Role-Playing Soldiers Visit Pilot
"Let's talk about your arrest," the camo-clad soldier demanded of Pilot Publisher David Woronoff.
"We're not talking about the spring break of 1987, are we?" joked the stunned Woronoff, who reminded his visitor that his daughter, Jenna, happened to be in the room.
Actually, the soldier and his dozen or so colleagues were referring to the publisher's more recent imprisonment by the Republic of Pineland.
It was all role-playing. The U.S. Army men who packed The Pilot's conference room were from the Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg. Conducting a media assessment as a part of their training, the soldiers were in the last phase of preparation to work for PSYOP, or psychological operations.
"What were you arrested for?" one soldier asked.
"Doing my job," Woronoff replied, slipping into his role.
"What was that?"
"Speaking truth to power."
Before their visit, soldiers from the unit contacted Woronoff with a made-up scenario for him to follow. In the situation, the newspaper is not closely affiliated with the "Coalition Forces" but fervently supports the Pineland government. The publisher was arrested and jailed for several weeks by the PRP government but was later released. He has been the target of several assassination attempts since the ROP/Coalition Forces have liberated Northern Pineland.
"We're learning how to effectively persuade, change and influence the behavior of our target audience," said Staff Sgt. Dan Robert.
'Role: Serve the Community'
Under the scenario, the publisher is concerned about security of his facility and staff. He wants to be assured of a regular power and paper supply. He needs to upgrade the newspaper's equipment. He is willing to give substantial discounts or barter for some publishing messages in return for these items.
He is also willing to run pro-Republic of Pineland items in the newspaper for free as a public service announcement if they meet certain thresholds. Depending on the quality of the face-to-face interaction, the publisher will provide additional information.
With that background laid out beforehand, 16 soldiers gathered at The Pilot to assess the resources there. They interviewed Woronoff, asking him questions about circulation and Web site abilities, among others.
"Our role is to serve this community," Woronoff told the soldiers, who asked about the paper's audience demographic.
The interview transitioned from basic questions about the nature of the paper's production to the area that it covers.
"You are seated in the golf capital of America," the publisher said. "There are 43 golf courses within 10 miles of here."
"Would you say that's your 'tribal affiliation'?" one soldier responded, leaving Woronoff puzzled.
Questions continued for a total of 40 minutes. Toward the end of the interview, one soldier explained the purpose of their visit.
"The reason we're here is basically to do an assessment of the actual media outlet, which would be your newspaper," he explained. "And we come here and determine if we'd like to use you as our paper so that we could get some sort of support of Pineland."
'Has to Be Relevant'
At the conclusion of the interview, Woronoff gave the soldiers a tour of The Pilot's headquarters.
"Every news outlet has to be relevant to its readers," Woronoff said, turning the occasion into a primer on the newspaper's role in the community. "You never want to do anything that would make your publication irrelevant. And publishing propaganda would do that. ... I know this is hard for military folks to understand, but the more you try to control the news, the worse treatment you're going to get."
The soldiers listened intently, later thanking Woronoff for the insights.
PSYOP is a yearlong school. Soldiers in the program start out learning about special operations. The next phase is a four- to six-month language school, in which everyone is trained in one or two foreign languages. When that phase ends, soldiers learn their job in the MOS, or military occupational specialty phase. Everything culminates in an exercise at Camp Mackall, where the soldiers run missions and conduct media assessments such as the one they completed at The Pilot.
Upon graduation, soldiers go on to a PSYOP group. Broadly defined, psychological operations are used to influence human attitudes and, ultimately, their behavior in such a way that supports national objectives. The soldiers who visited Monday represent the 4th Psychological Operations Group from Fort Bragg, the only active duty PSYOP element in the Army.
Hannah Sharpe can be reached at 693-2485.
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