How About This Year 1 - the interview retrospective
Taking a look at the interviews and Q&As that appeared in How About This during its first year of publication
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost one year since the first post ofon May 3, 2022! I started with a few simple posts and then as I became more confident in what I was doing I moved beyond simple essays and musings to other content. This post is a retrospective on the interviews that I did during Year One of this newsletter. Note: this post will be a bit lengthy so if you’re reading it by email it may exceed the length allowed in Gmail. You may have to use the option to open the email in a browser to see the whole thing - your email reader will provide you with a link to see the whole post if needed.
Method and meaning
I’ve done a number of email interviews in the past, especially on my late blogs Broadcasting Brain and Thoughtwrestling. I’ve leveraged that previous experience to do interviews for this newsletter. I typically send the interview subject ten questions. Many times I’ll reuse questions (or variations thereof) on interviews but I always try to find something unique for each person. The one exception to this rule is the last question, which is the same for every interview subject. We’ll come back to that later in this post.
Interviews (really more like Q&A pieces when done by Email) are a way to generate content for a blog or newsletter that, in some ways, is easier than sitting down and generating your own essays and posts. But in other ways interviews can be more challenging because to do them well you have to:
Research the person that you’re interviewing
Think of questions that would be interesting to the reader without being tedious to the interviewee
Do follow ups (sometimes several follow ups are needed, depending on how busy your interview subject is)
Format the interview so that it’s visually appealing and intersperse photos and images that hopefully add to the experience.
Align with the interviewee on the final content, including when it will be published)
The last point is very important to me. When I do an email interview or Q&A I feel it’s critical to preserve the exact responses the person provided, corrected only for grammar and spelling where it makes sense. Obviously it’s easy to do that when they send you their reply by email but there are little things you can do as the interviewer, like separating their text into paragraphs and other formatting, plus adding images, which can make the interview more visually appealing.
At the same time, giving the subject a final chance to review their text allows them to rethink what they intended to convey with their replies. In a couple of cases, the people that I interviewed provided some significant changes to their replies which improved the final result.
Interviews, to me at least, are not just about providing content to hit a publication schedule. They’re a way to showcase someone who is doing interesting or important work (often both). I always hope that one of my interviews shines a spotlight on a deserving person, giving them some beneficial exposure. I hope the interviews are also entertaining and informative.
Sometimes I have selfish reasons to do an interview. It’s a way to reach out and make contact with someone who’s interesting, someone who I admire who I’ll probably never get a chance to meet in person. It’s a way to learn more about them. In some small way I hope that by asking them interesting questions, questions that they might not get asked very often, I’ll entertain them a bit and make the experience rewarding.
I still have a few dream interviews that I’d like to do. Maybe someday.
Let’s be clear about one thing, though: I’m not a journalist. I’m not trying to seek out hidden truth, expose dark secrets or embarrass anyone. I’m also not trying to build a reputation based on who I’m talking to and trying to exert power over them. I’m just trying to create an experience that’s not too difficult for me or the person I’m interviewing and I’m trying to create an end result that you, the reader, will enjoy.
I’m also not doing interviews to flatter people or butter them up, as the saying goes. It’s easy to tell when the interviewer is posing questions in a way that’s intended to flatter or praise the interview subject, like the interviewer is awestruck and almost tongue-tied. That’s just not my style. To me, everyone I interview is another person like me who deserves respect and consideration but plying them with false flattery or exaggerating things would just make my skin crawl. And, to be fair, if an interviewer is visibly fawning over you and looking like they’re sucking up to you, it looks less like an honest attempt at communication. It just looks fake to me.
On the other hand, if I ever get to do one of these dream interviews, I’ll probably be sweating bullets and trying to hide my admiration until the point when it bursts out and I’ll look like a fool.
It would be a small price to pay though. :)
I published 56 interviews this year, most of them in the first eight months. That’s… a lot for a part-time gig. But this was very rewarding work and I learned a lot of really interesting things by trading questions and answers with these fine folks.
Almost of this year’s interviews were done by email. Sometimes I just sent the list of 10 questions all at once. Over time I adopted different approaches: either sending the questions one at a time or, more often, sending two batches of five questions, where the second batch of questions was inspired by the first set of replies.
The one exception to the process was the interview I conducted over a Zoom session with Anne Theriault, where we both agreed that email wasn’t going to work for us. I was a little nervous about doing the interview but fortunately I’ve done enough online meetings that we got through it OK. That was the interview that I edited the most because, as you can probably understand, verbal interviews are often less polished than when you get a chance to write and edit everything up front. You get more pauses and filler words when you’re actually talking to someone so it just looks and reads better with editing. It’s more work for me to do interviews this way but it’s definitely a rewarding experience.
I’d like to do more real time, verbal interviews in the future, we’ll see what opportunities arise!
I’m including links to all of the interviews - they’re arranged in groups. Keep reading to the end: I’ve prepared some special excerpts for your enjoyment!
People of Atlantic Canada (all walks of life)
Katy Jean - writer and local Twitter personality (Nova Scotia)
Dawn Mockler - physiotherapist and cartoonist (New Brunswick)
Cindy Hall - librarian, volunteer and drummer (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Adam Drake - oyster farmer (Prince Edward Island)
Cheryl MacDonald - professor (Nova Scotia)
James Fisher - MRI technologist and book review site founder (New Brunswick)
Bill Short - rock painter (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Tara Taylor - professor (Nova Scotia)
Ray Harris - data analytics entrepreneur (New Brunswick)
Jarvis Googoo - Indigenous communicator and long-distance runner (Nova Scotia)
KM Cooper - entrepreneur/creator (New Brunswick)
Sal Sawler - author (Nova Scotia)
Jenna Lyn Albert - poet, activist (New Brunswick)
Elizabeth aka mama_ezekiel - baker (Prince Edward Island)
Alysson Hasson - forecaster and author (New Brunswick)
Pamela Marie Pierce - artist (New Brunswick)
Leisha Toorey - student and activist/volunteer (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Bruce MacNaughton - entrepreneur/writer (Prince Edward Island)
Nancy Quinn - book store owner/operator (Prince Edward Island)
PoPNB - interview with one of the organizers of Protect Our Province New Brunswick, a volunteer group that worked on lobbying the provincial government for more transparency about the COVID-19 pandemic and also advocated for improved public health measures.
Atlantic Canadian Writers (via their Writers Federations)
Jeanne Armstrong (CBC Radio, morning show host)
Julia Wright (CBC Radio, morning show host)
Nora Young (CBC Radio, host of Spark)
James MacLeod (various Canadian media)
Paul Wells (formerly MacLeans magazine, now independent)
Soaring Twenties Social Club members
Other Creatives/Entrepreneurs/Writers/Newsletter Publishers
Nikhil Rajagopalan - newsletter publisher
David J. Loehr - playwright/podcaster
Anne Theriault - writer, feminist, history aficionado
Leon Conrad - writer/educator
MarkFyve - newsletter publisher
Bryan Padrick - educator, newsletter publisher
Ron Sexsmith - Canadian singer/songwriter
Mo Bekdache - co-founder, Dingbats* Notebooks
Jillian Hess - professor, author, newsletter publisher
Brian Reindel - newsletter publisher
Anne-Laure LeCunff - enterpreneur/PhD candidate
William Edwards - newsletter publisher
Kathleen Sykes - freelancer/newsletter publisher
One more thing (or several, actually)
If you’ve read a few of my interviews you’ve probably noticed that I end each one with the following question (or something very similar):
Pretend you wake up one morning to find the internet destroyed. What’s the first thing that you do?
Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite answers!
Paint. And knock on doors to show random people what I’ve done. Haha!
Encourage people to revisit libraries for information- of course! Actually, the more you think about that the more you realize it's not just a form of social interaction and information but how we live. From home security to banking - it would disrupt our current existence and it's too much to think about .....next question. haha
I would make sure I still had access to my music because I’m not sure that it would still be available offline and that’s a terrifying thought!
Then I would call my Mom to make sure it’s not just me experiencing the destroying of the internet. After that, I would have an anxiety attack over the loss of email and Netflix. Then I would probably eat comfort food.
David J. Loehr:
If the Internet has been destroyed, I might try to reinvent it. It’s made life easier here in the not-Pawnee, not-Hawkins portion of Indiana, and I can say it literally changed my life—without Twitter, I might not have made the same theatre connections I have or built the audience I have let alone fallen into podcasting. So I might try to make an internet again. But that first morning? I’d probably make some hot tea, pull out a yellow pad and a Blackwing pencil, and start making notes. It’s a good habit to get into for a writer.
I’d try to treat it like a normal day: get up, have breakfast, read my book. I guess I don't have a job anymore, so that just sucks. And I guess we'll have to figure out who's leading the kind of grassroots back to print media revolution that we will need.
In a post Internet era I guess I'll have to make some phone calls Not that I ever call anybody on the phone, but there you go. Although without the Internet planes would be crashing.
I wake up one morning, I switch on my phone. I notice there’s no internet signal. Weird.
I get out of bed, curious to find the answer. I switch on my computer, still no internet. Weird.
I go downstairs. I notice an official-looking memo posted through my door. It’s simple, but serious. It looks real.
“During the last 24 hours, the UK Government has taken the decision to permanently disable access to the internet for all UK citizens. We’re sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.”
I re-read the short note. I smile. I nod. I speak, to nobody in particular.
“Thank fuck that whole weird internet saga is over. We really got lost in the weeds for a while. I suppose I’ll just go for a walk then.”
Thomas J. Bevan:
Following a little victory dance I would have a cup of tea and then dust off my typewriter and type some letters to post to the STSC members whose addresses I have. The main point of discussion would be how are we going to leverage the death of the internet to make the STSC even better.
I would probably call my mom, and ask if she’s heard the news. Then I would go out my front door and go for a walk and intercept any person I saw and ask if they heard, and how they were dealing with it. Then in a panic, I’d realize I need to get as much cash out as possible.
The banks would no doubt be overflowing with people, so I’d probably give up, go home, dust off my pile of records, put on Astral Weeks, lie on my carpet and contemplate my existence without the internet.
I think a lot of people underestimate how much of the world functions on the internet. The phone system and the electricity grid would probably be down, food supply chains would be messed up, and the water system in Toronto would probably be in trouble before too long.
Honestly if the internet had been permanently taken out of action I’d probably try to steal a bike and make it up to my parents’ farm where they grow a lot of their own vegetables. With luck things would be fixed before the weather got cold, but I wouldn’t want to be in Toronto without internet.
Dane Benko (DB):
My brain breaks over follow-up questions of HOW it's been destroyed, which would be extremely different contexts. For the most part anything that would be human caused, I'd probably not know what was going on and would head into work as usual. I currently work in broadcast television so despite the fact that losing the Internet would cause some major workflow issues, in the end the systems worked pre-Internet and have some of that architecture. And it would be fascinating to work in news while the world figured out what happened and reacted to the Internet disappearing... and who caused it.
If it was something like a world-wide outage from an EMP from a sun flare, well, broadcast television won't work either. And neither will the electricity in my apartment or neighborhood. So in that situation I have food, water, and sanitary supplies stocked up for in case anything goes down for about two weeks. After that is a case-by-case basis. Right now's a good time to point out that EMP resilience is a necessary grid upgrade the US and countries world wide are severely procrastinating on, especially as gas and oil generation goes by the wayside and more and more devices on the grid and the home are electrified. Just saying.
But I assume the question is more spiritual: how reliant am I on the Internet? It's hard to say. As I mentioned previously, I am a digital filmmaker, so much of digital architecture is also Internet architecture (for instance, Adobe Creative Cloud X_X ). Similar as above, does no Internet mean no computers? Then everything changes and takes a ton of time and thought to adapt. Too many opportunities and setbacks to sum up.
In my personal life however, not much changes. I read books, go on walks with my wife, have a DVD and Blu-Ray collection for movies, some old fashioned CDs and assuming computers a digital library of music. I write letters to friends and have many people to call, and even still memorize a few phone numbers. So outside the Internet, I just keep living my life.
Blame myself for not hoarding enough MP3s.
Breathe a sigh of relief: peace at last!
From a communications point of view it would obviously be a bit of a blow, but we communicated perfectly well before the internet so we could start to re-learn old skills, and perhaps become used to life proceeding at a slower pace.
As far as writing is concerned, I would spend my time pitching articles to magazines, and self-publishing books which I would then try to sell at conferences or in libraries.
I’m not suggesting any of this would be easy, but it wouldn’t exactly be Armageddon. Having said that, I do worry about how dependent we, by which I mean whole countries, people and systems, have become on the internet. I hope that there are contingency plans in place should there be a massive disaster that knocks the internet out of commission.
This is a great question. First, definitely a deep belly laugh, probably waking everyone up doing so as well. I would put the kettle on and make some coffee. I only work three days a week so if it was a work day I would get out two mugs, but if I wasn't working I would probably forgo coffee and celebrate by having an early morning cider.
During lockdown we moved our sofas around to face each other so that we could have conversations over coffee directly facing each other. So I would settle into my sofa and let my partner take hers and I would laugh as we compare the effects on our lives. There is a bit of a difference between going to an acre of woods to work with young people and going to manage a hospital, without email, without Teams, without google calendar, without google maps on the satnav so she might not even get there. I'd probably have to stop laughing pretty quickly though and comfort her as I can't imagine running a major hospital without the internet would be fun.
Honestly: get on the phone & booking some interviews for my radio story/TV about the (miraculous?) disappearance of the internet. Then disappear for a little while - sans phone - into the weird, crazy, beautiful world waiting out there.
Thank to all for participating in these interviews!
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