasn’t.) I remember that the other guest had already been on the show, or maybe some other show on the same channel, and after the show, I saw her trying to kind of work one of the producers and get them to feature her down the road on future shows.
This show was live, and there were some bullet point topics, and one of them was about some lady who had just been caught in what may have been the very first “I have a kid with cancer” hoax in the blog world (here’s the Wikipedia for it). I had followed along with the story a bit as the hoax was unraveled, but I wasn’t very interested, and I kind of felt like the blog had been suspect from the start. The host and the other guest, however, had apparently been die-hard readers, and during the show, they talked about it in detail.
I want to add that when I’m just sort of sitting around in a group discussion, I think I tend to smile and look cheerful, especially if I happen to be mentally zoning out of the conversation. It’s kind of a conscious thing so that I don’t appear hard-faced while I’m losing interest. (I want to add I also smile and look cheerful when I’m part of a good conversation, so if you’re talking to me and you see me smiling, don’t worry, you are interesting as hell and I would never tune out).
So long story short, my only remaining memory of this whole show was watching a repeat of it on TV later, and right at the part where the two ladies were talking about how devastated when the blogger’s (fake) kid had died of (fake) leukemia, and how much they had cried, the camera cut to me, zoned out, face covered in a big old shit-eating grin, for no reason. Good stuff!
This was a 1 or 2 minute taped human interest piece on Global News, a traditional nightly 6:00PM broadcast. I don’t even remember where they interviewed me (probably my crappy basement apartment), or what I said, but I do remember that I looked really terrible (as always), and that after the piece finished, they cut back to the anchors, and the lady (I forget her name, she was the anchor for years and years on there) made a really nasty comment like “Wow a bunch of people sitting around on their computers writing about their lives, sounds like they need to get a life”. I’m not getting the exact wording right, but also not really exaggerating, it really was about as nasty as that. I actually am 99% positive she said “sounds like they need to get a life”. It was bad enough that as someone who would make fun of bloggers regularly, I was still like “wow what the fuck”.
A friend’s parents videotaped this broadcast for me, and when I saw them after it aired, they just looked at me and didn’t say anything, kind of like “oh shit what do we say to this guy in this situation, he just got humiliated on Global TV” hjahaha.