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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 get access?'"

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 stories.

  • 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 your plans.

  • 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.


Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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