Monday, April 13, 2009
At risk of divulging trade secrets, I just want to point out how remarkably similar suggestions for negotiating pirates are to suggestions for negotiating with recalcitrant newspaper source.

Here's what I learned about sources who arbitrarly go off the record:

If someone says he would not like his name printed, ask him why. More often than not, he'll realize he has no reason and give you his name.Often the request is irrational.

"The fireworks rocked. Off the record."
"That's a great, but benign quote, why don't you want your name used?"
 "Oh, I guess you can."

Or, you can negotiate for some attribution.
"Off the record, there is no way in hell this bill is going to pass." "How about I attribute that to Rep. Shmoe's staffer?"
 "No way."
 "How about a Democratic staffer?"

Or, in the case of a correction, read back the option.
"I want a correction! I didn't say there was no chance in hell, I said never in a million years."
"Sure. Let me read you the text, the staffer did not say 'no chance in hell,' he said never in a million years'"
"Uhh those sound the same. Maybe I did say the first thing."

Obviously, these do not always work. But look how Chris Beam, over at Slate, describes negotiating with pirates:

Another strategy is to make the hostage-taker realize that his plan is unfeasible. Negotiators do this by peppering the hostage-taker with questions. If the hostage-taker wants a bus, ask what kind of bus. If he wants a plane, ask where he wants to go. If he demands a billion dollars, ask how he would spend it. More often than not, the hostage-taker can't answer the questions because he doesn't have a coherent plan. If the captor realizes that what he's asking for is irrational—and if surrender seems easier—he's more likely to cave.

Sound familiar?  Yeah, that's what I do every day.

Also, because it's awesome: How a 12-year-old got to talk to the pirates.

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