Defense Department Press Service Expands Service Line
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 25, 2008 American Forces Press Service, the preeminent Defense Department information source, today unveiled a digital tool that officials say catapults it into a new realm of information distribution.
The press service launched its latest distribution tool, a widget, on its Web site www.defenselink.mil. The widget allows users to receive AFPS articles in real time on their own Web sites or social networking pages by cutting and pasting one short line of code -- found on the AFPS Widget Page -- into their Web page.
The widget, which appears as a 240-by-299-pixel graphic box -- about 3 by 4 inches -- gives constant access to the press service’s news articles, displaying the latest four or five headlines. Users click on the headlines to get the full story, as well as photos.
Robert T. Hastings, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said the widget allows for the proliferation of AFPS news through the Internet – the medium of choice of many of today’s servicemembers.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to spread that information to as many people who want to tap into it,” he said.
Hastings, a former Army officer and vice president of communications for BAE Systems, said widget technology “multiplies the channels that are available to us to expedite the flow of information to the American public” – the core tenet of Defense Department public affairs.
More and more Americans, including members of the armed forces and their families, rely on the Internet as their primary source for information, Hastings said. “One of the principles of communications is that you must be able to communicate with your audience in their media. And digital natives -- those people who have grown up in this online world -- now make up a large percentage of our armed forces.”
Hastings added that he hopes the spread of information will elicit discussion not only from people who agree with Defense Department policies, but also those who disagree.
“I’m not at all disappointed that those who challenge our policies can, in fact, [add the widget] to their Web sites. Maybe we’ll get a dialogue going for a better understanding of what we do.”
The widget “lets people choose to bring our news and headlines into their communities,” rather than only keeping it in military communities, such as base newspapers, he said.
The widget will help AFPS continue to be relevant in a very competitive communications market, Hastings said. The way people share and absorb information is changing and the press needs to “embrace new technology,” he said.
“I’m proud of the people at AFPS, because I think they do an excellent job of keeping up with a busy, complicated organization that has a lot to say and a very complicated, diverse audience,” he said. “Their role in internal communication is to help 2.5 million servicemembers around the world understand the thinking and activities here inside the Pentagon.”
Hastings, who joined the department in March, has since found that AFPS is well regarded in the military community.
While visiting a combatant command last week, he said, the press service received an “overwhelmingly positive response.” Military officials said AFPS stories helped servicemembers outside of Washington understand the senior leaders’ messages in clear, simple language.
John Valceanu, AFPS executive editor, said the widget is an extension of innovative tools the four-decade-old press service has been adding in recent years to better disseminate the department’s news throughout the services, from the commanding officers to troops serving on the front lines.
“The widget allows people to have the very freshest content on their site,” he said. “We see this as a boon for people who run Web sites on defense-related issues. This makes it very easy for people to carry our products.”
AFPS provides news and feature stories on the Defense Department’s senior military and civilian leaders, policies and procedures, as well as military operations and humanitarian aid efforts. Seven AFPS writers cover the Pentagon and travel with the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior leaders on their visits to stateside bases and overseas.
“Our articles cover a range of issues whether it’s military technology, the warfighter in the field, terrorism, or news-you-can-use items like pay matters,” Valceanu said.
AFPS functions as a news wire, with the writers filing an average of about 15 stories per day. Stories and photos are uploaded to Defenselink in real time throughout the day. The service also runs daily stories from military journalists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and other areas of operation around the world.
The press service “has come a long way,” Valceanu said, since he joined the military in the early 1990s and received its weekly press packet of paper documents by U.S. mail.
“Today, AFPS is one of the fastest-responding news services in government,” he said. “We post stories and photos within an hour or two of major news events and have abbreviated information almost immediately.”
As many as 70,000 people access Defenselink daily, Valceanu said. A primary user of the news service is the military’s thousands of publications – newspapers, Web sites and magazines, he said. “We hope that Web masters on military installations will find the new widget a useful tool to keep their sites updated,” he said.
For some time, AFPS subscribers received stories by way of RSS -- Really Simple Syndicate -- feeds and e-mail, AFPS designer Paul Sherman said. The new widget captures that feed for live display on users’ Web pages.
“Our goal was to make it really simple so anyone can install our widget,” Sherman said.