Deez Interviews: Catching up with The Longform Podcast’s Max Linsky on how he prepares for each interview, which dead writers he’d have on the show, and why it all kind of feels like a scam
|Delia Cai||Apr 12, 2019|
Happy Friday, Deezers! Today’s Deez Interview is with Longform’s Max Linsky, making this, yes, A) an interview about interviewing other writers (AKA possibly the most meta moment in media history???) and also B) the realization of a long-held dream to call Max up and ask all the questions we’ve been wondering ourselves while listening along over the years.
Tl;dr, if you’re not listening to The Longform Podcast and getting the alternately juicy, alternately uplifting back stories of all of the best magazine storytelling of our time, get thee to some earbuds!! But also first, read this interview. It’s already a fave, duh:
The interviewee: Max Linsky (follow him @maxlinsky!)
The gig: Co-founder of Longform and Pineapple Street Media, co-host of The Longform Podcast
Okay, so when I'm listening to any Longform episode, I always wonder: how do you prepare for each interview?
Basically, Evan and Aaron and I all try to read absolutely everything we can that’s been written by the guest. I want to be really, really familiar not just with the last thing they wrote, but with everything they've written. If you read everything that someone has written, back to back to back in a short amount of time, you can start seeing trends within the articles and themes that sometimes even the writer hasn't quite seen.
I’ve found that that can be pretty fertile ground for an interview...if you can reflect back to a guest some themes in their own work that maybe they haven’t encountered before, that can lead to some interesting places. My whole goal in an interview is just to try to get someone to think out loud and that’s a way to do that, you know? That will sort of force people to pause and get off their talking points for a bit and think out loud.
I'm also curious about how and where you get your news, and how you get ideas on who to interview. Can you tell me about your daily media diet?
There was a period of time of Longform where basically, I was just sitting on Twitter all day and looking for new articles all the time. I do that a little bit less now, but I still get a lot of stuff from Twitter and read The New York Times throughout the day. And also, we have a suggestion box on Longform where people will give us articles to look at, and we get dozens every day. So I look through that a lot. I find a lot of good stuff in there, and oftentimes, it's work that isn’t percolating up in other channels.
If you could interview any writer/storyteller from the dead for The Longform Podcast, who would it be?
There’s a couple of people I really wish I would have gotten a chance to interview. George Plimpton is pretty high on that list. He’d be a pretty great interview. He would have been really game. And David Halberstam. He wrote a couple of the books that got me interested in this stuff in the first place. It would have been pretty amazing to talk to him. And I would have loved to have Nora Ephron on. I’m sad we didn’t get a chance to do that.
What is one aspect of producing the podcast that would surprise most listeners?
I think it’s a lot more edited than people realize. We often tape another 20% longer than the show airs, and we have an editor named Jenelle Pifer, who is just incredible and a huge part of the show, and she really does a fantastic job of making me, for one, sound a lot smarter and cogent than I actually am. We work pretty hard on the edits. We spend real time with them, and I think it improves the show quite a bit. I won’t speak for Aaron or Evan, but I am not nearly as coherent as I sound on the show.
It's been a bleak few months (years? decade?) for journalism. Given your experience interviewing hundreds of the best storytellers of our time over the past seven years, what — if anything — still gives you hope about this industry?
That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s been a lot that gives you hope for the business. I mean, in a macro sense, it’s hard to listen to the stories that people have and not feel pretty worried about the 30,000-foot level economics of magazine writing.
But at the same time, I think about how, over the course of doing the show, there have been a lot of young writers who’ve come on really early in their careers, who are now at incredibly impressive publications and writing incredible stuff and have book deals and all that good stuff. I feel like the optimism comes from young writers who maybe we talked to when they were writing shorter stuff or only occasionally getting to write pieces that they really got time with early in their careers, and now that’s what they’re doing. So there’s still a path towards that.
And maybe this is not necessarily hopeful for the industry, but I think one of the most powerful experiences of doing the show for me is talking to people who are just at the absolute apex of this craft, you know, who are just incredible incredible writers, and hearing them express their own sort of anxieties and doubts. I can’t tell you how many times the best writers in the world have said that, as soon as they finish a story, they panic and think they’ll never find another one.
I don’t know if that’s necessarily like, hope for the future, but it does make me feel like you can reach great heights writing and still have some self doubt, you know? I think that, at least for me, is kind of inspiring. It makes you realize that none of us ever have it all figured out.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My honest feelings about the podcast is that it feels like a scam to me, to be totally honest with you. Like, the act of hosting a podcast feels like a scam, because they’re conversations that, microphones or no, I would absolutely love to have. And it just feels like a little bit of a con that because we have these microphones, the world’s best writers will come to our office and let us ask them anything we want for an hour and a half. Like I would absolutely love to sit and talk to any of these people for an hour about their work and their lives, and I’m still sort of surprised every time someone says, “Yeah”
Every time I have some really fulfilling conversation with someone...I don’t know, I just have this thought, when it’s over and we turn the recording off, it’s just like... wow! It’s amazing that people are willing to do this! It feels like if I just asked them to come for a cup of coffee and asked them a bunch of incredibly personal questions, I don’t know if it would work out.
It’s interesting that you feel that way, even after years and years of doing this.
I think that’s also something you’ll hear people say on the show a lot — that ultimately, it’s a pretty human instinct to want to tell your story. And I think as long as people know that you give a shit, which we do, and know that you’re really listening, they’re happy to talk.
That’s it for this week! Follow @maxlinsky on Twitter here, and have a lovely weekend!