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Posts Tagged ‘scoop’

Why McChrystal Sang Like A Bird To 'Rolling Stone'

In Media, the military on June 23, 2010 at 10:23 am
President Barack Obama meets with Army Lt. Gen...

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Right now, there is much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over Gen. McChrystal’s overshare with Rolling Stone — written by (yay!) fellow True/Slant writer Michael Hastings. Among fellow journalists…

How on earth, did he — of all the journalists in the world — manage to get this extraordinary career-making (his), possibly career-ending (McChrystal’s) scoop?

A few reasons, all of them classics of the genre:

1) Frustration By all accounts, Gen. McChrystal was totally fed up of being ignored and over-ruled by politicians and policymakers who he felt barely knew who he was and whose reputations were riding on the backs of his men.

2) Use the media It’s a time-honored way to speak truth to power — using the conduit of a popular publication as your loudspeaker and a willing journalist, editor and publisher as your microphones. If the people in charge aren’t listening to you, take them out of the loop.

2) Access Michael Hastings has been reporting on war, on the ground, for years. As a result of that commitment and the widsom it helped him accumulate, he knew the right people and they allowed him into their circle. From today’s New York Times:

As a result, Mr. Hastings waited in Paris with the general and his staff as they tried to get to Berlin by bus. Mr. Hastings traveled to Berlin separately. He later rejoined the general’s inner circle at the Ritz-Carlton hotel there, where they all spent the week waiting for the ash cloud to clear so they could fly to Afghanistan.

“I was so amazed by it myself,” Mr. Hastings said in a telephone interview from Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he is now reporting on another story for Men’s Journal. “At times I asked myself that question: Why are they giving me all this access?”

Though Mr. Hastings said that most of the eyebrow-raising comments in the article came from the general during the first two days in Paris, he found him and his staff to be more welcoming as time went by.

Initially, Mr. Hastings was not scheduled to travel with General McChrystal to Afghanistan. Only after he arrived in Europe did Mr. Hastings learn that the general’s staff was eager to take him with them. “They suggested the idea,” Mr. Hastings said.

Mr. Hastings ended up spending about a month on and off with the general and his staff while they were in Afghanistan — most of the time in settings and interviews that the general allowed to be on the record. “The amazing thing to me was that no ground rules were set,” Mr. Hastings said.

3) Time One of the most crucial elements of getting a story of this magnitude, in its full-on candor, is having a lot of time to spend with your subject(s.) For once, being a freelancer — with no editor demanding he shift his attention to a blog or TV report or the next story in order to look productive or beat the competition – paid off.  Michael was able to spend a month with his subjects., almost unheard-of for anyone with a staff job.

No subject, even the most private and protective, can spend a month around a journalist and not, eventually, let their hair down — even a high and tight. You get tired, you (as his subjects did) get drunk, your tongue loosens, you repeat the same ideas in a dozen ways. Whatever’s really bugging you will show up on  regular basis and all a reporter has to do is have the time, energy and attention to get every scrap of it down. Thanks to the volcano eruption in Iceland, McChrystal had a lot more time to spend with Michael than is typical for either of them. Both men, in the normal course of events, would have been on tighter leashes with much more constrained schedules. No one can report a story like this after one 20-minute interview.

4) Trust Closely linked to time. It takes a lot of time, certainly between military or police and journalists, to build any sort of trust. I recently heard journalist Sebastian Junger, who has just made a war documentary, Restrepo, describe the months he spent in-country, including sustaining several severe injuries, over which the soldiers of the platoon in Afghanistan that was his focus began to include him in their circle.

5) Street cred Michael is young, but he’s written a well-reviewed book about the Iraq war and losing his fiance there. He’s smart, well-published, knows the players and the issues.

6) Luck. A volcano eruption? No J-school diploma can get you that lucky…

This is a story many talented and ambitious journos would have killed for.

Few had the magic combination.

Three Days After Graduation, J-Student Scores Interview With Nets' Owner Mikhail Prokhorov

In business, Media on May 21, 2010 at 8:35 am
File photo taken April 24, 2008 shows billiona...

Prokhorov. Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Here’s a story from the New York Observer, for all you fresh grads — a journalism student, who three days after graduation from Columbia J-school, scored one of the most coveted interviews in New York City. Only two outlets got a private chat with Prokhorov:

He is not exactly a bold-faced name.

Two years years ago, Mr. Rotondaro was working in a pizza kitchen. He began writing more and more, and published a few items for The Huffington Post, worked briefly as a crime reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle and then enrolled in j-school.

By his own admission, he wasn’t an obvious choice for the sit-down. He spent the last few months occasionally filing for a blog run by Columbia called Brooklyn Ink. He had five bylines.

Then, there he was, getting one of the most in-demand exclusives of the week and delivering a 2,300 word Q & A with Mr. Prokhorov.

Mr. Rotondaro said that he received an email about three weeks ago. It was light on details. In the note, he was asked if he would be interested in an exclusive interview with someone really important. It didn’t say who. If he was interested in pursuing this further, he should call this number…

Mr. Rotondaro wisely decided to call.

“I was kind of weirded out,” he said. “But they left a number and you might as well call back, right?”

When he called, a handler said that Mr. Prokhorov wanted a Brooklyn blogger to interview him. The handler had read some of his stuff on The Huffington Post and thought Mr. Rotondaro would be perfect. He said Mr. Prokhorov wanted “to meet up with you. Pick your favorite bar or café in Brooklyn.”

I love that a blogger got the nod.

These sorts of chances are becoming increasingly rare in a world where, in addition to the traditional media outlets of radio, television and print, those seeking PR — and journos seeking an exclusive or a scoop — are playing needle in a haystack. Who to choose and why? Ambitious journalists always need Really Big Stories to beef up their portfolios, especially when they’re just starting out, to prove they’ve really got the skills to snag something great and to handle it well when they do.

People like Prokhorov are surrounded by the razor wire of multiple handlers and minions and flacks. If Vinnie had tried to reach out to him — would he even have dared? — the odds of success would, normally, have been risible.

The visibility of blogs and their writers has changed the game, and this can only be a good thing. The challenge will be for those bloggers, certainly those with no background or training in journalism ethics and practice, to know what to do with the material and avoid manipulation — we work alone and have no backstopping, eyebrow-raised editors saying “Really?”

It’s fun to hit “publish” without interference, but it brings its own specific dangers as well. (Lawsuits, for one.)

The only downside here — HuffPo still doesn’t pay its writers. True/Slant does.

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