Tuesday, March 07, 2006

commentary: on working with the press

Chris T shared the following story with me:

I love this post. As a result of an experience I had once, I can really relate to press fear. I managed to break every one of these rules, but I somehow I lived, so I'll relate my sad story:

I was in college, and I found myself in a course with one of those professors who all the other professors think is crazy but the students love. This particular course was built on some eureka moment he had had about teaching philosophy in its original language, no matter how little of it we understood or how slowly we plodded through it. What struck some as sadism struck him as the next big thing in teaching methods, and of course his excitement dragged us along with him.

His technique was just unusual enough to catch the attention of the school daily, which sent a reporter to interview us. Our professor left us alone with her, confident that he'd soaked us deeply enough in his philosophy that we'd represent him just fine. Well, it soon became obvious to her that even in the company of blowhards I was uniquely incapable of keeping my mouth shut. Owing to this inability, she asked to interview me further -- and, owing to a different personality flaw, I consented.

I made every mistake in her followup. For some reason I kept talking whenever she remained silent. I answered questions she hadn't even bothered asking. I offered opinions and ruminations and pontifications until she cried mercy and hung up the phone. What had stuck with her, though, was the part where I dumbed down the explanation of the course until I got to something she could quote.

Of course, when I finally saw the piece run, I was appalled. While I had to admit I said all those things, I really didn't understand quite how stupid it would look until I saw it in print. But I wasn't just embarrassing myself spouting idiocy in public, I was also badly representing my professor's endeavor, and I was petrified. It seems silly now, but at the time I was sure that I had done something career-threateningly awful.

As soon as his office opened in the morning, I went to apologize. Before I could say anything, he thanked me. He told me couldn't have summarized the course's objectives any better himself! I was stunned, and I was still embarrassed about what I had said, but he seemed to think it hadn’t done any harm, or he at least had the kindness to say so. (Now, when reporters ask me questions, I can at least tell them that I speak no English.)

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