Thursday 13: Dealing with fleeting insta-fame

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The proverbial phrase is “15 minutes of fame.” I think I got at least 16 for my experience on Southwest Flight 812 (see here for my story). In a matter of hours after our emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz., my photos and face hit national news. Within three days it seems, my story had flown around the world.

So what do you do when Good Morning America, CBS and MSNBC call your personal cell phone? What do you do when your Twitter followers jump from 50 to 815? How do you manage the phone, text, email and tweet requests for interviews? Here is some Thursday 13 insight for dealing with fleeting insta-fame:

1. The attention is overwhelming. I realize why actually famous people have assistants. To keep track of phone calls, emails, texts, tweets was a full time job on top of processing the event itself. Although I don’t have many regrets, I would have liked to take care of myself a bit better first before talking to others.

2. You are under no obligation to talk to reporters. Mr. T told me this before we even left the airport. In fact, he thought I was out of my mind to get up in the middle of the night to be on Good Morning America, and he teased me about giving so many interviews over the following few days. T kept reminding me that I do not “have” to talk to these people.

3. You have voicemail for a reason. A gentleman from the Poynter Institute for journalism asked me what I would have done differently or what advice I would give others thrust into the spotlight. Without a doubt, I’d say to let the calls go to voicemail. My phone died shortly after landing. When I got a charge, it didn’t stop ringing for days. Reporters and booking agents called until 11 p.m. that night, and then again at 4 a.m., 5 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and all day the next day. And the day after that. And that doesn’t include calls from concerned friends and family. I wish I would have turned my phone to silent and let the calls all go to voicemail.

4. Remember, you are just a story. While several of the individuals who interviewed me were very kind, I knew that to many reporters, I was just a source, a pretty face face who could speak well in front of the camera. My story mattered only as long as it was “newsworthy.” (In fact, I was surprised it stayed relevant for so long!)

5. Be choosy. I found catharsis in sharing my story with others, but I realized quickly that I should take care with the individuals and organizations that I chose to represent me to the world. I admit, I was not thinking this way at first, but only after having time to reflect. I feel lucky that most coverage represented the tone and context accurately.

6. Ask what the angle is. At first when people asked to hear “my story,” I agreed without thinking too much. However it was clear after the first few interviews that some reporters had an angle. It makes sense when everyone’s telling the same story, and differentiation is important, but it’s also concerning. For instance, in one conversation, it was obvious that the interviewer wanted me to bash Southwest or express concerns that I did not actually feel. Had I vetted that interview angle first, I would not have felt as uncomfortable in the moment.

7. Choose your format wisely. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I liked the live interviews best because they afforded me the most control. If I sounded stupid, it was my fault! I wasn’t in charge of the questions, of course, but I also wasn’t worried about sound bites being taken out of context (at least in the moment). With print and packaged shows, I was lucky to have the “spirit” of my story reflected correctly, but I know that isn’t always the case. (Just look at political campaign or criminal trial coverage for examples of that!)

8. Do not give interviews when half asleep, duh. After we landed Friday night, I could not manage to rest. When I closed my eyes, I just kept reliving the day’s events. Between that and the incessant phone ringing, I felt wired, nauseated, a little out of body. Perfect time to the talk to the Associated Press! Although I liked Terry Tang’s story a lot, I couldn’t help but kick myself for a lame-sounding quote. Even my friends remarked that I said “Dude” in a formal interview. Ah well!

9. Don’t feel compelled to answer everyone. I tried to personally reply to all Facebook and Twitter comments, but it just got to be daunting. Instead, I posted a couple blanket “Thank yous!”

10. Hedge a bit. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m telling my story. And I realize that it’s partial and filtered through my own unique experience. I’ve tried to be careful when representing others to try and avoid eclipsing their voices. I want to give “a story” not “the” story. (Thank you Sarah Tracy!) Hedging also helps when you get the facts wrong. For instance, my perception was that a flight attendant got hurt by the ceiling panel coming down. Only after other reading stories and seeing pictures, I’m not sure that was actually the case. I tried to hedge a bit in my telling and use phrases like “It seemed to me…” and “My perception was…” in case I got the facts wrong.

11. Protect yourself. Maybe I’m paranoid, but it seems like getting a bunch of attention opens up a world of risk along with the possibilities. To that end, I’ve tried to be very careful about who (else) gets my phone number, knows where I live, gets to be my friend* on Facebook.

12. People can be mean. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by mean-spirited folks anymore, but the extent to which people make unkind remarks about perfect strangers is startling. It’s amusing how many people want to tell me how to feel or what it was “really” like when they weren’t on the damn plane. I do like the funny ones (see here), of course, but I’ve made a point to limit my consumption of comments so I don’t get all riled up!

13. Your mom is the only one who thinks you’re actually famous. They call it 15 minutes of fame for a reason, and I have no delusions about the amount of time that I will be interesting to anyone outside of my personal circle. In fact, I think I peaked a couple days ago! I know the news orgs are un-following me on Twitter as I type to you, and that is A-okay. Be prepared to be dropped like a hot potato onces the sensation of your story passes, and know that the only people who will ask for your autograph are your smart-ass friends.


* My apologies to those who have “friended” me on Facebook. I typically reserve that space for people I have actually met and know in real life!

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