By this point in my reading, research, and dialogue with the readers of this blog, I’m now completely convinced that we (the Army) must do more in the blogosphere. Really, we need to do more with new media in general, but for this post I’m restricting comment to blogs. Knowing that we must do more, there has been some valuable discussion about how we can encourage and educate Soldiers to effectively engage the blogosphere. Some useful tips to consider when blogging have been offered; justification for Soldiers’ blogs has been provided in light of the fundamentals of information espoused by the public affairs community; and discussion about the need for credibility has begun.
I turn my attention in this post to some things we should encourage Soldiers to blog about: what I’ll call “filling the gap.”
What gap I am talking about? The gap between what the media thinks the American public wants to hear and what the American public actually wants to hear. Contained in a book we read for class here about military-media relations were survey results that supported what I’d been thinking/guessing for a long time – main stream media is a bit out of sync with main street America. The book (The Military-Media Relationship 2005), a report by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, is based on surveys conducted of the public, military members, and members of the media as well as round table discussion involving representatives of both the military and media. The discussion and several graphs (which are referenced below) provide valuable insight into what blog topics may be the most interesting to the American public. If the Army is to encourage Soldiers to blog it is the following items/topics that should be specifically encouraged.
1. Stories about the rebuilding effort. Charts 1A and 1B (p 50, 51) clearly show that the media overestimates the public interest in coverage of terrorist activities and even more strikingly underestimates the public’s desire for stories about the reconstruction effort. Knowing this, Soldiers can fill a significant need – tell stories about their involvement in reconstruction. There are many engineer Soldiers out there today rebuilding schools and hospitals (and have been doing so for quite some time!) There are many medical Soldiers deployed right now who are helping to provide needed care to many who haven’t had such care in quite some time. There are many civil affairs Soldiers who have been involved in helping to establish local governmental organizations and are helping demonstrate the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. These Soldiers need to have their stories told – and main stream media isn’t doing it to the degree that the American public desire. So let’s blog about our experiences! (By-the-way, Chart 1B also shows that the public wants to hear more stories about individual Soldiers – and what better source than the Soldiers themselves through their blogs.)
2. Positive stories about events in Iraq and Afghanistan. To begin this discussion, it is clear that stories that are not inherently positive must not be spun into something they are not. Nor can negative stories be ignored or brushed under the carpet. The American public absolutely has a right to know the full costs of the endeavor we are currently engaged in. However, Chart 13 (p 70) shows that while 68% of the media believes they provide balanced information, 70% the public sees the coverage as predominately negative! So, what can Soldiers do about this? Provide their own coverage of the many positive events that are occurring on a daily basis while remaining real and fair about what it is really like to serve as a Soldier in these current wars. This blends nicely with item 1 above – stories about reconstruction efforts are inherently positive.
3. Demonstrate willingness to share our stories and be truthful when doing so. Nothing will be more self-defeating than to be perceived as dishonest whether when speaking to the media or writing our own blogs. The American public’s perception is that the military is willing (and does) provide inaccurate information to the media – Chart 12 (p 69) shows this. Charts 8A and 8B (p 62, 63) infer that the media believes the military to be restrictive in providing access and that officers are not encouraged to speak with reporters. Extrapolating from this a bit, I suggest that blogs provide an outlet to help change this perception. While a Soldier blogging is not the same as engaging face-to-face with reporters, it is still a way to show our interest in being open and honest when disclosing information about events we’ve been a part of.
If the traditional media is not going to provide the information and stories that the public wants, using new media is the best way I can think of to do so. There are a couple possible outcomes if we can be successful at doing this. First, traditional media sources will pick up on the stories being published on blogs (as many examples over the past few years prove they’ll do). Secondly, if there is a preponderance of these stories in the blogosphere and they’re getting read, shared, and linked to then perhaps traditional sources will see the appetite that exists and will begin to publish more such stories on their own initiative. The first outcome I’m hopeful would happen; the second I’m a bit more doubtful about (quiet the cynic in me!) but would be very pleased to see occur.
So, I’m curious about what you think of these ideas. Am I naïve? Would Soldiers latch on to such guidance? Or, do most Soldiers do this anyway through their blogs? Leave your comments here and enter the discussion.