First, I did press interviews for many years before deciding not to do them. I was never happy with the process, but considered them a necessity, mostly because I was either a company executive or product promoter, or both. By accepting their terms, my name would get more exposure, I would become more famous, and presumably more credible. Since my name was attached to a product, and it was attached to a business model, being interviewed was a way to make money, in theory.
However, there was a negative side -- they rarely carried my point of view accurately. My quotes almost always made it appear as if I believed things I didn't. Sometimes I was portrayed as believing the opposite of what I believed. So while I might have been furthering my financial cause, I was often hurting the cause of truth.
Then in 2002, something changed -- I left my company, and since then, have been involved on a consulting basis, from time to time, with other people's products. But, mostly, the financial incentive was gone.
Another thing happened a few years before that -- I started blogging, and thus had a way to get my name and ideas out there, without going through the press. And when I write, my words can express exactly what I believe, and when they don't, I can run a follow-up. I didn't realize it at first, but the success of my blog made it unnecessary for me to accept the problems with doing press interviews.
Futher, I don't accept the theory of press interviews. Why should I give an exclusive to one reporter at the expense of all others? And why should I favor professionals over amateurs, over other bloggers? Why can't they read what I write on my blog, and choose soundbites from that material? They can, of course.
Some of them don't like this, they think that in an interview they can catch people in lies. I've had them actually say this to me. In all the years I had been cooperating with reporters, not one has caught me in a lie, nor would they be likely to, if I was deceiving them. Mostly they are unprepared for the interview, often they're not even listening (or so it seems). They certainly don't know the subject well enough to catch a liar. They explain themselves as they were heroes, as Woodward or Bernstein chasing Watergate. I think it's ludicrous. I think they are incapable of getting original stories, and mostly rewrite press releases, and never take chances with the favor of companies they need access to, therefore the stories mostly come out the same. There isn't very much courage or depth in today's press. I might do interviews again if I got the idea that a reporter was doing something worthwhile with their franchise.
In the press there's a presumption that they're honest and you're not. I guess this, when I finally fully understood it, was what got me to stop helping them. I think even when I was in the role of a company exec, I was more honest than most of the reporters I tried to work with. There's certainly no cause to treat me, by default, as if I was dishonest. Even a small fry like me doesn't have to cooperate these days. Maybe that's the fundamental contradiction of journalism today.
It got comical at times, especially since I had absolutely no business interest in the things I was talking about. For me the light came on when I was being grilled by a reporter, asked the same question over and over, while talking about the gadgets used at a friends' wedding. I kept trying to say I was doing everyone a favor by talking with the reporter, I had nothing to gain by the interview. To prove it, I asked not to be quoted in the piece.
These days, my policy re interviews is: 1. I don't do them. 2. If you want to tell me what you're interested in, I might write a blog post if I have something to say. You can quote the post freely, of course -- it's on the record and for attribution. 3. I might be willing to talk with you, but it will always be for background only. You can't quote anything I say. It'll be two equals having a discussion, not one person interviewing the other.
I made a different offer to Brendan Greeley of the Economist, a former colleague of mine at Berkman Center. I suggested he come on the weekly Rebooting the News podcast with myself and Jay Rosen. Most reporters wouldn't do this, not wanting to tip off their competitors. I never understood this, since they all write the same stories anyway. Rarely is there anything worth keeping secret, at least from my naive point of view. Brendan accepted, and he more or less got the interview he sought. It's a good show! And since it's all out there, we all win. No chance of me being misquoted. Of course when his story runs that's a whole other thing. We talk about that in the podcast. ">