Billy joined Scoop News Group nine years ago as a DC-based tech writer, “caught the bug” for impactful technology storytelling and has worked his way up to his current position as editor-in-chief at the company’s brand new publication.
He talks to us about the ideation and creation of DefenseScoop, which is dedicated solely to the U.S. military’s acquisition, development and use of technology as a force for modern defense. The future of war is changing and this publication aims to address the ongoing evolution of cyber war tactics.
In this episode, Billy gives us the ins and outs of DefenseScoop, how he got his start and how companies can keep their pitches out of the trashcan in a competitive marketplace.
Tune in or read the transcript to hear from Billy on:
- Launching DefenseScoop
- People centric storytelling
- Billy’s career
- Upcoming storylines for DefenseScoop
- The art of a good pitch
- Billy’s love of being a Cheesehead and a Hokie!
0:26 – Launch of DefenseScoop
2:53 – Reception of DefenseScoop
5:14 – Types of Resources for Writing
8:35 – How Billy Got His Start
15:28 – Billy’s Most Memorable Story – CMMC Accreditation
21:25 – Upcoming DefenseScoop Storylines
26:11 – How Companies Should Pitch Themselves
29:50 – Billy’s Life Outside of Work
Missed an episode and want to catch up? Check out the full repository of Inside the Media Minds episodes here.
Christine Blake (CB): Welcome to Inside the Media Minds. This is your host, Christine Blake. This show features in depth interviews with tech reporters who share everything from their biggest pet peeves to their favorite stories. From our studio at W2 Communications, let’s go Inside the Media Minds.
Hey everyone, this is Christine Blake, the host of Inside the Media Minds. And I am here today with Billy Mitchell, Editor in Chief of DefenseScoop and FedScoop. Great to have you on the podcast today, Billy. Thanks for coming on.
Billy Mitchell (BM): Thank you, Christine. I appreciate it. And looking forward to getting the word out about DefenseScoop and having a conversation about that today.
CB: Yeah, that’s so exciting! So just about two weeks ago, DefenseScoop officially launched, so congratulations on that. I’m sure that was a huge undertaking. And a big launch.
BM: Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s been a long time in the making. It’s something you know, my boss and CEO of Scoop News Group and I, Goldy Kamali, have been talking about doing for a lot, it’s something we’ve covered on our FedScoop publication, you know, ever since the beginning because it’s an integral part of that federal IT community, all though sort of split off in its own world a lot of times, but, you know, we just saw more and more of this push, especially around some of the recent national defense strategy memos and things of that have come out in recent years and this push to be more digitally connected and sensor driven and data driven, that were things that, you know, were core to our community that we felt it would be a mistake if we didn’t continue to push in that direction.
So we, you know, we’ve been talking about this for several years, but it was really late last year, in the late fall timeframe, where we kind of sat down and had the conversation and said, we need to get this done. So it’s been about a year in the works. And, you know, a lot of that time has spent been spent bringing a great team on board, have to kind of name drop, to give them recognition, John Harper, as my Managing Editor and then a team of two for now, we’re looking to grow that team, but a team of two reporters, Mark Pomerleau and Brandy Vincent, that recruit we recruited very early on and although DefenseScoop didn’t launch officially until, you know, September 12, a couple weeks ago, we’ve had them on board for a number of months, since earlier this year, and they’ve been operating under our FedScoop publication and really building up our defense content so that when we launched, we would have sort of the seamless transition and plenty of backlog of content and, you know, recognition that this moment was coming. And I think that was a successful strategy. We, were, you know, I feel like the launch went off without a hitch. And, you know, things are looking good so far.
CB: Wow, that’s amazing. I can’t, yeah, like a whole year of prep and work and then trying to build up that content to make a smooth transition. That’s definitely a big undertaking. How is the reception of it been so far, in the past couple weeks?
BM: It’s been good. You know, I think, you know, there’s a lot of different ways you can look at it. But you know, primarily, from an editorial perspective, we’ve heard, you know, from people in our community that we work with, that they’re very excited about, and that we fill, you know, a need that’s out there. Because I like to tell people, you know, when we were thinking about this idea, there’s a lot of, there’s no secret that there’s a lot of other defense publications out there, and there’s a lot of great ones. And it would be silly to try to just reinvent the wheel and do the same thing that some of those great publications do. But we felt that we’re different, because we really do focus in on that core technology and innovation and digital transformation that is attached to every piece of the defense sector anymore. So you know, whereas some of those publications, touch on those things from time to time, but we’ll go into, you know, the really hardcore hardware and platform in your kind of old school, you know, Afghanistan and Iraq style warfare, we’re really thinking about what the next war is going to look like, and sort of that JADC2 to insertion into competing with more advanced adversaries like China and Russia.
So rather than looking into the past, and sort of focusing on some of that more legacy news, we’re really rooted in the future sort of information, Information Age warfare that, you know, is really more and more increasingly a part of every conversation that the Pentagon is having. So that’s the space we’re trying to fill and compete in. And I think, you know, people have responded well to that because it’s only you know, we when we started this, or came up with the, you know, official idea to move forward with this. You know, it was it was something that was percolating, but in this past year, it’s only increasingly pushed in that direction with more and more mandates from the office of Secretary of Defense, all the different services moving forward with their sort of elements of JADC2, and lots of just you’ve seen it in Ukraine, the Ukraine conflict with usage of drones and electronic warfare and cybersecurity and things of that nature. This is the the way that wars of the future are going to be fought. And we’re trying to tell that story and kind of ride that wave.
CB: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, definitely becoming more and more relevant over time. So what when you’re writing these types of stories, what types of resources are you looking for, to really get through to that audience and tell that story?
BM: Yeah that’s a good question. You know, I think we want to spotlight the entire ecosystem, if you will, or sort of the hierarchy of chain of command, however, you might want to refer to it within the military and show that, you know, there’s this innovation that’s kind of happening across the larger ecosystem. So a lot of times, the stories we’re writing about are, you know, talking to people at the lower to mid levels who are kind of driving the innovation in this struggle to kind of make change with some of the senior leadership who are not necessarily those things aren’t necessarily resonating with them, although they know that there’s this need to move towards things maybe like AI or, you know, enhanced cybersecurity with zero trust and things like that. Those are all new terms to them, they’re they’re generally, you know, more senior and tend to be older people who maybe haven’t grown up in that style of, of an organization or really battle. So, it’s really a lot of that, that kind of push and pull between those two sides.
So, what we look for, is ways we can tell stories that are elements are rooted around the people in those issues. And so we look to talk to people of all varying shapes and sizes, and what I mean by that are people at all different levels of the military, both in and outside of the Department of Defense, because it’s also those people on the outside that are often driving the innovation, those also came come in various sizes too. You have your traditional, you know, legacy defense contractors like Raytheon or Northrop Grumman or others, and then you have these upstarts that are trying to do business with the Department of Defense and trying to, you know, bring this cutting edge innovation into the the government and Department of Defense, but it’s so difficult because, you know, as anybody who probably listens to this podcast and have heard other people on it before, the government is, is slow to move on things like innovation, just by nature of the way that it’s built, that’s bureaucracy. So, it’s hard to, you know, match those things up. So, there’s a lot of storytelling about that. There is a lot of, you know, contract in the business of, you know, defense tech. But also, I think, at the end of the day, what we try to do is show the impact and get to the people part of it, because at the end of the day, there’s people behind all of these decisions and programs that are very important. And it affects the lives of everyone across our nation and the people who are ultimately, you know, serving and risking their lives by going into battle. So, we’ve tried to put the people at the center of it.
CB: No, I love that. That’s, that’s a really good way to describe it. And you know, the Scoop News Group does such a great job with storytelling through all of the different brands. And I know we work with CyberScoop a lot and, you know, mentioned FedScoop and others. How did you get your start covering this space? And kind of, you know, if you don’t mind talking about, you know, Scoop News Group as a whole a little bit?
BM: Sure. Yeah. I guess I’ll talk about Scoop News Group first and then kind of get into how I found my way into this, this wonky space.
BM: So, Scoop News Group, you know, like you said, it, we’re a company that sort of was started going on 14 years ago now, almost exclusively as focused on the federal IT industry, as FedScoop. And since then, we’ve kind of spread out and covered more of this public sector intersection with technology from FedScoop. Then came StateScoop, which was sort of the state and local, look at those IT issues. We then launched EdScoop, which as you would imagine, is higher ed and the intersection of IT. And then there probably are one of our biggest or, you know, our biggest moves was around 2015/2016 When cybersecurity became a really hot topic and the federal government was shortly after the OPM hack, and it was just the topic of the time it was like, like we’re kind of experiencing with the defense right now. A realization that cybersecurity was no longer just some thing that, you know, whether you’re a business executive or a federal CIO or whoever could just put it as this, you know, element of your business, set it aside and worry about it as something that was extra that you dealt with. It was now something that was an essential part of every conversation. So that’s when we created CyberScoop, which has been, you know, a smashing success since then. And, you know, it’s been a couple years, but DefenseScoop is, is now our latest one, which we’re really excited about, and hope that, you know, we, you know, in the same model of CyberScoop, in terms of broadening the aperture to a larger community, outside of just the federal government, like CyberScoop did, we hope to do that a little bit with the defense beat in kind of its intersection with technology.
And I think the common thing among all those publications is that we really place an emphasis on, you know, both, obviously, we’re editorial publication, so we really focus on on the news and storytelling and breaking news and adding value and giving people information that they otherwise can’t get anywhere else, that’s, you know, what we think is a difference maker between us and our competition, but we also place an emphasis on, you know, the community that’s at the center of it. And again, getting back to the people and having this community sort of thrive. So, we also have a robust and quite frankly, and biasedly, I would say the best in the business. And that kind of goes into that same mindset of we’re building a community so that people in these critical spaces can share best practices and, you know, innovate and, and kind of come up with new ideas about how they can do these things, and really thrive in a different way and make connections and, and whatnot. So, I would say that community aspect is sort of at the heart of everything we do.
And then in terms of myself, joining Scoop News Group, which was before it was a Scoop News Group, it was just FedScoop and StateScoop at the time. This was back in what like 2013 or 2014, it’s been several, you know, going on nine years with the company.
BM: And yeah, and at the time, I was kind of a lowly tech reporter on this, like a blogger, writing about D.C., Washington, D.C.-based technology startups. And, you know, I never probably imagined that I would be doing something so wonky and sort of nerdy that was, you know, advanced technology, emerging technology related to the federal government. But I was in D.C., so I guess, you know, stranger things happen.
But, um, yeah, I, at the time, you know, had a conversation with my CEO, or would be eventually my CEO and she said, you know, we’re looking for a tech reporter. I came on in a pretty junior level in terms of being like a joint technology reporter and sort of like a, you know, Assistant Editor, kind of copy editor, style person and just ever since then, it’s really, you know, just caught my interest. And, you know, it’s the very, a very, how do I put it just compelling subject matter that once you get to know it, and really understand how that every decision kind of make that is made in the space. And in within the news that we write about, it does impact so many people across the nation, whether they know it or not, based on benefits and, you know, the privacy of their information and things of that nature, everybody, you know, whether they like it or not, is a customer of the federal government in some regards. So, you know, ultimately, those decisions with those IT systems do come back to them. So, they might not read FedScoop stories, because it may, you know, make their eyes glaze over or seem audibly dense to them, but they do impact them. So, I think once I started to put two and two together, it really kind of I caught the bug and kind of really embedded myself and loved the community really spent time on the reporting side, getting to know a lot of people and once I sort of developed that subject matter expertise, you know, I just kind of craved more and more opportunity within the Scoop News Group organization to kind of take us to a different level and really expand what we’ve done. So Goldy, our CEO, has really entrusted in me a lot of opportunity to kind of move things in new directions and expand and I think we’ve been successful and it’s been really exciting. I don’t know necessarily that, you know, traditional media companies give people those kinds of opportunity. And I’m very blessed for it. And also, you know, that kind of thing keeps me going and keeps me passionate to keep moving in the right direction.
CB: Yeah, no, definitely, it comes through, your, definitely, your passion. And you know they’re very lucky to have you and your subject matter expertise that you’ve built over all of these years. Um, what is, you know, one of the most memorable stories that you’ve written or been a part of in, you know, in your career so far?
BM: There’s, I mean, like I said, I’ve been here for quite a while.
BM: So it’s, I, you know, now that I’ve kind of spanned two large chunks, and I mean, again, as they essentially are the federal government, you know, the civilian side and the defense side, there’s a bunch of different stories that fall under those. As of late, you know, focusing a lot on on defense, I think, I’ve really enjoyed covering, sort of, like the — and a lot of people find it really wonky and nerdy, but I think it’s such a big deal. And it really, it kind of drives, people who do care about it insane. This Department of Defense, cybersecurity maturity model certification, CMMC, which is really, this this new requirement, that’s coming next year. It’s kind of been in the works for several years. But that requires DoD contractors to meet a certain level of accreditation, certification, self-attestation, depending on the sensitivity of the information that they work with the DoD. But it essentially means that any contractor within the DoD space is going to have to at least show that they meet, you know, these criteria for cybersecurity. So, it affects, you know, the every one of the hundreds of thousands of defense industrial base contractors. And it’s just been fun to watch. It’s kind of been scandalous at times, it’s kind of, you know, it again, it impacts people’s lives because, you know, this is how, you know, the DoD is one of the most targeted organizations in the world in terms of cyber attacks. And the way that nefarious people try to, you know, start those attacks is, is more often than not through the defense industrial base, through some contractor who holds the DoD’s information. So it’s incredibly important and it affects, you know, the national security, our national security and also, it affects those businesses that do work with the Pentagon because they have to make changes and a lot of the smaller ones, can’t afford necessarily to just overnight, go and change their cybersecurity policies and governance and whatnot to make sure that they meet those standards. And if they don’t meet those standards, then, you know, I don’t know necessarily that there’ll be, quote unquote, out of luck, the DoD may try to work with them to figure it out. But there’s a good chance that some businesses that rely on the DoD for business may not have that pipeline anymore because they can’t meet those cybersecurity standards. So, I’ve found it really interesting.
And then just looking back over my career within this space, you know, I’ve been around for the OPM hack, like I mentioned, crazy at the time. And then, you know, the the sort of genesis of it, obviously, federal it didn’t start with this, but this is what I kind of refer to as the sort of this chapter of federal IT, or the most recent chapters of federal it all started with sort of the healthcare.gov debacle back in 2013/2014. That really drove this understanding that government was not getting it right when it came to the way it was buying massive IT products and services and operating those programs. So those are, those are my go tos whenever I tell anybody, but you know, there’s so many that I’m sure I I missed some I have to I think everybody would love to talk about, you know, the DoD Jedi Cloud.
CB: Oh, yeah.
BM: It was a wild ride. And it was definitely one of my personal favorites for a while covering, but it’s fizzled out and seems to be going in the right direction. So um, yeah, that’s definitely in the list too.
CB: Yeah, that that was definitely interesting. There was always a little bit of drama involved with that. But the Jedi contract and then with the, the OPM breach a while ago, I remember that was something that just really brought cybersecurity issues in the government super mainstream and we saw a lot of coverage and a lot of noise around that event, for sure.
BM: Yeah, it’s I mean, it’s, I would say a good 80, 90% or more of the stories we write don’t reach the mainstream at any time are not covered by, you know, a New York Times or Wall Street Journal and maybe not even The Washington Post, even though you know, The Post does a great job focusing in on, like the federal government operations because it’s based in D.C. But it is exciting when those stories sort of permeate into the larger ether because, you know, you invest so much time in this space and getting to know that people, and it’s hard, you go to a dinner party or you go home for something and people ask you like, what have you been working on? And, again, it’s sort of like that, you know, most Americans their might eyes glaze over if they read one of our stories, it’s hard to, you know, tell somebody about, you know, the cybersecurity of, you know, this small DHS component and why it’s important or something like that. But, you know, when these things that impact the lives of everyday people or, you know, there’s just massive, you know, Pentagon contract that the President comments on it, you know, at one of his press briefing several years ago in the case of JEDI, it’s, it makes it even that much more exciting. It kind of is a bit of a small win. It gives you a little bit of excitement because you’re not, you know, you get out of your, your little niche for a little while.
CB: Yeah, no, absolutely. And then I know, you mentioned, you know, CMMC and some things that are big right now. What else do you see like the upcoming year that you’re going to be focusing on, that DefenseScoop’s going to be focusing on in terms of, you know, narratives or storylines happening in the space?
BM: Yeah, more of that, but also, you know, more emerging technologies, when it comes to, like the Department of Defense’s use of AI, you know, continued theme. Obviously, any of the emerging conflicts that are going on whether, you know, Ukraine becomes a, something that, you know, obviously seems like it’s going to continue for a while, but how that sort of either relates to the Department of Defense in terms of its own involvement, whether we’re sending more platforms and technologies and things like that over there. And whether things in other areas like Taiwan or in the Pacific advance in any way. You know, those are always when you’re thinking about the Department of Defense are going to be top most concerns. And really just the continued competition in this gray zone with those, those nations, those advanced adversaries because it’s, if you talk to people about things like cybersecurity, AI or quantum computing, or, you know, even some of the, like next generation air dominance type platforms that the Air Force is working on, or whatever it may be, everybody’s worried about competing and getting there first. And so, I think that narrative’s going to continue to drive over the next several years in terms of, you know, the horse race mentality of, are we lagging China? Are we ahead of China in this area? What do we need to do to make sure that we get there first or, you know, make sure that we can, you know, defend ourselves if they get to some of these things around the same time. So, I think that’s going to be, continue to be a critical part of the conversation.
Cybersecurity, is not going anywhere, you know, trust is a massive topic right now. And I think some of the, the gains that we’ve seen in recent months, and over the past year, particularly since the Executive Order and some of the national security memorandums that came out of that net effect, the Department of Defense, sort of seeing what progress is made there. And, you know, inevitably, there’s gonna be some other major hack, whether it’s in the defense space, or in the pub, or you know, the federal space where it’s not it ultimately, this everything is so interconnected now that a lot of these vendors that get breached or affected or have some sort of vulnerability, zero day, you know, installed into their software are used by those agencies or, you know, military services. So, there’s going to be repercussions and things that happen because of that. And so, you know, not only that development of new cybersecurity practices, like zero trust, but also how we are going to respond to whatever that next big hack is because it’s inevitable that its going to happen. So, a lot of focus on those things.
And then, you know, the exciting thing with DefenseScoop is we’ve kind of created this core idea of what we want to be but, you know, I don’t want to decide today what DefenseScoop is going to look like in two years and five years and 10 years, you know. I want to, I want to, you know, take the feedback of the community and start to try new things. So, I think a lot of that is, you know, covering things that are maybe not in our traditional wheelhouse. So, whether that’s, you know, you know, some of the autonomous weapon systems that are kind of being developed by the different services or, you know, moving in the direction of some of those things, that space, for instance, that are all trending spaces, that that we really haven’t covered in the past. And I don’t want to limit ourselves from doing that. So, we’re gonna start to try new things and figure out what we’re going to do next in terms of expanding, you know, not only our content, but our audience and hopefully, ultimately, you know, our business as well, because I think there’s just so much unexplored territory for us that we can do a lot of new things.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, only a couple of weeks and, and there’s just so much potential and so much to cover in the space.
BM: It feels a lot longer than a couple of weeks.
CB: Oh gosh, I’m sure. I’m sure the past year has been probably a big, big focus, and then just jump to two listener questions before we wrap. One is kind of about, you know, pitching, and I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of people pitching you vendors, pitching you contractors trying to talk about their solutions. How do you recommend companies set themselves apart while you know, it’s a crowded noisy space? Do you have any thoughts there?
BM: Tell a unique story. Give me a reason why, you know, I can’t say no to you and really just more than anything, separate, it’s more so you know, that those things are hard to do, right? You know, that there’s, there’s an art to a good pitch. There’s an art to good pitch and there’s an art to good story. Having both of those things, I think, are winning strategies together.
In terms of the pitching, just, you know, do your homework. Don’t be lazy. Look and see if we’ve covered something and, and make yourself of value to, particularly, my writers and my readers. Because, you know, so often we get pitches from people that are, you know, hey, I’m sure you’ve heard that X Y&Z is happening and, you know, if you need an expert, you know, we’d love to have you and it’s, you know, we get dozens of those a day, if not more. And, you know, I really, my advice has always been to people, especially on the you know, outside of government who are pitching us to contribute is to not think about things in a transactional sense. To say, you know, if you don’t know me and you’re cold emailing me something, maybe it’s better to be a little bit more personable and to get to know me first before. I know, this is all difficult, because people can often be embedded with, you know, a lot of different correspondences and they may be required to do but, you know, don’t think of things as so transactional, think of building a relationship and building trust with the person you’re pitching before you get to that point or along the way because it’s those people that I know or have gotten to know or sort of, you know, I can put a face to their email or something or remember them from something that I feel, even though I don’t feel like I owe them something necessarily, I’m gonna think twice about, you know, actually responding to their email or telling them, you know, maybe this isn’t right for us, but hey, keep, keep, you know, coming at us with pitches, because I’m sure there will be something down the line. Whereas, you know, it’s easy to just, you know, send an email to the trash. And I mean, that’s, frankly, the nature of the business. We’re all very busy, when there’s not a familiarity there. So I think the same way when I, I think and I tell my reporters about source building, you know, when I’m building sources, don’t just, you know, drop it on somebody and say, ‘Hey, can you give me this,’ you’ve got to learn to, you know, foster some trust and some, you know, a relationship and kind of make it a two-way thing rather than just asking someone for someone something. So, that’s always been my sort of advice to make it less transactional and make it more about a relationship and making it, you know, sort of beneficial to both parties.
CB: I love that. That’s fantastic advice. I love that looking at it from a non-transactional point of view is really a valuable perspective. And finally, just for people to get to know you a little bit more outside of your work, what are you interested in outside of work and maybe something that our listeners wouldn’t know about you?
BM: This is a hard one to answer these days because I’m a father of two really young boys. So, my, my, my interests are mostly involved in making sure that they are healthy, safe and sound and you know, developing. But, you know, so my life, basically outside of work revolves around taking care of them, but, you know.
CB: That’s great.
BM: Yeah, but honestly, you know, I, my interests are the same that they’ve always been outside of that. And, you know, I love music. I’m a big football fan. I love the Green Bay Packers. My family’s from Milwaukee. I’ve never, you know, lived in Milwaukee or in the state of Wisconsin, but definitely have some tie ins there and been a lifelong Packers fan. And, you know, I bleed green and yellow, if you will.
Same thing with the Virginia Tech Hokies, went to Virginia Tech for my undergrad. You know, unfortunately, I’m not sure when this will post, but as of last night, we got blown out, so not, not big on them at the moment, maybe that’ll change. But, and, you know, just, we kind of live a quieter life than we used to. But, I’m a big Craft Beer guy, which is kind of a nerdy thing. But, you know, it’s one of those things where I can, you know, once the kids are down and, you know, a couple hours to myself, I can, you know, have a beer or two and so I like to support a lot of the local craft breweries and in the Northern Virginia area that I live in. Yeah, they think, you know, just between music, football, fantasy football, craft beer, but really, it’s, you know, it’s my kids and my family that dominate my life outside of work, which is great. I mean, yeah, I’m incredibly blessed. They’re both awesome little kids and both really healthy. So, you know, a lot of fun.
CB: That’s great. Thanks for sharing all that.
CB: Well, yeah, it’s been really great talking to you, Billy, just really big congratulations on DefenseScoop. I know, it was a huge undertaking and really happy to be able to share some of that insight and let people know what you’re covering, and just to get some more attention around DefenseScoop, it’s really exciting.
BM: Yeah no, I appreciate the opportunity to, you know, get the word out there and share and you know, hopefully drive some of your listeners to DefenseScoop and FedScoop. And, you know, hopefully, they’ll become continued readers. But, you know, I definitely appreciate the opportunity.
CB: Yeah. no, thank you so much. And thanks, everyone, for listening. This has been Christine Blake with Billy Mitchell. Thanks for tuning in.
Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of Inside the Media Minds. To learn more about our podcast and hear all of our episodes, please visit us at W2Comm.com/podcast and follow us on Twitter at Media Minds Show, and you can subscribe anywhere podcasts are found.