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Defense Media Activity to Change How Servicemembers Get Information, Entertainment

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2008 – The Oct. 1 establishment of the Defense Media Activity will change the way the Defense Department gets news, entertainment and information to servicemembers and their families.

Servicemembers will not immediately notice a change: the Armed Forces Network will still broadcast football games and the Joint Combat Camera Center will continue to provide still and video images. Changes that will occur later are positive ones, Bob Hastings, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for public affairs, said.

“I think DMA is one of the most exciting things to happen to public affairs in a long time,” Hastings said. “It’s our opportunity to change the way we deliver news and information to our internal audience.”

The new activity will allow the department to be more efficient and effective in delivering news, he said. In the future, servicemembers will be able to choose what media they use to get their information and entertainment.

“Not unimportant, and what the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was thinking about, was to do it more cost-effectively,” Hastings said. “There’s two sides of the coin: we can do a better job of it, and we can probably realize some synergies from it.”

Hastings used his recent experiences in Afghanistan as the model for that synergy. There, he said, AFN provides TV, radio, Web and print information and entertainment.

“That organization is delivering the command information Web site and they are publishing the command information newspaper,” Hastings said. “That’s a glimpse into the future of the way we will deliver that.”

Borne out of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s 2005 conclusions, the Defense Media Activity places internal information programs -- the Army Broadcasting Service, Soldiers Radio/TV, the Soldiers Media Center, the Naval Media Center, the Air Force News Agency, Marine Corps internal information assets and the Army/Air Force Hometown News Service with the American Forces Information Service -- under one roof at Fort Meade, Md., in 2011.

The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon Channel, Stars and Stripes and the Joint Combat Camera Center are among the offices that will transfer to the new activity.

The activity will work under the direction of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

The idea is that teams of reporters, photographers, videographers and TV producers will deploy to an area and send command information products back. Experts at the activity can package the reports for distribution by any media. “The DMA is how we will deliver that,” Hastings said.

The concept of operations for the new activity is still developing, Hastings said. The activity’s focus will be more on information and audience, and less about the medium used.

“Look at the organizations we have – Armed Forces Radio and Television, American Forces Press Service – we build around channel,” Hastings said. “DMA will build around the information and the audience.”

Before setting up the activity, officials looked at how commercial news organizations operate, and how people consume information today.

“We’re finding that people want to pick and choose the information they want and how they get it,” Hastings said. “Add to that our audience is well-educated, young, sophisticated consumers of information and they know what they want and where they want to get it from.”

Servicemembers and their families want an online option, but they still want AFN and Stars and Stripes, Hastings said. While Stars and Stripes will be an element of the activity, the newspaper will retain the autonomy it needs to continue to operate as an independent paper, he said.

Reporters, producers, photographers and videographers are going to have to expand their expertise for the future, Hastings said. The days of specializing in one media are over. Reporters are going to have to learn how to take pictures, operate video and tell a TV story.

“The Navy has already started this with the mass communications specialist,” he said. “The other services have received the proposal positively. Now we have to work our way through the bureaucracy to see if we can do it.”

Commanders want public affairs personnel to do it all, Hastings said. “Today, the commander may need a print product, tomorrow a Web product, and the next day a broadcast product, and he wants public affairs personnel to do all of that,” he said.

The Defense Media Activity will provide that service, and the Defense Information School the training.

Hastings said the new activity will examine its missions and determine what resources – personnel, money, equipment – are needed to accomplish them. He doesn’t expect a change in the number of people assigned to the activity. “But I expect you will see a change in what people do in the agency,” he said.

As the activity matures, it will employ more generalists than specialists. Hastings expects manpower savings “in the back shop” – contracting, logistics, personnel, and operations.

“My hope is saving in the back shops will allow us to put more people on the front lines – writers, editors, producers, photographers, videographers and so on,” he said.

The activity is uncharted territory, Hastings said, but he is getting great cooperation from the services. “There’s a lot of excitement of what the DMA can do and become,” he said.

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