Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Journalist -- A change in plans

What's it like to do what I did in the Army today?

One fact that was clear to me -- and to this day, is still a big issue -- is the total disrespect for journalism in general and journalist as a breed of blood sucking ticks hell bent on getting the story no matter the price or effect that has on the organization, the individual's career or both.

I hate them too. Believe me, I do. The Paparazzi, the Tabloids, the fake news vendor. Money for nothing and the groping for free.

But they aren't alone.  There's the bitch class, the bastard class, the boy scout class, the girl scout class, the social class, the anti social class and a guy in the middle wondering "what about me?"

So, let's give him a class: The dick head class and for the ladies that feel left out, the bimbo class.

Feel better?

I don't. Truth is, you've been as we -- us programmers who love to observe the chaos about us -- like to say,  you've been tagged and bagged.

When there's nothing else left to explore in the world of real journalism, you slide back into the world of sensationalism and fake news.


Because it takes less journalist and produces higher returns on investment of the ones you have. And what does this produce?

A really bad hair day for the 200,000,000 million who work for a living while the 2,000,000 inherit the earth.

My wife wanted to know why I have gotten so cynical and sarcastic over the years. 

I want to tell her that I learned from the best. And while you might think I was redirecting her observation back on her -- which is only three quarters true --  the true reason for my attitude is my own guilty mind knowing I was sleeping at the switch when I should have been doing more for the people I love the most: America.

Believe it or not, I don't love trips down memory lane. They get romanticized, muddied by blurry time tracks and basically, aren't real anymore. These "glory day" moments are nothing more than a coping mechanism for the lack of or, for that matter, no closure on an event that went unrecognized.

Living in a dream world is the best way to describe it and the worst way to die. A pretty good summary of a journalist whose days are numbered. I'd rather wake up kicking and screaming  for a cause that effects us all than wake up to the smell of coffee, romancing the past and do nothing about the zombie nation we have become.  

Journalism is the medium through which that can happen. Real journalist, real social issues, real stories.

Real journalist, now that takes is a very rare individual with the guts and to do the impossible. An on the job trained genius and a person whose own personal interests and life take second seat to getting that picture, that story that lives forever. Even it cost the person his or her life.

In my books, that's what real journalism is about. Regrettably, it only takes one blood sucking journalist vying for the Pulitzer to spoil the image that so many of us worked hard to build.

Then there's the countless times when the other side of the equation who don't know you but are called on to help you size your importance based on rank.

Anyway, that's not why I wrote this article on my 4/77th blog.

Now, before you blow this off as another one of my famous rants, consider this before you do. Careers can't be built on lies. In order to have a career, it must be based on truths and obtainable goals with positive human experience accomplishments and a well defined list of qualifications needing to be obtained before going to the next objective.

If these things are not highlighted as the tasks in a job description -- what we call a statement of work (SOW) -- it is not a job but a wish list.

Your or a loved one thinks this job description than you think reading the back of your cereal box enhances the nutritional value of its contents:

Public Affairs Journalist 46Q

The Army public affairs specialist participates in and assists with the supervision and administration of Army public affairs programs primarily through news releases, newspaper articles, Web-based material and photographs for use in military and civilian news media.

Job Duties

Research, prepare and disseminate news releases, articles, web-based material and photographs on Army personnel and activities
Gather information for military news programs and publications within your unit and around the Army
Develop ideas for news articles
Arrange and conduct interviews
Write news releases, feature articles and editorials
Conduct media training

Are you laughing? You should be! If you aren't, either you haven't been in the Army or your memories have been wiped of the reality of how the system works.

Just in case you forgot: E1 to E5 = "DON'T THINK, DO AS I SAY".

Truth is:


If that boss hates public affairs or doesn't want to support you, you are screwed.

It should have read:  After your normal Soldiering duties:  Polishing boots, spit shining bras, formations, preparing for inspections, the usual hey yous senior NCOs put you through, and the rest of the stuff involved with being a soldier in today's Army, you might get the chance to do a few moments per day on your actual job.

By the time you get to E-5, you might find yourself at a desk performing the job mentioned above.   

By the way, did you notice the Redundancy Department Redundancies?

A Bit of Back Fill: Going back to the future

Between 1970 and 1979, I enjoyed the job as a stringer for the various organizations I was assigned to not just because I was good with a camera but because the Commanding Officers of the units wanted publicity and made it almost impossible for me to fail.

But I did every once and a while fail. I'm human and subject to having human ego overrides. And I can think of one shinny moment when I wished they had invented super glue and I had it to seal my lips.

There are two people who got the blame for destroying some rotor blades with ball pen hammers -- the real person to blame was MG Sidney B Berry -- and out of respect and because I knew both a friends I'm not going to mention their names. I worked for both. 

We were in a military taxi headed to another Division Support Command (DISCOM) with one of them in the back seat with our DISCOM Command Sergeant Major. For five minutes this Colonel complained about being passed over once again for his first star.

I had just gotten a personal letter of appreciation from the Commanding Officer of the 101st Airborne Division that the Colonel I am riding with had handed me. Tired of the back seat bemoaning, I said,     
"Well if certain Colonels that I know didn't destroy 450,000 dollars worth of helicopter rotor blades with ball pen, they probably wouldn't be getting passed up."

Gawd, I can't believe I said that as I tried to melt back into the seat looking at the Command Sergeant Major turning purple and blue in a fit of rage, the driver, a civilian trying hard not to laugh.

It was a horrible thing to say! 

But the Colonel knew I was right and our friendship told him I didn't mean anything by it. So the incident passed without further ramifications.  

But sometimes, quick whit statements win the day.  Like the time at the Army Aviation of America Association convention in Arlington, VA when I was the official photographer. When General George S. Blanchard told General Bernard Rogers to get out of his way because he wanted me to take a picture of himself with an X POW. 

Rogers turned and looked at me, "I don't know, Sergeant Edwards, "Should I get out of his way?"

My response, "Which one of you has more time in grade, time in service? Pull rank."

They both laughed and Rogers got out of the way. And I just realized something, I had to be a good 15 feet away from Rogers, how could he have read my name tag while turning towards me when he asked the question.


Anyway, I wasn't just a writer and a photographer, I was a photo-journalist. 

What does that mean? 

It means I could take pictures, write the story and combine the two as a photo-feature, use just the images without the feature or write the feature without images.

Furthermore, I had the freedom to pick and choose what I wanted to cover and when.Yes, I had to respond to event driven tasks such as promotions, training and unit social functions.

But for the most, the stories and articles came from me and no one else.

Public Affairs was the superior race of individuals who dealt with division level articles, assignments and the like. A lot of their assignments were given to them. More like reporters, they went out with a photographer and did their jobs per their job description.

I, on the other hand, was not doing my job per my job description and I paid for it by never being considered for promotion for almost 7 years.

So, needless to say, I am glad the Army decided to adjust tasks so that the emphasis is now focused on the units rather than at the division level.

Job Description: Comparing Now and Then

Research, prepare and disseminate news releases, articles, web-based material and photographs on Army personnel and activities

This is why this should be at the very least a Warrant Officer position. There is no way in Hades you are going to know enough about organization of the units in the military, the unit you will be assigned to and the supportive units your unit uses without some kind of intensive training on what one is dealing with, what kind of research is needed to create a professional level news releases, articles and a sensitivity.

This is a management skill which requires sensitivity to security issues, commanding officer goals and objectives, a sense for what is newsworthy, submission timing and the ability to transform boring into interesting, attention grabbing content.

Some of this is solely based on the talents of the individual performing the job.

Gather information for military news programs and publications within your unit and around the Army

I can relate to this by saying a single sentence can speak volumes about whether or not your using is a stand alone organization or one that plays well with others.

This is where you tread softly but carry a big stick.

Develop ideas for news articles

Classical Department of the Redundancy Department and part of the first job description.

This should also include: And work with the unit historian to determine if the idea has a historical track and/or should be included in the units' history.

Arrange and conduct interviews

It is the organization of questions that you will want to ask that determines the success or failure of the interview process. I did mine with a tape recorder. The biggest no no is to paraphrase without permission. So, if you aren't good at remembering or writing down exact quotes, use a tape recorder.

Write news releases, feature articles and editorials

Again, classical Department of the Redundancy Department. This was part of the first description.

History of news releases: canned and template based the Hometown News Release an example.

Feature articles?

For whom is the big question and, second is, in what format?

Close to 100 of mine were in the day in the life of format.

As for editorials, in the Army that sounds more like an oxymoron.

Conduct media training

The rank of Warrant Officer would certainly help to assure conformity with requirements.

Depending on the size of your unit, you could have from 5 to 20 soldiers assigned to you to pull their weight on the standard military news releases, provide you with story ideas and help you to work interactively with awards and decorations notifications.


Interactively work with Battery or Troop level personnel tasked to assure news releases were created and prepared on a timely fashion.

Write articles and take images of awards, promotions, human interest, exceptional individuals training exercises and change of command events.

Produce an unit level newsletter.

The newsletter was created using a typewriter to cut through a wax coated paper. This stencil would then be spun around on a drum, be given an even coating of ink and then pressed against the paper and the ink would transfer to the page making a carbon copy of what was typed.

My articles were published in Army, Army Aviation Digest, Army Aviation Magazine, Army Times, Clarksville Leaf Chronicle, EurArmy Magazine, Front Line, Fort Campbell Courier, Hopkinsville New Era, Lake Charles American Press, Pillars And Posts, Rendezvous With Destiny, and Stars And Stripes.

I have worked with Hillary Brown of CBS News and David Allan Burnett while on assignment for Time Magazine.I had black and white images that David took in color that were published in Time Magazine.

My Hometown News Releases exceeded over 3000.

Want to know what really made my day?

Before writing this, it didn't dawn on me just how much Craig Geis' decision to have me become the stringer for the 4/77th had played out throughout my military career.

During REFORGER 78 I became the official US Army photographer for Task Force 229th Combat Aviation Battalion. The official one got his leg crushed between a tractor and a trailer.

As documented in Army Aviation Magazine, General John N. Brandenburg said he had to rely on the images taken during that exercise to create his briefing conducted at the Army Aviation Convention.

He sent me a personal letter of appreciation for that.

But more importantly, the 229th Combat Aviation Battalion was, it was the 4/77th Field Artillery. 
They had just changed colors. 
I came into the world of journalism as the 4/77th stringer and I ended my journalism career with the 4/77th as the person who saved the Commanding Officer of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault),  MG John N. Brandenburg's butt.

That's a a crazy kind of scary cool memory. 
A true Rendezvous With Destiny.

Sadly, for me, this is my last article on the 4/77th.  

Happy Thanksgiving and have a wonderful new year!




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