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The Forbidden World of Off the Record Negotiating for Successful Air Force Media Engagements

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Air War College Maxwell AFB United States

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Thirteen prominent Journalists and eight experienced military public affairs officers anonymously responded to questionnaires from the author asking about the frequency, importance and value of what are called off-the-record OTR interviews between news media and their military sources. The responses confirmed the authors own experience and sense that OTR engagements between the military and reporters are commonplace, especially at the national level, even though they are discouraged in Air Force and Department of Defense training and doctrine. Respondents suggest OTR interviews offer a unique and effective way to tell the Air Force story through the news media. Reporters and public affairs officers have similar reasons for going OTRincluding the desire to get timely and accurate information into news stories with the proper contextthat sometimes is impossible under on-the-record constraints. Few public affairs professionals or reporters choose OTR as a first option. Since all parties perform a mental calculus of risks versus rewards before agreeing to OTR, the author highlights Negotiation theory as an analytical heuristic Air Force public affairs professionals could use to determine first if and then how public affairs officers or designated expert spokesmen would conduct OTR interviews. The author offers evidence that the military neglects OTR techniques and that the many public affairs officers who do use them tend either to have outside journalism training or they learn on the job. He suggests risk could be reduced if the Air Force recognized the legitimate role of OTR engagements and trained their PAOs on those techniques. At the same time, the Air Force could stop missing opportunities at strategic communication with the public because of a tradition that opposes using OTR. Finally, the author identifies cultural and structural hurdles that would stand in the way of openly training military spokespersons about OTR strategies.

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Technical Report



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Approved For Public Release;

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