I recently sent an email to the Boston Voyager asking them not to run the article they were planning on publishing about me. It wasn’t because I had accidentally said something in the interview that I didn’t want anybody to see, it’s because it wasn’t a real interview.
These Voyager interviews pop up all the time. A lot of my friends and acquaintances have been doing them and I had been starting to wonder if I would ever get to do one. It’s not that the Voyager is a particularly prestigious publication, I mostly just wanted to feel included. Then my partner got asked to do an interview and not long afterwards I got the email asking if I would be interested in having an article written about me. “Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.”
The person who had contacted me then sent me a link to a questionnaire, explaining that they’d like me to fill it out and then they’d be in touch with some follow up questions. At the time this made a lot of sense to me. I assumed that they knew very little about me and this would allow them to get some more basic facts down before having a real interview. The questionnaire was nothing more than some generic questions about my “business.” I was confused because I don’t own a business. I’m self employed as a piano teacher and composer but I’m not running a business in the traditional sense. So when questions about my pricing or potential sales for readers came up I wasn’t sure what to say so I just ignored it. There were some pretty bland questions about “my story” but the end of the questionnaire really took me aback. They asked me to list 5 people I thought they should do stories on and that’s when I realized that I wasn’t doing this because the writer was interested in my work, it was because someone else (my partner) wrote my email address down.
“I guess it’s still not a big deal,” I thought, “Any publicity is good publicity.” And so I finished filling out the survey and sent it off. Then my partner’s story came out. I had been under the impression that the writer was going to send me follow up questions based on my answers to the questionnaire. I think this was a fair assumption because that’s literally what they told me. Then I saw my partner’s article and saw that they had just copied and pasted their answers and made up some questions to make it seem like they had had a real discussion. What’s even worse is that there were parts where they obviously didn’t even read their answers and just typed a question. Maybe I’m naive or maybe I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the other articles I had seen about my friends and colleagues but as I went back through different articles I realized that every question asked was a variation on the same thing. Or sometimes it was just a cut and paste and more often than not the question had nothing to do with the answer.
So I emailed the writer who had contacted me and I said, “Hi. I was under the impression that you would be sending me some follow up questions for the story. Based on other articles I’ve seen I believe that that’s not the case. If you would like to have a real interview please feel free to give me a call so we can chat. Otherwise I’d prefer for my article not to be printed.” The writer wrote back, “Okay.”
I don’t want any of my friends or colleagues who might read this to think I’m trying to badmouth them for going forward with their articles. That’s not my intention at all. I just feel that an interview should be a real discussion. I’m certainly not in a position to be choosy about where I’m getting press, but I’ve also been around the block enough times on this issue to know whether or not I’m at a loss for not getting press from a certain outlet. And it actually wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if it was just that I filled out a silly form and they printed an article. But what’s actually happening when they ask you to give them email addresses of others they should talk to (the questionnaire actually won’t submit without FIVE of these responses) they’re just getting you to do their work for them. The Boston Voyager SHOULD be a publication that’s supporting its community, and that means actually going places and meeting people and learning about what’s moving the city forward. The way it stands right now is that it might as well be run by bots. Actually for all I know and for all the interaction I actually had with the site, I might have been having an email conversation with a bot.