Friday, June 28, 2013

Interview Anxiety

Interview Anxiety
By Linda Rodriguez

Last week, I interrupted my frantic dash toward the novel deadline from hell to do two phone interviews. After all, unrealistic deadline or not, I still have to promote my brand-new book, Every Broken Trust. So I spent 1 ½ hours one day being interviewed by a reporter for The Kansas City Star and slightly more than 1 ½ hours another day being interviewed by a reporter from Cosmopolitan. Yes! Cosmo has done a profile on me!

Of course, I welcome a feature article in the Star, the largest newspaper between Chicago and California. Last year, they did one on my debut novel, Every Last Secret, and gave me a whole page with a big color photo of the book and me on the front page of the Arts and Entertainment section. That’s the kind of publicity you can’t buy—and can’t usually get even with a paid publicist. And as for Cosmo with its audience in the hundreds of thousands—guess I don’t have to say much else but that, do I?

I’ve had nightmares about each of these interviews ever since I did them. I always do with interviews. I go into them promising myself I’ll be careful and remember the disaster I once encountered, but then I get involved in the conversation and tend to forget. After it’s over, I suddenly remember that I wasn’t careful, and I try to remember everything I said and how it can be twisted and misused against me. And there’s a good reason for my fear.

Before I got sick and had to leave my job of many years (which opened the doors for my writing), I was the director of a university women’s center, one of the oldest in the country. I often had to give radio, TV, and print interviews or was asked to write opinion pieces by newspapers and magazines on women’s issues. I’d become sort of an old pro at it. One day the brand-new network TV station in town, Fox, called and asked for an interview the next day about pornography’s effects on women. I agreed and set about research to be able to give an up-to-date, informed opinion on the matter and to back it up with facts. (Fox hadn’t developed the reputation it now has. It was still flying under the radar at that point.)

The next day I’m dressed in my nice red suit (better for TV), and the Fox reporter and I are sitting in my beautiful women’s center’s library with built-in walnut bookcases full of books surrounding us while a cameraman films us. We talked for over an hour. To my surprise, the reporter was very knowledgeable about the issue and some of the latest research, and his questions were appropriate and insightful. He told me at the end that they would need to edit it down drastically, and I said, “Of course.”

When it appeared on the newscast a week later, it became clear that another reporter had wanted a junket to a porn-maker’s convention in Las Vegas, and that was what the whole thing was about. It ran ten minutes and was like an infomercial for porno films. I was the only woman in the segment who was over 30, fully clothed, and not surgically enhanced, and they gave me one line, which was not only ripped out of context, but edited, snipping the middle out of it, to make it sound like the dowdy, old feminazi had condemned all porn (which I hadn’t). Of all the times I’d been on TV or radio or in the paper, this was the one the most people saw—my neighbors, my son’s gastroenterologist, my hairdresser, the checker at the grocery store, strangers everywhere I went. And then, because it was a highly rated segment, they replayed it six months later during sweeps.

So I’ve learned the hard way to beware of interviews, especially those where we’re having intelligent, nuanced discussions. I know how it can be turned against me. I really don’t expect the Star’s article, which will be out Sunday, June 30, to be horrible. They’re ethical journalists, and they’ve always been good to me. And the Cosmo interview was done by a person I know whose work I respect. But I have to admit I had some bad nights over that one. I’d remember some of the things we talked about and worry, “Oh no, think what he could do with that statement if he took it out of context.” And then, of course, there’s the fact that it’s Cosmo. Would this be another case of being made out to be the stodgy, old feminazi sandwiched in among the sexy girls?

Actually, I am sort of sandwiched between “The Joys of Hangover Sex” and “Hot Sex Tips,” but the Cosmo profile is very nice—and I’m grateful to have that opportunity to connect with all those potential readers. Nothing was taken out of context, and the reporter did a lovely job.  

 But I never forget what it could have been. Fox-TV scarred me for life when it comes to interviews.

Have you had sad or maddening experiences with interviews or being misquoted or misrepresented somehow? How do you feel when someone wants an interview (other than a written Q and A where it’s so much easier to have some control)?


  1. in the build-up to one of the commemoratives of the 1970 Chicana Chicano Moratorium that we coupled with futile opposition to Bush's impending invasion of Iraq, I specified to an interview I am a Vietnam-era Veteran, asked him directly not to call me a "Vietnam Veteran" because I put in my time in Korea while my friends were over in the war. When the article comes out, there it is, "a veteran of the Vietnam war" the journo wrote. I wasn't a vetern of the moratorium, either; got home from Korea the day before the police riot in Laguna (now Salazar) Park.

  2. Michael, don't you hate that? When you make a point of stressing to them, "Not this because of such-and-such. Please be clear to call it/me that." And even the best of them often overlook it in their notes and do exactly what you were trying to avoid.

  3. Congratulations on the two interviews, Linda! Going to read Cosmo now!

    As someone who's usually on the interviewer side of the interview, I try really hard to make sure I accurately represent the people I've interviewed. I know reporters sometimes make mistakes, but outright ambush is just wrong.

  4. Lovely article! I've actually had the reverse, following a very rushed phone interview about storytelling. I was literally on the way out the door when the phone rang, and gave very hurried answers because I was running late. As I drove to wherever, I replayed the conversation in my mind and realized most of my answers would seem illiterate in print. I was grateful that the reporter had edited to what I would have said if I'd had time to think.
    I once had a student (wisely) stop herself as she was about to share an anti-feminist joke (favorite, activist student, playing the part of Portia in Merchant of Venice). She asked, "What is feminism really?" and as we discussed, the rest of the Shakespeare class arrived and continued the discussion. "Equality? No, there has to be more." One of the young men looked up feminist in the dictionary, read it aloud, and they all voted that they were, in fact, feminists. We have made progress!

  5. Julie, I know. The vast majority of interviewers I've had over the years have been good about accurate and not misquoting. I've had some print interviews with quotes taken out of context but not misquoted. This Fox interview was a whole new kind of hell. And I couldn't believe it when they aired it again!

  6. Mary, so glad your reporter made you look good. I've never felt that was their job, though. Just don't make me look artificially bad. I can use manage that on my own, thank you very much. ;-)

    I, too, have found that, when feminism is discussed in a mixed-gender group under circumstances where we're actually all looking at what it really is and what it really means, usually just about everyone decides it's the way things ought to be. But the opposition litters that road to understanding with a lot of misleading buzzwords, distortions, and outright Big Lies. *sigh*

  7. "usually" in comment above on how I can usually make myself look bad on my own. Appropriate, what?