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Media and the Military – I Told You So

August 16, 2013

While I’m removed from the world of military public affairs for now I’m fortunate to have a job that keeps me connected to defense industry news. I’ve watched with little surprise as former ‘bloggers’ have advanced to positions of prominence with major news outlets. The latest announcement, Noah Shachtman as executive editor for news at Foreign Policy. This one hits close to home for two reasons – I love and respect Foreign Policy. It’s a meaty publication with a rich history. I also worked with Noah in my position as ‘blog wrangler‘ for the U.S. Army.

When I worked with Noah he was the editor of Wired’com’s ‘Danger Room’ a very well-respected military blog with very legitimate ‘hard news’ ties of its own. But because it was an ‘online publication,’ many in the public affairs community were unaware of what to do with it (the Department of Defense public affairs shop was not among the confused – they were reaching out to online media before I ever stepped foot in the Pentagon).

My relationship with Noah was similar to what it was with every other online blogger – I tried to reach out with useful information, poorly proofread press releases and media ops with high-ranking military brass and obscure Army scientists. The key was that I invested a lot of time reading, researching, and to the best of my ability building relationships. (In those relationships, I was like the geeky band student reaching out desperately to the cool kids – if you’re a government PR maven who has never felt this way, please call me with your strategy).

Back then, online publications (blogs) were considered a separate entity than the ‘traditional’ media. They may get access, they may not. But either way it took a heck of a lot more work on their part. That was then. Today, they’re taking over ‘traditional’ publications who are more digital, dynamic and online than ever.

I told you so.

I’ve gotten a lot more credit than I deserve for getting the Army to ’embrace’ social media. When I started in military public affairs I was a Department of Army intern. But fortunately the current Secretary of the Army was highly interested in telling the U.S. Army story online, and the current Chief of Army Public Affairs was also very engaged. I also benefited from good timing. I pitched an opportunity for the newly incoming Chief to speak to a conference of milbloggers, and it turned out to be his first ‘official’ appearance. It set the tone for several years of very proactive engagement and outreach, much of it directed at educating military leadership at the brigade, battalion, and general officer level. Again, none of this was my initiative, but I was fortunate to be the the bullhorn that shouted the reality that online publications would be the publications we will be pitching in the years to come. Make nice with bloggers now – they’re the editors of the future.

The problem with most government PR jobs is a lack of continuity. I miss working in the tight-knit world of Army Public Affairs. The problem with government today is that it struggles to retain young  talent – many of those I knew from the Department of Army intern program have moved on (others have stayed – kudos to them). But it would be fun to be operating in media relations today, seeing the shift in media outreach, as the line between online and offline has merged. My guess is there are quite a few ‘bloggers’ who have no trouble getting public affairs officers to take their calls.

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