What Kevin Spacey Can Teach Journalists About Interviewing

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Before I begin, shout out to my former Newhouse classmate Meera Jagannathan for inspiring this piece (she shared the interview on Facebook). Appropriate that it comes from one of the most impressive interviewers I know. True story: I once covered the 2012 presidential election night at the Syracuse Democratic Committee party with Meera and a few other students, and I nearly flubbed my own interview because I got so distracted watching her interview prowess out of the corner of my eye.

Anyway, Kevin Spacey. You know him from films like American Beauty and Seven, and more recently as the affectionally maniacal Frank Underwood on House of Cards—his best work yet, if you ask me. But if you’re a journalist, as I’ve come to realize very recently, then you know him as a pain-in-the-ass interviewee. The thing about Kevin Spacey is he’s profoundly brilliant, obnoxiously so. He makes you feel wrong even when you’re not. He makes you feel stupid even when you’re not. He makes you feel inept at your profession even when you’re not. I only just found this out whilst reading his interview with Rachel Dodes for the Wall Street Journal. Rachel Dodes has been reporting for over a decade, she’s interviewed countless big names and, in her role as the WSJ film features writer, has spoken with dozens of actors. But none like Kevin Spacey.

I’ve also interviewed many, many people. And probably about 60 percent of those interviews taught me that even the most basic things can go ridiculously wrong. Your interviewee might forget to call/email to reschedule and leave you waiting awkwardly in a company’s lobby for over 15 minutes. Your recorder you swore had full battery when you checked 30 times before leaving your apartment dies a minute into the interview—and you don’t even realize ’till you go to transcribe. Then there’s my absolute favorite: your interviewee could be one of those men- or women-of-so-few-words type. Or the kind that spends two minutes in uncomfortable silence pondering the answer to a question only to give you a 10-word response. Interview fail. And, really, there’s nothing  J-school or anyone can teach you to prepare for any of it. Not even degrees from the London School of Economics or Cornell saved Dodes from her painful interview with Spacey. But Spacey himself; he could’ve. Here’s how.

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Why Young Journalists Need to Read Rookie Mag’s Jane Pratt Interview

Olivia Hall/Rookie Mag

Olivia Hall/Rookie Mag

I had Rookie Mag’s recent interview with Jane Pratt sitting in my tabs for over a week before I decided to finally sit down and digest it last night. Because I’m an idiot who doesn’t recognize career-affirming advice when it’s staring me in the face from my laptop screen. For some context to my readers unfamiliar with the two subjects mentioned in the headline (glad that didn’t deter you from reading), Rookie Mag is an online mecca for teen girls founded by Tavi Gevinson who represents everything I wish I had the guts to be at her age (17). And Jane Pratt founded the groundbreaking women’s magazines Sassy and Jane before taking her talents to new media two years ago and starting xojane, which to me is one of the most important online resources to learn about, understand, and appreciate the female human experience ever created.

As a journalist in the, well, rookie years of my career, I’m constantly on the hunt for articles and interviews with journalists I’m impressed with or inspired by. I’ve read so many stories about Jane Pratt before but none have been as refreshing and enlightening as this one and, surprisingly, it’s only a Q&A. But Anaheed Alani, the editor who conducted this interview, is great as what she does and so her questions dig at the side of Jane Pratt we rarely get insight on: her life pre-Sassy as an up-and-coming editor with a passion for telling real-women stories in a world where those stories are often dismissed. Then again, most of the stories I read about women journalists like Jane are written by men, so I can’t be shocked when they focus more on her editing prowess rather than her rise to that notoriety.

You don’t have to like or even care about Jane Pratt but if you’re a young journalist, you need to read this interview and know how she got to where she is today. Or if you like to read success stories, then this one’s perfect for you too. I know from going to J-school and working in the field that getting an education in this industry goes far beyond a year or four’s worth of college credits. You need to do your research and figure out why you care about journalism. And that is why I urge young journalists, especially women, to read this interview.

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