What I Learned From My First Time On TV
When I wrote the article Am I The Only Techie Opposed To Net Neutrality? I knew there might be a little controversy, and it might get some attention. Although the article got a decent amount of traffic, as of this posting the view count is still under 5,000. By contrast, my most widely read article has over 55,000 views. The article did get me my first ever hate email, which didn’t seek to make any point other than to call me an “idiot,” and there were a lot of good comments and I was able to have a great discussion with several folks with varying viewpoints. But the interesting part came when I got an email from the website DemocracyNow asking if I would be on a radio/TV program and debate the matter with Tim Karr from FreePress. I’ve never been interviewed for TV before. I was interviewed once for a podcast, but that’s as much media attention as I’ve received in a form that wasn’t written. I felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I jumped at the chance.
Once I accepted, I received this email:
Many thanks for speaking earlier! We look forward to having you on Democracy Now today (Thursday, May 15th). As I mentioned, you will be joined on the program by Tim Karr of Free Press. Please arrive at our studio by 7:45pm this evening sharp (7:45am in NYC). This is our Hong Kong studio:
AP Hong Kong
Central Plaza, Suite 4808, 48th floor,
18 Harbor Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong.
The LIVE position, from APTN`s bureau in Hong Kong, overlooks the harbour front skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island.
Note: This position is located within the bureau
Please keep in mind that we broadcast LIVE and this is both a TV and radio show, so you may wish to dress accordingly.
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I received this in the morning, so I had about 9 hours to prepare. As I started doing my research on DemocracyNow and Tim Karr, I realized I might be walking into an ambush. I might be the guy called on to be the punching bag to help those on one side of the issue simply make their side look like the only reasonable option. Now that the interview is over, I don’t think that was the case at all. But I spent much of the day researching the issue, talking to people in the industry, and making sure I had a clue what I was talking about so I didn’t make a complete fool of myself.
The studio, housed in the Associated Press offices, is the same one Glenn Greenwald used when he was in Hong Kong covering the Snowden affair. I arrived two hours early, just to be on the safe side, found out where the studio was, but then hung out in the lobby downstairs so that I wouldn’t bother anyone at AP. Plus I didn’t want to appear crazy for showing up hours early.
I got some work done on my laptop while I waited, and then a little at 7 pm headed back upstairs. When I arrived at the front door of the AP offices I rang the intercom and a woman came to open the door, looking a bit perplexed, and asked me why I was there. She explained she was just about to close up the office, and didn’t know who I was. But she made a quick phone call, verified that someone was expecting me, and that another person was on their way to handle everything. I chatted with the woman, who turned out to be Maria Ronson, a bit about net neutrality, a topic that isn’t well known outside the U.S., apparently. She also told me about Glenn Greenwald being in their office, and how he came in the weekend before all the Snowden news hit. The AP crew had filmed him, but at the time nobody knew who Glenn Greenwald was, nor Snowden. When the news exploded and everyone in the AP office was talking about it, one of the camera crew then remarked casually, “Oh yeah, that guy was here over the weekend and we filmed him,” and everyone in the office freaked out, “What?! He was here!? Why didn’t you tell us?!” Fun stuff.
Then the cameraman, I believe his name was Taz (sp?), showed up and the woman left. He took me to a studio which was really just a converted office.
— Joshua Steimle (@donloper) May 15, 2014
Yes, Greenwald did respond with a tweet of his own–”memories.”
Taz got me hooked up with one of those earpieces with the the spiral coil cord going down the back of my neck, which my wife said she couldn’t see. That was so I could hear the program. I sat in the chair shown above with, yes, a photo of Hong Kong behind me. The funny thing is the photo is, of course, fake, but that’s pretty much what is right behind me, albeit from a different angle. But there’s no way it would show up through the window, hence the photo background.
Here’s what I could see from where I was sitting.
That’s Taz behind the camera. To the right, just outside the frame, were two small TV monitors showing me what the camera could see. Except they weren’t directly facing me, so I couldn’t see them very well, and they were there for Taz, not me. So I had no idea what was on the screen during the segment.
I told Taz this was my first time doing anything like this, and asked him what mistakes first-timers make. He said the big mistake people make is to not look at the camera. He told me to stare into the camera the entire time and never move my eyes from it until he told me I was done.
At 8 pm my time, 8 am ET, the show started. The first 10 minutes were general news updates, so I wasn’t on at first. During this time I heard multiple voices in my earpiece testing the mic and making sure everything was working correctly. Apparently there was a 5-second delay they were trying to get rid of, so they kept counting from 1 to 10 and had me repeat the numbers right after they said each one to test things out. In the end they weren’t entirely able to get rid of the delay, which may have made things somewhat distracting.
When the show started I had no idea who the moderator was. In fact, I haven’t even watched the video yet myself, so I still don’t know what everything looked like. My wife says Tim was in studio with the moderator, which I wasn’t aware of during the segment. I assumed he was somewhere else, like I was. I also couldn’t see the video clips they showed during our segment. When I was asked to respond, I could only respond to the audio which I heard through the earpiece.
Was I nervous? Yes and no. I believe I gulped when the camera first turned on to me. I couldn’t help it, and then I immediately thought “Oh great, that big swallow probably made me look totally nervous.” And when I first started talking I felt like there was a quiver in my voice, and I felt my chin tremble a bit. But it was as though I was separate from my body. My body was nervous, or had adrenalin flowing through it, but in my mind I felt fine.
I feel pretty good about my performance, not having watched it yet. I felt like I was at about 70% of the ideal I had in my head. I was happy to get some of my main points out at the very beginning, especially my line “The telecoms are bad, the government is worse, how do we put bad and worse together and end up with better?” Hopefully it was understandable to those watching. It seemed clever in my head, perhaps more so than in reality. If there was one point I wanted to drive home, it was that Net Neutrality legislation means more government involvement and since the government can’t be trusted, any additional government involvement is bad, regardless of the legislation itself. I’m also glad I led off explaining that I wasn’t opposed to net neutrality as a principle, only as legislation, because I’m sure many net neutrality proponents assumed I was on the side of the telecoms and opposed to the very idea. I wanted to dispel that notion right from the beginning.
I noticed as I spoke that I was waving my arms around, even though they weren’t visible on the TV. I tried to stop doing it, and found I couldn’t. An interesting phenomenon and something I’ll have to practice more on.
My wife got some PR advice many years ago about how when you go into an interview you should have your main 2-3 points you want to get across, and no matter what you’re asked you guide the conversation back to those things. I tried to do this, and do it as fast I could in case I didn’t have the chance to later, and hopefully I didn’t come across as just wanting to talk about my own thing rather than answer the questions the moderator was asking. I felt like I was giving reasonable answers from my side of things, but I don’t know how it came across to others.
The ending was a bit of a disappointment. I was talking about how regulations hurt smaller companies, but I didn’t make it clear that I was talking about smaller ISPs, not startups generally. My point was that regulations on the telecoms may hurt the telecoms, but they hurt small ISPs worse than they hurt telecoms, so the regulations end up driving out competition and innovation that would be brought to market by ISP entrepreneurs, and further entrenches the position of the larger telecoms. I was then waiting for them to come back to me so I could clarify, but the segment ran out of time and that was the end of it and I never had the chance.
And that was it. Taz said, “Ok, bye,” and I walked out of the office and went home. Here are videos of the segment. The first is an edited version, just under 7 minutes, while the second is the entire segment, around 35 minutes long. A full transcript is available here.
So, what did I learn?
1. It pays to get there early.
2. It pays to prepare. I wouldn’t have been able to answer questions as well in the segment as I had if I hadn’t spent a few hours responding to comments on the Forbes article.
3. Have your two or three points you want to get across. Make them short and concise, and get them out early.
4. Keep your eyes on the camera.
5. Pay attention. My mind has a tendency to drift. Once or twice during the segment I found myself thinking about something other than what the moderator was saying. That could have resulted in an embarrassing moment of “I’m sorry, can you repeat that? I totally wasn’t listening.”
After watching the segment, what are your thoughts? Is there anything I should have learned? What can I do to improve the results the next time around?