What would you ask Bill McKibben?
May 5, 2011 8:10 AM   Subscribe

What interview questions should I ask Bill McKibben? I'm interviewing him for our community blog, and would like to do this well.

So far I'm planning on asking him about community practice: how to collaborate and network with other communities, how best to stay informed, what kinds of food projects to try. (It's "our" community blog because Bill and I both live in the same small town, and we're part of the group who launched it.)
posted by doctornemo to Science & Nature (5 answers total)
If this is for the local community where you both live, this sounds kind of informal so I would ask him in advance if there are any questions he wants to be asked so he can give an answer he thinks is important locally. Seems to me after briefly reviewing his site, that I would ask questions along the lines of how a local can help, how we can change our local habits to help do our part as community members on planet earth.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:37 AM on May 5, 2011

A friend of mine interviews famous movie folks and authors all the time. She says that they appreciate it most when you ask something other than the usual question, which is "How do you do what you do?"

When I do my interviews, then, I try to do as much research as I can and approach their life or work from a somewhat offbeat or personal angle. "I hear you collect antique radio equipment..." Sure, that might not be exactly the topic you're going for, but it will put them at ease to know you've done a little digging, and it will be a great opportunity for them to speak about something they enjoy with a less canned answer, or something they didn't expect to talk about. Then you can really have a conversation, as opposed to a Q&A session.

On the flip side, there are things that everyone will want to know, and/or "he lives here, just like me!" so don't shy away from them totally. You're in a great position with the local beat, so ask him things like "Where do you go for a Friday night dinner?" or "What's your favorite local haunt?"

But also think about how local things relate to his work. So: "What's a local business/farm/restaurant that you might use as an example of doing some of these things well?" or "How does living in Ripton affect some of the choices you make -- living lightly on the earth -- differently than, say, in a larger city? What is easier/what is harder about being in a rural area?"

Finally: open-ended questions, not questions that can be answered with a yes/no answer. Not "Do you like living here?" but "What are some of the things you enjoy about living here?"
posted by Madamina at 9:21 AM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: Good ones, JohnnyGunn; thanks.

Nice idea about personal/local details, Madamina. I added one. Will see about the open-ended one, too.
posted by doctornemo at 10:18 AM on May 5, 2011

I would ask him about his book about long distance cross country skiing; what he thinks about that time in retrospect, if there's anything surprising that stuck with him from it, if the ambition for large somewhat solitary or inward-focused projects is something that has to do with different stages of life. Very different from his more outward-focused projects of advocacy.

What misconception does he hear most often from people who interview him about (most recent project)?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:41 PM on May 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, guys. First two parts of the interview are up, and more coming:
posted by doctornemo at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2011

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