10 December 2008

Fill the gap: milbloggers roles in communicating with the nation

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.


  1. What about the gaps between what Old Media wants the American public to hear and what PA wants to help Old Media tell the domestic target audience and what somebody has to tell the domestic target audience if there is to be any popular support for the war effort?

  2. One problem I've noticed with military blogs is that many of them, instead of telling their own story just link to mainstream media articles and give their opinion on it. Or worse, just post MSM articles about military topics instead of writing anything original.

    Even more annoying are the blogs that rant about the MSM not publishing positive articles and then, in every post, link to an article on a MSM website. I've seen blogs complain about how the MSM isn't reporting on one particular story, yet the blog's linked sources for that story are the MSM!

    Also, people don't seem to realize that the majority of servicemembers are not capable of putting out well-rounded, well-researched articles. I can write just fine about my own life, but there's no way I could approach high-ranking superiors or even many peers for interviews and information for my personal blog. We don't have time to go out and gather facts and background information. Actual reporters can do that. Your average servicemember cannot. I think it's good for more of us to write and share our stories, but we aren't going to be able to come anywhere close to producing the kinds of in-depth reports a full-time, trained reporter can. People complain about the media being biased, but information and articles released by the military or individual servicemembers isn't going to be LESS biased. It's just going to be biased in our favor, and bias is bias whether it's positive or negative and a permanent tilt in either direction is bad. We still need the media as an outside observer reporting on the military. Depending on the military for information about the military would be like depending on Congressmembers to write about the activities of Congress.

    Plus, it sucks to say it but I think that if the public wanted as many stories about the military as the military thinks they do, I think that milblogs would be LOT more popular than they already are. Part of the problem is that most Americans can't be bothered to read.


  3. Holy crap that is long! And I sure sounded like a big old party pooper didn't I? Sorry. :-)

  4. You raise a number of great points, Akinoluna. The comment you made about Soldiers not being able to provide well-researched articles is perfectly valid. But, what is most attractive about blogs is that folks can get a lower-level perspective about what's going on. Part of the key to effective blogging is to "stay in your lane" - just like we're told when providing media interviews.

    I agree with your assessment of many "milblogs" just being links to other reports. In my opinion, the most interesting milblogs are the ones written by Soldiers about what their life is like; what they're doing on a periodic basis.

    Others that I've personally found interesting are those who editorialize on current events. But these Soldiers need to tread very carefully in the blogosphere ... lest they cross the line of inappropriate activities (policital support, badmouthing superior officers, etc).

    From what I've read and surveys that I've seen, the most popular milblogs are the ones written from the perspective of the boots on the ground. Several of these have grown into something beyond that once they realized how huge their readership was or they left the service. But from the Army's perspective, I think we should encourage Soldiers to write about what they see from their foxhole, so-to-speak.

    Your thoughts regarding bias are dead-on. In fact, I'm working on a post about that very subject. Bias is a fact of life and it's dangerous to assume that we're unbiased while everyone who covers our actions is biased in some way.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this subject and participation in the discussion.