A journalist wants to profile me - what should I think about?
May 21, 2017 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I have a fairly successful blog in the UK, and have just received a message from a journalist wanting to write a profile about me. How does this work? Are there particular questions I should be asking which will make it seem I've done this a million times before and know how this kind of thing works? It seems likely that as my blog grows I will face more of these kinds of requests, so any advice or information about how to approach this kind of attention would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by matthew.alexander to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I wrote community profiles, I would offer to send the profilees a "list of suggested questions" which would help them frame some answers before we would sit down for the interview. Perhaps your interviewer could provide his/her ideas as to what they are seeking in the profile, if not a list of suggested questions, to help you prepare.
posted by Lynsey at 11:09 AM on May 21, 2017

Journalists aren't looking to write about the same people/things everyone else is writing about, so there's no need to try to play it cool and experienced unless that's somehow necessary for your personal or blog brand.

You might want to know if it's an individual profile, part of a series or part of a larger piece. You might want to know why / how they chose you and what kind of publication it is going to be in -- a general interest publication, something targeted at bloggers or something targeted at people who are interested in the subject of your blog are all likely to result in very different sorts of pieces. Is it just an interview from which they'll write the piece or are they doing significant additional outside research?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:28 AM on May 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Were it me on the hook, I would look up this particular journalist's body of work. Their paper/magazine/website will likely have a page that collects their stories in one place. You'll quickly get a sense of their style, and whether they operate in a gotcha news mode or a complimentary feature mode. During the interview, you'll do your best to be witty and informative, but it's nice knowing ahead of time the way this particular journalist tends to process information. You'll be able to be more open or more guarded, depending.
posted by flod at 7:34 PM on May 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

One anecdote that may prove useful --- a friend of mine is fairly well known in his profession, and was approached about doing an interview. He said he'd be happy to, and the interview suggested a time, and duly called at that time. They were chatting away for several minutes when my friend was like, so when does the interview start? And the journalist was like, "what are you talking about, this is the interview."

Not every journalist works in exactly the same way of course, but something to bear in mind--- generally if you agree to an interview, the interviewer will consider everything that happens at that interview to be fair game to discuss in the piece, unless you get them to agree to different ground rules beforehand. (Otherwise very little news would ever get published.) Not that I think that your journalist will be out to get you or anything, but just that you might need to keep on your toes.
posted by Diablevert at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would brainstorm a few interesting anecdotes that make you look good. I'd also draft a few questions that you expect them to ask and some answers (that could even become a part of your blog - just a thought). I wouldn't try to play it cool though. If this journalist is any good, they probably looked for profiles about you and probably didn't find much. You can ask the journalist ahead of time what they'd like to talk about - they probably won't give you specific questions but they want you to be prepared so you can give good answers. And assume everything is on the record.
posted by kat518 at 8:38 PM on May 21, 2017

You might want to ask for some writing samples first. I'm on the other side of the equation: I'm a freelance writer, and I find writing profiles to be very challenging. It's challenging to capture the conversation accurately. Of course, I can take notes and record the conversation, which I do, but I have to ask the right questions in order to get answers that truly communicate what my subject is about. If I do not, it can be very frustrating for the interviewee, and it's frustration that's easy to sense during an interview. I do do my homework and research as much as I can, but then the finished piece will lack originality and insight. Good for the interviewee, but not so interesting for me as a professional. What's the point of writing it?

Also keep in mind that writers have their own agendas that do not always align with your interests. The primary agenda often is to get paid; after that is to develop their own personal prestige. That's a waste of time for you.

So, as mentioned, ask for some samples and be comfortable with the writer, and be reassured that this will be a good use of your time.
posted by My Dad at 10:34 PM on May 21, 2017

If you're stressed about this (and it sounds like you are) ask for an email interview. That way you get to spend as much time as you need polishing your answers. (If it's a radio or TV interview, ask for the questions in advance.)

What questions should you ask?
- What publication will it be in/on? (A journalist might be freelance and doing this on spec, and not have a publisher.) If it's not something local, ask them to send you copies of the finished article. (Physical copies of interviews beat web links. Though IME interviewers only follow through on sending these about 30% of the time.)

- How long will the finished piece be? That will give you some idea of how long to make your answers. Shorter pieces = more sound bites. Long piece = room for your interesting stories.

- Will they give you a chance to review the piece for accuracy before it's printed/shown? (They often don't, but ask. It's always a relief to catch errors before they go out.)

- How much experience does your journalist have in [your niche]? How much do their readers? This will help you gauge how technical or generic to make your answers.

Ask them for samples so you can see what they think their best work is.

Feel free to say 'no' if you're not comfortable. There will be other opportunities.
posted by Ookseer at 11:43 PM on May 21, 2017

Update: I can find nothing on line that this journalist has written, except that they registered on a page for freelancers in 2014. They don't seem to be particularly established or experienced.
posted by matthew.alexander at 3:40 AM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

As an experienced journalist I welcome questions: I like my interviewees to know what they're doing, but I often don't know what they don't know! So go ahead and ask questions until you feel like you know what their goal is and what the context is for that interview.

It doesn't sound promising that you can't find anything about them online! You should definitely ask what medium they're doing this for. Then check the vibe of the place. Do they do lots of portraits? Friendly or critical? That sort of thing.

And make sure to ask if there is any cost involved - it could be a scam.

Just because they take the lead asking you stuff doesn't mean your answers are out of your hands. Decide now what three or four things you want your portrait to mention. Then craft sentences about those things that sound compelling (memail me if you'd like some help.)
And then make sure to mention these things when you answer the questions.
Like, if they ask how you got started you could mention that you've always has a passion for xyz.

Do you have some "About Me" type info? Or could you write some? Journalists are often assholes about going into interviews unprepared. So if they've got some written basics about you beforehand it will help both you and them.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:10 PM on May 22, 2017

Ask them what it's for and what kind of things specifically would they want to know about you. I've been on either side of this multiple times, it's pretty breezy.
posted by divabat at 1:52 AM on May 23, 2017

« Older Helping a friend whose spouse is dying   |   Hairbrush and unflushed toilet: a mix made in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.