Ben Kaplan is a feature writer in the arts department of the National Post and currently at work on his fabulous first book. A former staff writer at New York Magazine, and editorial assistant at GQ, Kaplan’s written for the New York Times, Spin, and Men’s Journal among others. His running column also appears every Wednesday in the National Post.
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
I actually used to want to be an actor. But I never did go on any auditions. I got into the media because when I moved in with my grandmother in New York and wasn’t going on auditions, I wrote about the experience. That was my first published piece.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Probably doing the same thing, or something similar, just making more money for my words.
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Just try it. People need to stop talking about it and start doing it. People don’t pitch enough, and then, they shouldn’t even pitch ideas, but fully finished stories. That thing about my Gramma? I didn’t have to explain it to Black Book magazine – I just gave them the finished product.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
I like Calvin Trillin’s stuff in the New Yorker, Smith magazine, Josh Errett’s Web Jam column in Now, Stuart Berman and Jon Dekel’s music writing, and everything Chris Shulgan and Josh Ostroff do. Also, though I guess he’s a competitor, it’s fun to read Ben Rayner’s Reasons to Live. I also watch Parks & Recreation.
Best interview you’ve ever had? Worst?
The best was probably Snoop Dogg right after 9/11 in New York, though I was a little freaked out when I left the hotel room and had to face all the publicists who asked why my eyes were red. The worst interview was Tom Cruise. He had braces and kept laughing after everything he said, which was never an answer to my question; he seemed just like a robot. It’s probably the Scientology.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Bring two tape recorders and read the newspaper. That’s what my friend Randall Lane told me when I was his assistant at P.O.V. magazine … now he’s Editor in Chief of Forbes.
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Listen to your wife.
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Try a little harder. One of my favourite publicists is Sean Cordner at Sony. He loves music and once I was doing a thing on mixed tapes and Good Charlotte was promoting their tour with a mixed tape photograph. It’s hard for Canadian publicists to get access to big American acts — I think Good Charlotte was dating Nicole ‘Whatshername’ at the name. Anyway, the piece was important to me — my wife and I made each other mixed tapes when we started dating — and Cordner got me Good Charlotte and, in one of the emails, I saw the back and forth. He must have sent 20 emails. I don’t think most publicists do that.
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
See Cordner from above. PR people help all the time. Once, I told a PR person I liked one of their records. Then, when they were speaking to Spin, Spin mentioned they needed a reviewer. That was my first byline in Spin and eventually, the sent me to Finland for a piece, all thanks to the PR person who started that. You can work with a PR person to craft a story. I got into the New York Times that way, although the PR person — who represented TransCon and Lou Pearlman, the guy behind N’Sync — hated the piece.
Trying to write headlines based on Google.
Interviewing regular everyday folks.
Liner notes to records.
Best place on earth?
Sunday night at the Dakota in front of The Beauties.
Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I really don’t download.
Pool or ocean?
Voicemail or email?