Almost exactly a month ago, a nice writer emailed me about an article she was writing on taking a break from social media, and asking if I could answer some questions for it. I get these kinds of requests regularly, and my attitude is shaped by the old politician’s saying about local events: I’ll appear at the opening of an envelope.
So a couple days later I got a couple questions, sent back my answers, and didn’t think much about it. Then, just before Thanksgiving, the article came out in Health Magazine, complete with excellent illustration.
A few days later, it got translated into Dutch… then Turkish… then appeared on a Web sites in Nigeria and Australia and Malaysia… and Huffington Post… and yesterday, Time picked it up. [Update 1: Now ABC News has it in slide show form. Update 2: Spanish, Croatian, Indonesian, and I think Hungarian. ]
It may seen like a case of “Hey, I’m world famous!” but watching this piece spread in places I’ve never heard of, with no involvement on my own part, undermines that feeling. It’s a textual Roomba bouncing around the Internet’s kitchen. I’m just the cat dressed as a shark.
This also illustrates the most important thing I’ve learned about dealing with media requests: There’s no such thing as a small media request.
You never know which pieces are going to blow up (or at least get republished a lot), and which ones will land with no impact whatsoever. Some outlets turn out to have insanely good syndication: I had no idea until now, but it seems that Health has a terrifyingly wide range of syndication deals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the article ends up read by Mongolian herders, the crews of Russian icebreakers, and dolphins.
You also don’t know if the person who has a few questions and Thursday deadline has a YouTube channel with a million followers, or is South Africa’s biggest advice columnist, or is having coffee with a New York Times assignments editor and could build a piece around your work, or is a struggling freelancer who could use a break. It’s just too big a world for you to have heard of everyone who’s widely-read, or whose words have influence. So be nice to everybody.
Finally, if you’re going to be funny and notable, don’t let it be at the expense of your advice. You don’t want a memorable bad quote. Just as you need to be nice to everybody, you need to take all requests equally seriously. You might think the questions are poorly-phrased, or rehashes of questions you’ve been asked a thousand times before, or barely better than the questions Ali G would ask. You know what? Take it seriously anyway. I’m not exactly Samuel Johnson when I’m on deadline, and you should assume that what you say will be quoted.