Military-media roundtable addresses disconnects

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On Tuesday, Fort Carson hosted the first Colorado Springs roundtable luncheon with local military public affairs officials and most area news media, allowing attendees to weigh in on how to improve information sharing — and none of the communicators on either side held back.

Reporters were up front with the military about the best ways to reach them, present stories and improve communication during a crisis or incident response.

And the lessons learned by military public affairs could also apply to their civilian counterparts.

What were their suggestions?

One, old-school press releases are generally unhelpful during breaking news, and social media updates haven’t proven to be far more effective. Also, updated contact lists with direct numbers are essential, and public affairs should be more up-front with what’s newsworthy and with what’s not.

Another message: Increasingly-full inboxes don’t make any particular formal email stand out.

Reporters said the military should work to offer more visual, hands-on media opportunities at their facilities to attract more coverage.

Public affairs gave the media their perspective as well.

To the media: Military units aren’t going to have specific numbers and information on every incident and topic, especially right away. Information needs to be verified so details aren’t misleading or wrong. News professionals should always contact public affairs directly instead of pursuing rumors.

 Military units aren’t going to have specific numbers and information on every incident and topic.

Increased cooperation is vital to both groups. The military is the largest employer in El Paso County, and direct and indirect economic impacts total more than 40 percent of the Colorado Springs economy, according to figures from the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

And with budget cuts continuing, the military relies on local and national media to tell the story of what they are doing to maintain readiness in the face of sequestration — and to tell the public about the various efforts of soldiers and airmen to keep the nation safe and secure.

While the news won’t always be positive, it benefits the taxpayers when they know the military is responsive and transparent. And that can only happen through a responsive, active public affairs arm.

The officials took time to share some upcoming news with the media.

Cheyenne Mountain is celebrating a special anniversary this year, marking 50 years in operation. It’s now at full operation capability, after being mothballed by the military for several years.

The U.S. Air Force Academy is conducting new cyber research and projects. The new Air Force-level Cyber Innovation Center has a business liaison now and the academy is actively seeking cyber partners to develop research and innovative ideas with computer science professors and cadets.

And — as sequestration continues and the military downsizes, public affairs units are also affected, the leaders said.

According to Fort Carson officials, the U.S. Army Public Affairs is taking a 35-40 percent cut in manpower and one public affairs division at Fort Carson will go from a seven-person to a four-person operation beginning Oct. 1.

Military attendees said it shouldn’t affect the quality or amount of media engagement — but reporters are skeptical. In a field already beset with delays in responding to media inquiries, they’ll be operating with less manpower and reduced services. It’s something the Academy, Schriever Air Force Base and Peterson Air Force Base have already experienced — and the effect is noticeable for local and national media alike.

Public affairs officials also told the audience that since the country withdrew from Iraq, the Army has reduced its active duty force by the equivalent of the United Kingdom’s entire military force, with currently only 480,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army.

Those cuts mean it will be even more important for public affairs to have good relationships with the media, they said.

Bottom line: Military public affairs and the media both have a responsibility to accurately inform the public — and must work together to make it happen.

It’s the military’s role to inform taxpayers about their plans and efforts, and journalists must disseminate facts in an accurate and timely manner.

These types of discussions help public affairs and reporters strengthen ties, get stories told and avoid mistakes.

This first military roundtable was a great step toward improving relationships and increasing transparency with the five military bases in Colorado Springs.

Let’s hope public affairs was listening — and the reporters learned plenty as well.

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