Can Stars & Stripes retain independence?
The Stars & Stripes military newspaper finds itself battered by two fronts of disruption: First, the same brutal audience and business changes facing all American newspapers, and now, an order from the Pentagon to move its operation to a military base alongside Pentagon military media operations.
Thom Shanker of the New York Times put together a through take on both developments, particularly the latter, which is seen as potentially undermining the credibility and influence of the paper for the sake of saving $1 million a year in rent (from a ~ $700 BILLION budget. That’s .0000014 of 1 percent).
A number of members of Congress have started raising eyebrows and are investigating the implications of the move from the National Press Building to Fort Meade.
And the staff, not surprisingly, is clearly agitated. From Shanker’s story:
“Terry Leonard, editorial director at Stars and Stripes, said he and the staff do not object to moving — only to a move that locates them at the headquarters for official Pentagon media operations.
” “It’s very hard for people to believe that we can be a news organization subsidized by the Defense Department and still be editorially independent,” Mr. Leonard said. “There is a history of improper interference and even censorship by the military and by civilians within the Defense Department.” “
The integrity of Stars & Stripes was a major theme in the sharp and foreboding good-bye column from former S&S ombudsman Mark J. Prendergast (a colleague from way back at the Sun-Sentinel in Florida). From his Jan. 24 column:
Economically, the paper’s survival is imperiled by federal budget cuts and the same challenges other media face — declining audiences and shifts in how people get news and information.
Stars and Stripes can slow or even stave off a dire fate if it defends its editorial integrity, hews to its roots, stays relevant to its readers and remembers their interests come first. And that includes their sensibilities.
This military is an all-volunteer force. Stars and Stripes should deliver hard truths, but never in a tone that says “gotcha” or that disrespects its readers’ chosen life. As the late Washington columnist Mary McGrory counseled journalists, “Be nice to people, but not to power.”