The most valuable lessons for journalism students sometimes come from odd and unusual places such as a Beatles convention I plan to attend this weekend.
At the The Fest for Beatles Fans, I will have an opportunity to hear from Klaus Voormann, an artist and musician I interviewed many years ago when I was a music journalist. Voormann has a long history with the Beatles dating back to the early days of the band in Germany. He later designed the cover of the group’s Revolver album and played on several Beatles solo recordings.
At the time I interviewed Voormann, a recording he had produced for a band named Trio was doing well on the charts. A publicist for the band arranged the interview and told me that since Trio was Voormann’s current project, he did not want to talk about his work with the Beatles.
I understood, but just a few minutes into the interview – and without any prompting from me – Voormann referenced the Beatles in his answer to one of my questions about Trio. I realized immediately that it was not Voormann who wanted to keep the Beatles out of the conversation; it was the publicist. Her job was to generate publicity for Trio, not for Voormann or the Beatles.
Voormann and I had a pleasant conversation, which I turned into an article, but I never forgot how the publicist misled me. I shared this story with students in my journalism classes this week and told them to be wary of publicists and others who try to control the story by setting conditions on interviews and access.
“Don’t let someone tell you how to write your story or what you can and cannot ask” was the message I delivered.
“You’re a professional with a job to do," I said. "Don’t be intimidated by those who try to control or spin you.”
The message is not new, but in today’s climate, it is more important than ever. So I’m glad Klaus Voormann shared some stories with me about the Beatles some 35 years ago. His stories helped to make my story better, and today that story is helping me train the next generation of journalists at a time when the need to ask tough questions and hold those in power accountable is more important than ever.