Writing the unexpected

Matt FritzNews Editor

The year was 1988. I was 7 years old, and my family was gathered around the TV set in our Metro Detroit home. It was around 8 p.m., a little late for me to be up, but my parents didn’t seem to care.

On screen was a special about flying saucers and aliens.

This was the first time I had seen such a show. It introduced a family who developed horrible burns after getting out of their car to inspect a flying saucer; witnesses who described bald, gray beings with big, bug eyes and slits for mouths; and alleged abductees, who said they were magically pulled out of their bedrooms by tractor beams for painful operations in alien craft.

I had nightmares for weeks.

But I really hadn’t thought much about it until Sept. 1 when I was interviewing nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman ahead of his Sept. 16 presentation (7:30 p.m. this Saturday) at the Michigan City Public Library. A noted lecturer on flying saucer physics (he has made hundreds of TV appearances), he was coming to Michigan City to talk about the Roswell crash (which he personally investigated), government cover ups and other UFO-related phenomenon.

It jogged my memory about the TV special, so I made mention of the show.

“Oh,” he said. “‘UFO Coverup. Live.’”

Yes! He knew the show. Not only that. He had been on it. And he apologized for giving me nightmares. We shared a laugh.

After the interview I found the show on YouTube and watched it again, and there he was, talking about the Roswell crash. The show had some interesting features, like a 900 number to report your own alien experience for a “nominal” fee of $1, and a breakdown of the four different types of alien encounters, from UFO sightings to full-fledged abductions. You don’t see programs like that anymore.

Now the reason I bring this up isn’t so much to point out a possibly traumatic moment of my childhood, or a funny incident with a famous interviewee, rather, it’s an example of the fun part of interviewing someone for a story — discovering something unexpected.

For instance, when I talked to Friedman, I learned about the theoretical possibilities of building craft that fly like UFOs are purported to do, and the likelihood of traveling to the stars with fusion rockets.

But all of that stuff had been covered before, to a greater or lesser degree, by other journalists. What I wanted was something different. Something about him that either hadn’t been revealed yet, or at least not revealed in a prominent way. Or something funny. That works too.

The TV special, as funny as it was for me, wouldn’t work for a story. I would force me to insert myself into the narrative. I needed something else.

And then I found it.

Before the interview, the only real question, the only one I didn’t find covered in all the previous stories I read about Friedman, was what made him jump from being a nuclear physicist to a UFO expert.

So I asked him.

The answer, “I was a cheapskate,” was unexpected, and helped give me the lede I needed.

It almost didn’t matter why he was a cheapskate (you’ll have to read the story online or in our Sept. 10 edition to find out why), it was just a perfect description of how anyone gets into anything — happenstance, coincidence, luck, choose your word for it. And as far as I could find, no one had used it before.

So it helped me add color to a man’s already colorful career.

Matt Fritz is the news editor at The News-Dispatch.

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