What to do when you are called by the New York Times

Posted by on Sep 2, 2016 in blog | 2 comments

The initial contact was by email. The journalist, Alina Tugend, wrote that she was writing an article for the New York Times about the business of personal history and would I consent to be interviewed. One of my clients, also mentioned in the article, had referred her to me.

I called Alina back immediately… point #1:  don’t wait to call the journalist back, even if you feel “unprepared.” I told her I would be delighted to be interviewed and asked when would she like to speak with me. (I would have rescheduled almost anything on my calendar for this!)

Then the work, not the worry, began. If the New York Times calls you don’t waste a single moment worrying about how this is going to turn out (if you can help it, and if you can’t, just know that thinking ahead is your best way to be prepared and ready.)  Sit down with yourself and identify three or four things you would MOST like for the journalist to include about you in the article.  For me that was that…

  1. I teach client-finding business skills to personal historians / memory savers
  2. I have been teaching since 2003
  3. My contact information – website, google keywords
  4. What I teach

If you look at the article, you can see that I got most of what I wanted… but not all… despite my best efforts.  This par for the course in being one of several people interviewed for an article.  The article link is below:

“Have a Story to tell?  Your Personal Memoirist is here!”

You need to remember that the journalist is going to have her own list of questions that may or may not touch on the things you want most to speak about. This is a dance between you and the journalist! If  you keep trying to steer the conversation the way you want it to go, you are going to lose the journalist’s interest. But if you keep answering clearly, the journalist will keep talking to you.

When you are being interviewed, remember that it is okay to think before you answer… just don’t keep the journalist waiting too long.  You will be asked questions you didn’t anticipate.  It is even okay to say you don’t know.  For the Times article the journalist asked me the statistics on how many personal historians (APH members) quit after a year.  I don’t know that information but I could give her two examples of people I have worked with who came to the conclusion that being a personal  historian was not for them – and this was a good thing for them to identify.

Remember to keep your answers as short and concise as you can make them.

I remember years ago I had a personal history client in the Bay Area who got interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. We prepped before she was interviewed and got several bullet points written down in advance. The prep work paid off! Of the 5 personal historians mentioned in the article, my client was quoted the most.  And her business took off after the article!

One thing I learned by reading that article was that my client was quoted on all the positives. Someone else had a lot of negative things to say and he was quoted on them. So be careful if you have strong negative opinions… think about how they will appear in print if the journalist remembers them – but nothing else – because of the strength of your expressed emotion!

Finally, this journalist contacted me three times after the interview to get facts straight. I could have been more succinct in my answers one time! In my effort to be clear, I got too wordy. The only part of the New York Times article that was not accurate about me was from that answer where I “rambled.” The journalist condensed what I said in a way that made the quote not say what I hoped it would.  So be careful!!!!

But the experience was thrilling and I am now thinking about how I can take advantage of the publicity in my marketing. I would like to especially reach out to people who are considering starting a memory saving business and who, perhaps, have never heard of the Association of Personal Historians! Hmmm… where are they?  How can I reach them?


  1. I was gobsmacked by the Times Article about the memory saving business, and have been asking myself, how do I get into this business? So, your blog, Google, and the Times worked!

    • Dear Mariah, (and anyone else who read the New York Times article and are now curious/interested about the personal history profession.) I would be very happy to talk to you about what is involved in starting a personal history business. My email address is below. I don’t charge anything for these kinds of conversations and I will do my best to answer your questions about business start-up. Being a Personal Historian and helping others save their life stories and family memories is VERY rewarding! If I can help you get started on the right track, please take me up on my offer. Best regards! Dhyan Atkinson (Dhyan at DhyanAtkinson dot com)

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