An Interview with Juliet Eilperin (November, 2011)

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin is a journalist who started working for the Washington Post in 1998, covering politics. In 2004 she switched to covering the environment, which led her to writing about our world’s oceans and then sharks. Demon Fish is her second book.

Demon Fish

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

Juliet Eilperin: I got into reporting at college, where I covered the university’s administration for The Daily Princetonian. I loved figuring out how people in power were making decisions that affected people’s lives, and I’ve done that ever since.

Alex: What is it like working for the Washington Post?

Juliet: On the whole it’s a great job—I’ve got generous colleagues and I never run out of story ideas. Plus, your articles have real impact, which is fantastic.

Alex: You’ve worked there for some time; what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen at the Washington Post and in print journalism?

Juliet: We’re short on money and staff, like almost every newspaper in America. It’s a huge challenge to produce quality journalism when the vast majority of the public doesn’t feel like paying for that service.

Alex: How did you switch over to environmental reporting?

Juliet: I got burnt out covering Congress, and asked to switch over to the environment in the spring of 2004. It was the smartest move I ever made.

Alex: Where do sharks enter the picture?

Juliet: I started covering oceans because they don’t get that much coverage from the mainstream media. After diving with sharks in Bimini in 2005, I decided sharks were a compelling way to explore what was happening to the sea across the globe.

Alex: Did you or do you have a fear or phobia of sharks?

Juliet: No, I don’t have a phobia, though I’d say I’ve got a healthy dose of fear when it comes to the most dangerous species.

Alex: What was it like researching and writing Demon Fish?

Juliet: It was fascinating. I got to travel the globe and both meet people from an array of cultures and backgrounds, as well as explore the underwater world. I enjoyed the research more than the writing, but in the end, I’m happy with the final product.

Alex: What do you hope readers get out of reading your book?

Juliet: I hope people get a sense that we’re more closely connected to sharks, and the sea, than we might think. Also, I’d like it if people felt better about sharks after reading the book.

Alex: Are you still in contact and possibly following up with some of the people you met and discussed in Demon Fish to see how they’re doing now?

Juliet: I see a lot of the scientists and policymakers I interviewed for the book on a regular basis, and I’ve been in e-mail contact with some of the fishermen since the book’s come out. I’d love to get back to some of the remote places I visited, such as Papua New Guinea, but I’m not sure when that would be.

Alex: Do you feel that researching and writing about sharks is something you will continue to cover in your career?

Juliet: I think I’ll write about sharks in the future—I just had a big  piece on them come out in the Post on Oct. 26—but they won’t be my exclusive focus.

Alex: Your first book was Fight Club Politics.  After writing Demon Fish, do you feel you understand politicians and politics any better or perhaps see them differently?

Juliet: I think sharks are, for the most part, more ruthless than many politicians, but they’re more direct, which is refreshing. And I’d certainly opt for jumping in the water with most species of sharks over attending a press conference featuring a bunch of politicians.

Alex: Do you have plans for another book or project?

Juliet: I’m writing a magazine piece for WIRED about the future of the solar industry, so that’s a departure for me. At some point I’ll probably write another book, but not right away.

Alex: Who do you like to read/who are some of your favorite authors?

Juliet: I enjoy reading Tom Zoellner and Barry Estabrook for non-fiction, and I like a range of fiction, from British classics to Andrew Sean Greer and Sam Lipsyte. Then there’s David Eagleman, who’s talented enough to write both fiction and non-fiction beautifully.

Alex: What are you reading right now?

Juliet: I just started Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” I just finished “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal, which I really loved. It also made me feel a little insecure, since here’s a fantastic work of non-fiction written by a potter.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Juliet: I spend time with my family and friends, read, hike, and cook from time to time.

Alex: Do you feel that humanity will come to look and respect sharks differently in time, or is it more of a losing battle?

Juliet: I think we will come to view sharks differently over time, which is a good thing. I think the only question is how long it will take to make this shift, and what will happen to sharks in the meantime.

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