From Softball Question to Headline News Home Run

July 18, 2014
By George I. Seffers
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How one final question led to major news on a potential national spectrum strategy.

It’s traditional for journalists to end an interview with some version of the question, “What would you like to add?” On the surface, it is the softest of softball questions—so broad and general that there is no wrong answer.

Some sources take this opportunity to repeat their major talking points. Others simply say they have nothing to add. And some will offer a warm and fuzzy, feel-good quote about partnering or working hand-in-hand, or about how great their employees are. All are perfectly legitimate responses.

But on very rare occasions, a source will take this opportunity to make news. And from a reporter’s perspective, this is the absolute best kind of answer.

Stuart Timerman, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency Defense Spectrum Organization, gave an excellent interview in every way. He spent about 35 minutes answering every question. He was open, honest, articulate, informative, interesting, well-organized and well-prepared.

I already had a couple of potential headlines when I asked the what-would-you-like-to-add question.
Timerman took that opportunity to mention a topic we had not yet touched on—the possibility of a national spectrum strategy. Clearly, the concept was important to him, and he had given it a lot of thought.

We spent almost 10 more minutes discussing the idea.

Developing such a strategy would not be easy. It would create headaches across government agencies and departments and probably across the commercial sector as well. It would be a major challenge, as Timerman acknowledges. But anything worth doing is worth doing right, and using the nation’s spectrum efficiently and effectively is worth doing.

The 10-minute answer to what can often be seen as a throw-away question is great from a reporter’s perspective, because he handed me a headline on a silver platter. But it likely benefits the Defense Department as well, because it floats an important idea and, hopefully, sparks a critical dialogue.

I know it is common practice for public affairs officials to advise subject matter experts to wrap up an interview by repeating talking points. That’s a fine tactic.

But my advice would be to come to any interview with a news story you want to tell—an actual news story that maybe the reporter doesn’t know about or an angle the journalist may not have considered. And if you get no chance to tell that story before hearing the question “What would you like to add,” pull out a silver platter and hand that reporter a headline.

That’s the way you do it.

Read the full article featuring Timerman’s interview, “Defense Spectrum Community Aims for National Strategy.”

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This could be the basis for a master class on media relations and interview strategy, from both sides of the interview desk. Well done, as usual.

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