Dear Rapper: A Journalist’s Guide To Being The Subject Of A Feature Interview

03.20.13 5 years ago 32 Comments

The increase of Indie and DIY artists has meant that more acts are using guerrilla and play-it-by-ear approaches to building their respective brands. That means most media training comes from dealing with blogs firsthand. Few artists know the arts of truly being interviewed by journalists in the magazine or long-form Internet field.

Sure, Q&As are really easy. All you have to do is sit there and answer questions. But having a journalist shadow you for a day? That’s a whole other monster.

So as someone who’s done profiles on artists (and faced a few artist-created hurdles), here are some tips to getting interviewed for publications.

1. There’s No Such Thing As “Off The Record” – Hollywood has made you believe that your saying “off the record” means I’m somehow legally obligated to put my pen down and ignore what you say. That’s just simply not the case. The phrase “off the record” is just a series of words that don’t mean anything and aren’t legally binding whatsoever.

As long as I’m there, I can write what I see or hear. Generally, I respect when people say “off the record” because I know what they mean but I don’t have to. And I haven’t come across an instance when someone has said “off the record” and revealed anything worthwhile to write about. However, if someone were to say, “off the record: I’m Illuminati,” then I’m most definitely putting it down in the story. So if you don’t want something in a story, then just don’t say it. Because there’s nothing stopping me from writing it down.

[Ed. Note: Still confused? NYU’s journalism school–which is very reputable–has some textbook definitions on “off the record” and the similar “on background” here.]

2. You Are Not The Editor – Again, your only job is to go about your life and get interviewed. That means that as the writer, I’m never, ever, ever going to show you the article before it’s published. And asking otherwise is a telltale amateur move. Also, you don’t get to look at the pictures you take to see which one gets in the magazine. That never happens. Basically, your appearance is in the publication’s hands. Speaking of…

3. Treat Your Interviewer Well – Basically, the only point of view people will see about you is mine. If you’re a dickhead in the interview process, then I get to make you look like a dickhead. Your quotes only make up about 10-20 percent of the story. The rest is other people’s quotes and my experience hanging out with you. So if you’re treating me like crap, I get to repay you with glorious syntax.

4. Schedule Early – I’m on a deadline here. So if you postpone the interview for a week or two, then that only gives me a couple of days to write a long story about you. And if I only have a couple of days to write about you, the story will be absolute sh*t.

5. Help Out – If the journalist doesn’t ask for it (which he probably should), then you should offer a list of 3-5 names he or she should interview. Give him your mom’s number, some friends, anyone who could offer insight on the story. That way, the journalist isn’t wasting time digging for numbers you already have access to.

6. Do Something Interesting – When the journalist tries to schedule the face-to-face, try to have him or her come when you have something interesting going on. It just makes for a better story. Even if you don’t have anything great to do, make up something. It gives me some good stories and more fodder. And as a journalist, I really don’t want to write 2,000 words about you smoking weed and watching “Family Guy.”

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