Unfortunately, this has become the big story at SxSW Interactive. If you haven’t heard about it, Mark Zuckerberg (the 23-year-old CEO of Facebook) was interviewed as the Sunday keynote by Business Week reporter and Silicon Valley maven Sarah Lacy.
Basically, Sarah Lacy botched the interview, the crowd revolted, and much awkwardness and internet ranting via blogs and Twitter ensued. But in my opinion Sarah didn’t botch the interview through a lack of good questioning or journalistic instinct. Mark Zuckerberg is cagey, awkward in front of a crowd, and a naturally quiet guy. Doing the interviewer’s job of projecting Mark for the audience, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of him and his company, was a huge challenge – and she didn’t do all that bad with it.
Sarah botched the interview by the way that she projected herself. She really came off as arrogant, repeatedly talking down and over him, self-promoting in an off-putting way by mentioning her upcoming book and her video show, and dropping in the fact that her and Mark have an offstage relationship. I have no idea if Sarah is actually arrogant in real life; I don’t know her. I think she might have been playing it up because it has something to do with the edgy persona she is trying to build – at one point she mentioned with pride the fact that she had thrown a glass of water on internet-famous blogger Michael Arrington.
But for whatever reason what she unintentionally did was set up a passion play which the audience of computer hackers and indie-minded designers find all too familiar – the popular, attractive kid beating up on the young, quiet, nerdy one. The combination of that interpersonal dynamic and the intrinsically challenging interview led to a very unfriendly crowd.
I don’t think this will hurt Sarah’s career, depending on her goals. It will likely help it if she is trying to become the edgy pundit/gossip type of reporter, wish I’d guess that she is. But it may hurt her standing as a legitimate journalist, and she might find a few of the future Mark Zuckerbergs less willing to talk to her.
Footage of part of the interview here. About 30 minutes or so in.
Sarah’s post-game interview with the Austin American-Statesman here.