Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Race, Creed, and Interviews

Yesterday, I conducted a mass email campaign for one of my clients. She's a novelist, and we had written a Valentine's Day pitch. We scored several interviews, and received even more interest from producers who wanted to receive the book and media kit. But one response just made me cringe.

"Is your author a [fill in the religion]," asked this particular producer. "I'd love to schedule an interview with her if she is, but I'll have to pass on the opportunity if she isn't." The producer went on to explain that her show incorporated a particular system of beliefs into all interviews, and if the author did not live according to that belief set, he or she wouldn't fit into the program.

This type of response from producers and editors is not unusual, but I'll never get used to it. Participating in a dialogue with a media decisionmaker who wants to know what religion my client subscribes to (or how tall she is, or what her skintone is, and so forth) is one of the ugliest parts of my job, and it's taken me years to know how to respond.

I think, yesterday, I hit on the solution. First, I checked in with my client and asked whether she might want me to respond in the affirmative ("Yes, my client is a fill-in-the-blank"). The client wisely (I think) wanted no part of it. Therefore, I emailed the producer and told her that, while I appreciated her interest, few of my clients fit her requirements, and it would therefore probably be best for all concerned if I removed her from my mailing list. I carbon copied my client on that email, and then I removed the producer from my media database. In doing so, I ensured that no future clients will ever be in the position of being screened by this producer on the basis of their religions. Ideally, I'll be able to use this technique in the future to create a media database free of those who would discriminate on the basis of someone's race, creed, and the like.

Don't get me wrong. I understand why there has to be a match between the media outlet and an author. I'm probably not going to book a client who wants to talk about a potential bird flu epidemic on an entertainment program. And I don't blame producers for wanting to know something about an author's background before they offer to schedule an interview. And, hey, I don't even mind when a woman's radio program insists on receiving only pitches about women authors.

But that's different from declining an interview with an author on the basis of race, creed, height, weight, hair length, eye color, or shoe size. My thinking is this: Any media decisionmaker who screens experts for reasons such as these is the gatekeeper for a media outlet I wouldn't want to deal with. Would you?

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