Tracking the Elusive Moment — A Guide for New Interns
We Summer 2015 interns (Jake, Lora, Sunder, Jen, Avneet, Collin, Rachelle, and Claire), as the most productive ADST interns of all time, have been given the difficult task of putting what made us so successful in writing. Certainly some of our success can be attributed to the ADST culture that Chris creates: a relaxed, honest, trusting, genuinely enjoyable working environment.
Some of it can also be credited to the camaraderie we had that made our days working together much more fun; we all got along very well and hung out outside of work together (we appointed Lora as Community Liaison Officer, which we unofficially nicknamed High Commissioner of Fun).
But the main factor behind our productivity was our ability to research effectively. Here are some of the tactics we used to pump out Moments at a record pace:
Do your dates
Make sure it has not already been done!
— Use the search bar on the ADST website (top right of every page). Nothing worse than doing research on something only to find out we already have a Moment on it.
Know how to spot a dud
— Some great ideas just do not work as Moments. Sometimes all the information we have on a subject is repetitive, sometimes there is not enough to form a narrative, sometimes a story just is not as interesting as you expected it to be. Sometimes the interviewer does not ask the follow-up questions you hoped. (Do NOT get me started on the time someone said “I was very involved in that massacre at the airport” and no one thought that deserved more explanation.)
If it’s not working, toss it
— Once something seems like it will not work as a Moment, move on. There is no use wasting your time on it, and you can always come back to it later if you find more information.
When short of ideas, search random words that may lead to something interesting
— Mainstays like “massacre,” “coup,” “warlord,” and “Communists” are always good, but try and get more creative. We have done Moments that came from searches like “seduction,” “wives,” “witch doctor,” “tennis,” and “Star Wars.” There’s also this handy-dandy page from the State Department that lists all the major terrorist attacks from 1961-2003. Also, go beyond just events. Past interns have done Moments on people you don’t normally associate with foreign affairs, like Michael Jackson.
Do not be afraid to ping-pong around
— If you find a potential Moment idea while researching another, write it down! Bounce between ideas, or use dead-ends as jumping off points to others. If you find something interesting in an oral history, bookmark it! (OK, we didn’t understand Jake’s ocelot reference from Archer either, until we saw this.)
Find a name or place strongly associated with the event
— If you find a name, slogan, or place associated with an event (for example, Winston Lord and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with China), search it and run with it
Make compilation pieces
— Sometimes there is not enough in each individual story to make a Moment, but there are enough different ones with a common theme. We did pieces on honeypots, wives gone wild, and diplomatic immunity, for example.
— Chris has a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of ADST’s catalog of Moments and of American diplomatic history. If you really need a topic, ask Chris.
— Stu is the one who did most of our interviews. He has forgotten more than any of us will ever know. He can point you in the right direction.
Read random oral histories
— You never know what you will stumble upon (and you will find some pretty funny stories by doing so)
Connect it to things you have learned in school
— Search events and people you studied and are interested in, e.g., the Communist takeover of Nanking.
Even if we have an existing Moment, perhaps you can take a different angle on it
— For example, we had a Moment on the 1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. However, one of us did a Moment on the situation there years before the invasion. Similarly, we have Moments covering the Cuban Missile Crisis from people in Washington at the time and in Moscow.
If you are doing something that takes place in a specific country (which the majority of pieces do), use the Country Readers
— Country readers compile the oral histories together of everyone who has served in a certain country.
If you find something interesting in an oral history, read the rest of it
— You never know what you may come across. Many oral histories are just a treasure trove of Moments.