How NOT to ask for an interview: Australian Snapshot asked to interview me about the fanzine vs podcast conflict, a conflict from which I’ve distanced myself.
I received an email asking for an interview as part of a snapshot into science fiction in Australia. The interviewer made contact and referred me to the website, which gave the goals of the project including: ‘…see[ing] who has lost prominence or relevance in the intervening years…’ I was firstly surprised at being asked to participate as an interviewee in a project I’d never heard of before, but after reading this particular quote I was concerned about the agenda. I asked for more information.
The interviewer said, ‘As editor of a relatively new fanzine, I think it would be interesting to have your point of view on the importance of fanzines, particularly in light of new media such as podcasts, etc.’ So it looks as though she’s going to ignore the website AND pit me against podcasts. This was following on from the comments made in the Galactic Suburbia Hugo Award cast, where the GS ladies made it clear that they didn’t feel the fanzine category was worth voting for in the Hugo Awards in spite of being aware that women contribute to the field. I was now at full alert. One of my primary goals for Dark Matter is to build not destroy. I don’t want to go to war with podcasts. I don’t want to be pitted against them in an interview and I’m not going to play ball with an interviewer with that agenda.
My response, ‘I will agree to participate but without knowledge of the questions I cannot guarantee I will answer every one – it depends on the questions. When I have interviewed people, not every question is answered by every participant, and I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. :)’
To which the interviewer replied, ‘Actually, I don’t think any snapshot participant refusing to answer the questions, and last time we had 112 participants. Still, you obviously have some reservations about participating, so perhaps we’ll just leave it there.’ (This quote was copied and pasted, the errors were hers.)
If I went into interviews telling people I want to document the downfall of some people, possibly themselves, and I wanted to pit them against each other or a different category of work altogether, I wouldn’t have interviewed nearly as many, if any, people. Instead my list of interviewees is growing rapidly. What I have done when going into interviews is to make it clear that I respect the interviewee, that I am there to build not to destroy, and that I’m happy to be flexible. I usually conduct face to face or skype interviews and then I write the interviews up. When interviews are written, I encourage interviewees to proof read their interviews, to make any changes they need to – not just typos, but any misinterpretations of what’s been said – to add links and so on. I want interviewing to be a positive experience not a negative experience. I want the interviews to be constructive, to build community, to be enjoyable reads…
If you want to interview someone, unless you’re aiming for the tabloid pseudo-journalism prevalent on commercial TV these days, I strongly recommend that you ask with respect, that your interviews are structured in such a way as to be positive experiences that build, build community and build the genre.
Another interviewee for Snapshot received his questions and was either unwilling or unable to answer some of the questions as they were. He sent his questions back with his concerns. Tonight he received replacement questions. This is a sharp contrast to the email I received telling me, ‘Actually, I don’t think any snapshot participant refusing to answer the questions, and last time we had 112 participants. Still, you obviously have some reservations about participating, so perhaps we’ll just leave it there.’ Had I received an email with a line or two assuring me that there would be flexibility if I had concerns, there would have been a different outcome.
Andrew McKiernan said that fanzines versus podcasts is an issue and asked why I refused to address this issue.
I believe there is a fundamental flaw in the ‘fanzine versus podcast’ argument. When the printing press was invented it did not supersede theatre or oral traditions although, to be fair, much history and folklore that was passed down orally in less affluent classes of folk was then committed to print. When radio was invented radio did not supersede books in spite of the predictions of doomsayers; the two media began to co-exist side by side, bringing different forms and benefits to family life and to individuals. When television was invented video did not, in point of fact, kill the radio star. While many people have reverted to watching TV and movies and listening to the radio instead of reading, many others still enjoy text in books, in newspapers, in blogs and, yes, in fanzines. This doesn’t mean that those people never watch TV and never listen to radio or podcasts, just like it doesn’t mean that these people will never read books. Many people, especially in the SFF community, cling to the printed word as the conveyor of significant meaning because a movie version of a book usually diminishes a story.
In Dark Matter issue 8 I had a rant titled ‘Fanzine vs Podcast’ where I pointed out that the two publications are different media. TV and radio are not pitted against newspapers and magazines when it comes to awards because it’s too difficult to effectively compare them, so why pit podcasts against fanzines? I think it’s wildly inappropriate to say the least. If you want to pit blogs against fanzines for the purpose of awards, print against print, this has some validity because it is easier to measure quality against quality. Judging podcasts in the same category of fanzines relies more on emotional reactions based on loyalty to personality rather than effectively judging the amount of time and effort that goes into the production and judging the degree of professionalism of the presenter/s.
After hearing the Galactic Suburbia Hugo podcast I had a discussion with Tansy and whoever runs the GS twitter account, who I assume is Alisa. Alisa said that at least part of the reason the GS Hugo commentary was so dismissive on the topic of fanzines was that some people in fanzines had been ‘really really mean’. I was not one of those people and I argue that it’s not appropriate to cavalierly dismiss my efforts in building community and presenting a unique fanzine on the basis that some other people (possibly men with entitlement issues) have been ‘mean’ to her in the past. However, Alisa and Tansy argued in twitter that the GS cast was ok because it was a reaction to what has gone on before between the fanzine and podcast factions. So we have here a situation where the Catholics and the Protestants are trading blows, the Hutus and the Tutsis are fighting again – and someone comes along and asked me to commit to answering her questions that, for all I know, will perpetuate and exacerbate the conflict. When I asked for some flexibility, instead of being obliging, Kathryn told me ‘we’ll just leave it there’.
My argument is that fanzines and podcasts should not be pitted against each other, whether it be in an interview, in an award category or as a choice of medium. Why should anyone have to choose and be loyal to one medium? How many of you only watch TV, only listen to radio, only read books or only read newspapers? Isn’t that kind of media loyalty cutting off your nose to spite your face? I put it to you that propagating the conflict between fanzines and podcasts by assuming that there has to be a CHOICE BETWEEN THEM lessens the SFF genre and detracts from the SFF community.