A checklist for your first week on the beat
1. Order a copy of “Pen & Sword – – A Journalist’s Guide to Covering the Military” by Ed Offley, Marion Street Press.
2. The best and fastest way to learn about the overall military-industrial complex presence in your state – – a good first-day or first-week beat chore – is to check the Pentagon’s Atlas/Data Abstract for the United States and Selected Areas.
Below is a 2009 summary (earlier years) for personnel and spending for the country, and state breakouts. (Click arrows in lower left to make full screen).
3. You should check the number of state or regional residents killed in the war on terrorism. Bookmark that Department of Defense site because it’s highly useful on deadline.
4. To get up to speed on current weapons programs, you need to know the major contractors in your state. Start with the listing at USASpending.gov and click on a state. You can also sort by agency and congressional districts to track spending.
The Government Accountability Office’s annual weapons report is also a crucial resource (2010 edition, PDF).
Also, check if there is a regional GAO field office in your area. GAO auditors are good sources of context on defense management and weapons programs and can give insights into ongoing work and reports near completion. They are also free to talk about reports after release. (GAO contact directory, PDF).
5. One of the first things to do other than get acquainted with your local military public affairs types is to get an electronic subscription to the Pentagon’s electronic clip service called Early Bird. It covers both print and television transcript versions. You can contact the Early Bird staff via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s advisable to send them any military stories you have published to establish that you’re on the beat. (DefenseNews.com has a version of the EarlyBird. Subscription link).
The Bird will keep you informed of stories and pertinent editorials that could give you contacts and ideas. The Navy public affairs staff, unlike the Army or Air Force, publishes its own compilation of daily clips; you might be able to get electronically. Call Navy PA in the Pentagon (703-697-5342).