My week with the military is at an end. I write this blog from Kansas City International Airport as I wait for my flight back to Oklahoma City.
I’ve blogged a lot about what I’ve seen and done here, but I haven’t really touched on the main concept of this workshop — bridging the gap between the military and the media. As I spent time with soldiers here, and during many of the panels we attended with senior leaders, we talked a lot about what we each need to do to improve the relationship between the media and the military.
Of the 19 journalists attending this conference, none work major national news outlets. A couple of those attending are freelance broadcasters, and one works for a newspaper in Kuwait. The rest work for mid-size to small newspapers across the country. None of us have had the chance to embed with a combat unit in Iraq or Afghanistan. For the most part, we cover installations within our circulation area such as Tinker Air Force Base and our local national guard and reserve units.
Many of us would love to cover some of the “positive” news that military personnel claim isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Part of the problem is the method of getting that information to the people who can use it. My experience is that local public affairs officers do a good job relating information to their local media. The national guard is even better. But at the national level, the U.S. Defense Department hasn’t found a way to connect with us enough. Stories such as a new school or power plant being built are pitched to national media who are more focused on the big picture.
If Oklahoma soldiers are involved in those types of endeavors, I want to know about it, and I want to write about it. We’re still trying to figure out how to make that work.
Another problem is the dwindling budgets in many newsroom. The prospect of flying overseas to embed with a unit becomes more remote as the economy continues its decline. Without getting dirty with the troops in a war zone, it really isn’t possible to truly convey what they are going through.
I was encouraged by the response I got from the leaders we talked to this week. They seem to understand the importance of being open and honest with the media and willing to work with us to improve our relationship. The book isn’t closed on this. It will be a long process. And I have a feeling the military will stumble a bit as it continues to adopt social media. When every private can report the news, the Army will have to give up some control of its message.
This week has piqued my interest on the relationship between the media and the military, and it has left me hopeful about our continued efforts to tell the story of our fighting men and women.
- Staff Writer Bryan Dean