Lately I’ve been writing a lot of profile pieces. These are stories that focus on one person or a small group. It can sometimes be more exhausting to write a few, thoughtful profile pieces than it is to hammer out lots of quick fact-driven news pieces, but I welcome them. I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories.
Here’s a few of the criteria I use when I’m deciding who to interview next:
Be an expert
When I was drafting my article about how cosplayers use social networks to get jobs, I knew there would be no higher authority on the subject than my friend and mentor, Steven Savage. Steven literally wrote the book on cosplay careers, making him the perfect source for the topic. It’s unlikely that I could find somebody more knowledgable, no matter where I looked.
Generally, it’s not a good idea for journalists to interview their friends. In my experience, however, I’ve learned to break that rule. Not all the time, but there are instances in which a familiar source is my best bet. Those instances are almost always when that connection is an expert on the particular subject I need to cover.
That’s the difference between a journalist and a press liaison: a source’s relationship with a reporter needs to be symbiotic. I don’t go out of my way to promote friends or acquaintances for no reason, but I always need experts for my stories. That’s why Help A Reporter Out is such a great program. If you want to be in the news, make your expertise known.
At first, I wasn’t sure if Misa on Wheels was a story. I stumbled on her Facebook page through a link from a Tumblr blog, and was immediately fascinated by her story and her position as a motivational figure in the cosplay community.
However, I’ve gotten almost too good at second guessing my instincts for a fandom story. I’ve got a soft spot for fandom, so I figure just because I find something interesting doesn’t mean it’ll entice a general audience. Doubtful, I showed it to my editor, and he told me to run with it. I wrote the story and it became the most popular item published today.
What makes Misa’s story such a popular profile piece when other people’s wouldn’t be? She’s already had a following of thousands. I already had proof that she could motivate people in her own community, so it was a safe bet that she’d be able to inspire people outside of it, too.
Reporters don’t make news, they share it. I’d like to flatter myself that a profile piece by me would turn a person with zero audience into an overnight sensation, but that simply isn’t true. That’s why it’s helpful to have proof of a subject’s power to inspire.
Be really, really weird
When I do find something that both I and the mainstream media find interesting, I often don’t like it for the same reasons. For example, bronies fascinate me because of their enthusiasm, leading to a prolific fanart and fanfiction output like no fandom before. But I realize other people might look at the group as a whole and see a freak show. That’s what guarantees them a media spotlight.
Generally, everyone likes a good freak show to gawk at. It’s like I wrote about in a previous blog post, How a civil war reenactment is like an anime convention. The TV reporters were looking for the most beautiful and weirdest people to interview. People love to hear about religious fanatics, two faced kittens, even your waifu; anything that has the power to shock and outrage. If you’re weird enough, you can pretty much guarantee an interview.
There’s a downside to being selected as the media’s latest freak, though. It’s press, but it won’t necessarily make you look good. And regardless of the subject at hand, people are going to want to hear all about your sex life. But these profiles almost always turn out to be much bigger hits than profiles on experts or inspirational figures. It depends on whether you think the risk is worth it.