Mark Twain on interviews

I don’t entirely agree with this rediscovered Mark Twain piece about journalistic interviews, but it made me sit back and laugh anyway:

No one likes to be interviewed, and yet no one likes to say no; for interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy. I must not be understood to mean that they ever come consciously to destroy or are aware afterward that they have destroyed; no, I think their attitude is more that of the cyclone, which comes with the gracious purpose of cooling off a sweltering village, and is not aware, afterward, that it has done that village anything but a favor. The interviewer scatters you all over creation, but he does not conceive that you can look upon that as a disadvantage. People who blame a cyclone, do it because they do not reflect that compact masses are not a cyclone’s idea of symmetry.

Personally, I’ve always found the best interviews were more like conversations than interviews. The worst interviews were with people who thought they could call all the shots on every aspect of the encounter and how it would be written. I guess they thought they could invite the cyclone into their homes and tell it where to go, then became upset when it didn’t work out that way.

Looking back on a couple of decades of journalistic work, I can say there are a few people I spoke with who might have felt they’d been visited by a cyclone. I can also say they needed the aggravation.

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