First the homework, then a chat with Hillary Clinton
Potomac teen Spencer Brodsky works hard before posing questions to famous people
Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2007
While the Bullis School freshman describes himself as an ‘‘aspiring journalist,” his interview resume already boasts talking stem cell research with Fox and the remarkable life of ex-forger and pilot impersonator Frank Abignale.
‘‘I don’t think of these people as celebrities,” Brodsky said. ‘‘I think of them as inspirational. I like the fact I can help them get their message out.”
It all started in January 2004 when Brodsky, then a sixth-grader, listened to a speech by Clinton at an awards event at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
‘‘I had a copy of [Clinton’s] book ‘Living History’ and as she was leaving with her entourage, I asked if she would sign it for me,” Brodsky said. ‘‘It was a school night and I was the only child there. [Clinton] just likes kids so much. She gave me her card.”
Instead of simply pinning the card to his bulletin board as a keepsake, Brodsky decided to contact the senator’s office for an interview for his school newspaper. That April, he sat across from the senator for a 15-minute interview. Brodsky prepared questions on subjects ranging from global warming to national politics.
‘‘I spent weeks researching, reading her books and the speeches she made on the [Senate] floor,” he said. ‘‘It’s always nerve-wracking to interview people. But [Clinton] had so much to say of importance about young people and education.”
The New York senator was equally impressed with Brodsky and since then has had him back twice. In May 2005 the talk turned to media literacy, while in 2006 health care was a focus.
Transcripts of those interviews can be found at www.interviewsbyspencer.com, a Web site Brodsky created to showcase his subsequent interviews with such people as tennis star Andy Roddick, health expert Dr. Andrew Weil and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
Sometimes the interviews follow public events, such as when Brodsky talked with Roddick during a question-and-answer session at the U.S. Open, or e-mailed his questions to Armstrong after the athlete spoke at the Bullis School graduation in June.
‘‘I get nervous every time. I would never just ask a question without doing research,” he said. ‘‘But even [journalist] Barbara Walters always has a note pad on her lap during interviews.”
And the secrets to his success in gaining such access?
‘‘I think they talk to me because I’m young,” he said. ‘‘Plus, they talk to me because they see I have a Web site and I’m legitimate.”
His mother, Mindy Brodsky, said her son’s hard work is what really makes the difference.
‘‘[Spencer] takes this seriously,” she said. ‘‘It’s not just something that happens.”
Writing a letter or e-mailing a request for an interview is often the first step.
When Brodsky e-mailed Abignale in 2005, the forgery expert whose early life of crime was the inspiration for the Steven Spielberg movie ‘‘Catch Me If You Can,” the result was a dinner invitation to the young journalist.
‘‘I saw the movie and loved it,” Brodsky said. ‘‘[Abignale] talked about how you can be on the wrong side of the law and turn your life completely around.”
Naturally, not all interview requests are greeted so warmly. A recently faxed request to Donald Trump’s office resulted in the thing Brodsky dreads most, a large envelope sent to his home.
‘‘I know when I get a big envelope back it’s a signed photo but nothing else,” he said.
Next on his list is pursuing interviews with journalists Barbara Walters and Larry King and comedian Jay Leno.
‘‘At this point, I consider this to be a hobby. But in five or six years, all these interviews might make a great book,” he said.