The Trouble with Interviews

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 13 2007

I just had an experience that I’ve never had before and I want to share it with you as a warning. As I’m sure you know I am frequently asked to do interviews or have articles written based on speaking I may have done at conferences or writer’s group meetings. Well, for the first time I came across an interview that really upset me. The author was clearly not a reporter and had done, what I feel, was a real hatchet job to our interview.

When all is said and done the interview made me sound horrible, harsh, and kind of mean. Now, I was a reporter for years, so I know what kind of leeway a reporter can have when writing a story, and I have been in situations where I’ve been told the direction the editor wanted the story to go and I should make it that way. Needless to say I quit that job. I also know how easy it is to twist what someone says simply by taking quotes out of context. Let me clarify, I don’t think this reporter did any of those things maliciously. I think she simply did not have the experience to know how to weave together a good article.

So now I’m stuck with a horrible article/interview floating around cyberspace that makes me look stupid, mean, and snarky, but not in a fun way. Unfortunately this is a risk we all take when doing interviews of any kind, and while we can ask to see a story before it runs, I know from my own experience that few reporters will allow such a thing.

I only hope that this story gets buried to the bottom of Google very quickly.


21 responses to “The Trouble with Interviews”

  1. Jessica,

    That’s terrible. 🙁

  2. Avatar Diana says:

    I’m so sorry! I’m still kind of new here, but anyone who’s observed this blog for a week can tell that you’re honest and willing to go above and beyond to help writers.

  3. So sorry that this happened to you. The best way to combat it, is of course, to continue with your brilliant blog! 😉

  4. Jessica,

    I’ve had articles written about me that I felt were not flattering. I know how you feel. A quote taken out of context can really put a different spin on things.

    But hold your head high. Your reputation is solid.

    Christie Craig

  5. Avatar JaxPop says:

    Post the interview on the blog & let those of us that benefit so much from your coaching sessions & continued encouragement respond. Aren’t you glad you’re not in politics?

  6. Bad press? Tabloid fodder? Stalkers? They seem to be a sign that you’ve reached a certain level of name recognition, a certain level of exposure above and beyond the circle of people who know you well and care about you and your feelings.

    Seems to be par for the course, an unfortunate part of putting your self out there.

    I say ignore anything negative or untrue – best not to draw attention to it or validate it with a mention, however painful or hurtful or untrue.

    Hard to, I know.

  7. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    Take heart, Jessica. Your Minnesota nice shines through all the time.

  8. Avatar Jenny says:

    Jessica, sorry to hear about the hatchet job!

    Back when I was promoting my books in the media someone taught me a helpful technique that really improves interviews: do the interview but bring along a page of basic information that includes a couple well-written paragraphs that say whatever it is that you would like to see in print. Give it to the journalist at the end of the interview.

    Journalists are busy and love to have their work done for them. When I used that technique quite a few hour long interviews resulted in a newspaper article that contained nothing but the text of the paragraphs I’d supplied to the interviewer.

    Even more important, once you’ve nailed down what it is that you want the journalist to write, you do what politicians do, which is to respond to any question the journalist asks you with a statement you want them to quote, even if it verges on nonsequitur.


    Journalist: So Mr.X how does your campaign manager’s indictment affect your campaign?

    Candidate: It just points out how badly America needs a new health care policy like the one I am proposing that will give every American their own live in doctor.

  9. Avatar alicia says:

    Anyone who wants a perfect example of this can just look at the recent piece CNN did on Pro Wrestling. When one wrestler was asked if he used steroids, his first answer was, “Absolutely not.” And then he went on to explain how it’s a shame that we assume that all athletic greatness is due to enhancing drugs, and that an athlete has a hard time proving that he HASN’T used those drugs. So in the interview, they chopped it to be: “Do you use steroids?” “I can’t say that I have, but you can’t prove that I haven’t.”

    I’m not saying one way or another whether steroid use goes on in pro wrestling, or any sport. I’m just saying, that the quote they used for his answer without its context sure did make it sound like he was being squirrelly about answering the question.

  10. Avatar Don Martin says:

    Maybe it’s different when you’re already well established in your industry. However, from my perspective, there is no such thing as negative publicity.

    I think you need to give people credit, especially people who are interested in writing, for being able to recognize writer bias and being capable of doing their own due diligence about a prospective agent.

    There’s plenty of other material about you out there on the internet that’s positive enough. One “hatchet job” shouldn’t have much of an effect on your reputation as an agent and, if anything, might draw interest from someone who would otherwise have never heard of you.

  11. Avatar jlboduch says:

    With any luck, anyone who reads said interview will also visit this blog–and see that you’ve got Minnesota nice to spare!

  12. Hey, where’s the link, I want to read it! (No, no…)

    I do think, however, that sometimes we think we come across worse than we do, and perhaps you see yourself in a more negative light than someone else would reading the same piece.

  13. Avatar Jeannie says:

    May I offer my sympathy. It must be very disappointing to spend your time willingly to help others get to know you, and then have the article be such a disappointment.

    I do believe that any person or author worth their weight in research will understand that one interview does not a personality profile make. I would hope that anyone who comes across an unflattering article of you would have the foresight to dig a little deeper to discover how true it is. If nothing else, it could induce them to search out this blog and then they’d get a much truer, much more realistic idea of who you are –and that is not mean, stupid or snarky (in the bad way. 🙂

  14. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, and I’m extremely impressed with your character. In fact, I spoke to a writer’s group last night and recommended your blog several times over. Sorry to hear about the interview.

  15. Since I’ve had newspapers quote me out of context, I read and watch news reports with a great deal of scepticism and awareness of any slant. It exasperates me that most people don’t seem aware that this happens. Or perhaps it’s just that the reporters tell people exactly what they want to hear or what they expect so those people stop using their critical thinking skills. Who knows.

    I’m sorry you had a bad interview.

  16. Sorry, Jessica :-(. I know it must be rough on a perfectionist when there’s one teensy ink splot spoiling reams of wonderfully clean pages.

  17. Avatar Dave F. says:

    A couple PR types were told to do a “cutie-pie, human interest, career development” piece on me once upon a time while I was working. It was for the company quarterly report.
    When they finished, the editor showed it to me. It was trash, junk and garbage. Amazingly insulting and of no interest to anyone but gossips and backstabbers. I almost DIED as he read it out loud in my office. Stupid, mean and snarky would have been kind words to describe the article.
    The editor and I rewrote the article. I have no idea what I would have done if the original article had been published. Hide my head in shame was the least offensive option.

    As little comfort as it may seem, if nothing else on here on the web makes you sound that way, people with half-a-brain will understand.

  18. Avatar bran fan says:

    Do you realize you’re reacting exactly the way a writer does when she gets a bad review? Especially one in which it is clear that the reviewer didn’t read the book or didn’t get it.

    Ironic, that.

    Do your writers ever ask for your sympathy when they get bad reviews? What do you tell them? Perhaps you need to take some of that advice now.

  19. I googled your name + interview…the interviews that came up weren’t so bad…the first one was actually informative, as far as first time novels and some of the financial aspects involved…or to put it another way, I didn’t read anything that would make someone NOT want to send you a query, I don’t think…maybe the interview that was so awful is way down the list on Google – I don’t think I saw it…

  20. Avatar Faye Hughes says:

    Aaack, Jessica! I think we’ve all been there. I remember, years ago, my first interview with PW. I spoke for 20 minutes over the phone and the reporter condensed that to a single line – naturally, that line wasn’t what I wanted to be remembered for having said. LOL.

    Keep smiling.


  21. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Actually, bran fan, I’ve gotten bad reviews and run to Jessica for sympathy, and she’s been wonderfully sympathetic and offered very supportive and practical advice. What could possibly make you think she might react in any other way? Your post makes absolutely no sense at all.