Lacy and Mark Z: Train wreck or lynch mob?

Not long after the interview with Mark Zuckerberg had wrapped up at South by Southwest, the Twitter messages started flowing, with people I know calling Sarah Lacy’s interview with the Facebook founder “a train wreck” and “the worst interview I’ve ever seen.” Soon there were blog posts about the debacle at CNET and at Wired, and almost all of them said that Lacy just didn’t come across well during the interview — that she was too personal, too flirty, that she told rambling stories instead of asking questions, didn’t ask about the important issues, and so on.

If you dig a little deeper, however, you get the distinct impression that the crowd was unruly at best, and that they may have turned on Lacy as a result of what appears to be a laid-back interviewing style. Some have suggested that she did her best in interviewing a guy who is not just shy (as he has admitted to Scoble, among others), but has also presumably been trained to reveal as little as possible. As one Twitter poster put it: “Sarah Lacy got stuck trying to do a normal interview in front of an audience that was out for blood. And Zuckerberg was over-briefed.”

I’ve done my share of interviews — many of them with CEOs who have been trained within an inch of their lives to stay “on message,” and some of whom are notorious for being difficult, if not impossible to interview — and I can say that reading the descriptions of the interview with Zuckerberg made me cringe a little for Sarah Lacy. Those kinds of things are hard enough to do when it’s just two of you, let alone in front of thousands of people who have their own idea of where the interview should go. If you’re interested, you can find more impressions of the event through Terraminds.

So did Sarah’s style just not jibe with the format, or did she not read the room properly, or was the crowd at SXSW really just out for blood after too many complimentary Austin highballs?


I haven’t watched video of the interview itself yet, but watching an interview that Austin 360 did with Sarah after the event, she seems untroubled by the whole thing, saying there was a small minority “at the back of the room” that got upset, and that in retrospect she didn’t think Zuckerberg was “a good fit” with a conference like SXSW because it was mostly developers who wanted to talk about APIs. She also says that she gets this kind of reaction all the time because she’s one of the few women who report on tech. Mark Evans has a take on how Twitter affected the response to Lacy’s interview.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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