How NOT to ask for an interview

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.

UPDATE:

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.

UPDATE:  the link to the list of interviews has been updated due to the website being relaunched in September.

12 Comments

  1. Um, the Snapshot has been building and celebrating the sf community for many years now. Perhaps you need to do some more research?

    1. No-one can expect to know everything all at once. I have never claimed to be omniscient, I have always said I’m on a journey. So now I’ve heard about the Snapshot. And I’ve responded.

      1. No you don’t have to know everything. But failing to research the thing you’re criticising, in a post advising people how to do good interviews? Is, shall we say, ironic.

        1. I have researched the Snapshot. I made it clear in my blog that I had been to the website, I even quoted from the website if you note the first portion in bold. What I am criticising is the lack of disclosure and the apparent agenda of pitting fanzines against podcasts. I was willing to participate but not to guarantee that I would respond to an inappropriate line of questioning. I don’t understand why you are taking issue with my comments – you’re coming at the topic from a completely different angle.

          1. You haven’t supplied any evidence of that agenda, so I assumed that meant you hadn’t read much of it, since there has been no such agenda in any of the previous Snapshots. Just lots of people talking about doing what they love.

          2. As I do not know this woman from Adam and she has indicated that she wants to make the interview about fanzines versus podcasts I have concerns. Did you notice that the article was about How not to ask for an interview? It was not a personal attack, it showed the process up to this woman telling me she chose not to go ahead with the interview because I did not agree to her terms. Note that she made demands and when I refused to give 100% unconditional compliance in advance, she decided not to go ahead.

            Andrew McKiernan described his experience on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/darkmatterfanzine/posts/291099507643553?ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment. He said he’s participating in the Snapshot but is unable or unwilling to answer some of his questions as they are written, so he’s getting replacement or rewritten questions. In contrast to this, Kathryn Linge expects me to guarantee full compliance without the questions and decided not to continue when I indicated that I may want some flexibility.

  2. To be fair Nalini, you have been talking a lot about Fanzines and podcasts and your objection them being in competing categories. You have also made quite a bit of noise regarding Galactic Suburbia being anti fanzine especially in the Hugo episode. So perhaps the interviewer merely sought to give you an opportunity to show that fanzines are still healthy and relevant. I think you have missed out on an opportunity.

    Is it possible that you misread the intention of the interviewer and that clouded your response? Perhaps a better response who’d have been to say – “no send me the questions I want to participate, I just may not be in a position to answer some of your questions”. Instead you have decided to mention it here. Was that the wisest option? Was it the option that had building community and good will at its heart?

    Wanting to build I think means taking people at face value and assuming the best. If you had received the questions you would have been able to ascertain whether or not there was an agenda.

    Personally I though you would have jumped at the chance, extra exposure for the magazine, the website and a chance to really fly the flag for fanzines.

    1. I’d like to point you back to my original article. I specifically said I’d participate but I couldn’t guarantee that I’d answer every question. The woman’s response was to decide not to include me on that basis. Andrew McKiernan received his questions and he was either unwilling or unable to answer the questions as they were, giving my concerns credibility. When Andrew expressed concern and refused to answer the questions in their present format, Kathryn changed the questions. When I expressed concern, I was told, ‘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.’

      My specific statements in Dark Matter issue 8 were there for everyone to see: that I do not agree with fanzines and podcasts being pitted against one another. please read my update in which I address your remaining points.

    2. Sean, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is whether they should or should not be pitted together and I too feel that an opportunity has been missed to put darkmatterfanzine’s case forward.

      Also, I did not ‘refuse’ to answer the questions. That word invokes an image of aggressive response. That was not the case. I agreed, received my questions, and politely asked if a couple of them could be modified. Very different to how it has been portrayed above.

      1. On facebook you said that you were unwilling or unable to answer the questions in their earliest form. You sent them back and you received new questions. I was not permitted the same courtesy. Had I been permitted the same courtesy that was given to you, I would have participated. Also, if you read my update added to the blog above, you will see that I have stated my case.

      2. Good grief! So that’s where they went.I didn’t actually mean to send my early cdeersponornce off with my fanzine collection when they went to Murdoch, but there was a man with a van and we just took all the stuff off the shelves and away it went. Not that I’m conplaining, it’s all better off with you than with me.This raises another question. Valma and I are down sizing af the moment and I have a number of boxes of cdeersponornce that follows on from the volumes in the photos. As time goes by the letters are less about sf fandom and more about other things including my time at Murdoch uni and involvement in history. Might you be interested in these papers at some time down the track?BestLeigh

  3. I find it difficult to small talk to sonmeoe in a social setting (party, office) if I’m not asking them a bunch of questions where I’m genuinely interested. It’s much easier for me to establish a rappoire with an interviewee than it is to talk to family members about daily stuff.As I always told the young interviewers I was asked to train, I always start interviews with fast and loose questions, ones that are designed to put the interviewee at ease immediately, ones that will set the tone of the whole time you get to talk to them. After they have laughed and relaxed a bit, I get down to the brass tax, and I found that as long as you pose questions intelligently or with genuine inquisitiveness, the person will always open up. And controlling how and what they open up about is where the true art of interviewing is paramount.If you feel an interview for a social format show is uneasy with your line of questions or the tone you ask it it, you are allowed one chance to reask in a different way before you risk badgering them. If they open up a bit more after a bit of proding or reasking, then go for it.If you are interviewing for facts and critical information to support your slant on a story, than doing your best Murphy Brown impersonation is what it will take to get the answers you want them to spill. Thankfully I’ve never had to go after an interviewee hard oncamera, but my cousin has and he’s great at it. He’s so beloved how could you not want to tell him all of your dirty secrets? In his case, his charm and easy going personality work in his favour to a great extent.And finally, when you’re interviewing people with great life stories, I tend to ask stuff I would want the interviewer to ask if I were at home watching the interview. I like to put myself in the Burkalounger at home as I talk to the people and ask the stuff everyone else would if they were in my shoes.

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