& SWORD: A JOURNALIST'S GUIDE
|| Reporters who cover the military sometimes feel as
if they've been posted to a foreign country. Most journalists have
no military experience and they're often thrown into covering stories
without adequate preparation. As a former Air Force PAO puts it: "It's
too late once a war starts or a conflict begins to ask, 'How do I
These tips can help. They're taken, with permission,
from a new guidebook, Pen & Sword: A Journalist's Guide to Covering
the Military by Ed Offley, published by Marion Street Press.
- Identify your coverage area. List
all bases and commands in your area. Investigate the major issues
and priorities for these military units. Develop a list of potential
- Learn your way around. Connect with the base
PAOs and local commanders. Schedule a visit and background briefing.
Pick up a copy of the "welcome aboard" booklet given to
new personnel, which typically describes base history and lists
key phone numbers. Get bios on top officials and an organizational
chart for the base.
- Create background files. Collect contact numbers
for all base PAOs--work, home, beeper, cell, etc. Get military fact
sheets on all aircraft or vessels that operate in your area. Find
out about low-level training routes, military operating areas, bombing
or electronic warfare ranges in your coverage area. Obtain and file
copies of military crash investigation rules and procedures. Get
the annual economic impact statement for the base and request a
training calendar--sometimes they're public.
- Establish feed points. Negotiate with local military
bases for a pre-approved live feed point. If the base is large,
agree on more than one. Identify a feed point location outside the
main gate or other recognizable landmark and inform the base of
- Collect B-roll. Request military handout video
and arrange to shoot your own. Use every visit as an opportunity
to shoot more B-roll for future use. Look for annual open house
events (they're often held on Armed Forces Day or the Fourth of
July) where you can shoot equipment and aerial demonstrations. Also
solicit tape from the Defense Department, military contractors,
and the National Archives.
- Develop standard graphics. If you'll be covering
the military regularly, set up a still store library of images and
graphics you can use when time is short.
- Go along. Get permission to cover field exercises
by your local military unit. Nothing will do more to make clear
your commitment to the beat.
- Troll the Internet. The military has slimmed
down its online offerings in the wake of September 11. But there's
still good information to be found on military sites like DefenseLINK
and the Defense
Technical Information Center. A more complete list of links
is available here.