Breaking Through the National Media Filter:
How to Succeed in Telling the Story through Hometown Outreach
MAJ Alayne Conway
The media continues to play a large role in shaping perceptions both in Iraq and at home in the United States. The footprint of the Western media based in Iraq has dramatically changed from the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) witnessed this evolution. This chapter looks at the changes in the media structure and how the public affairs office from the 3ID adapted to these changes, found a way to break through the national media filter, and succeeded in telling the Soldier's story.
The Media Build-up in Iraq
During the early days of the war, the Pentagon arranged for more than 600 journalists to embed with military units across the battlefield. The intent was to give the media a firsthand look at the war and an opportunity to report back to the American public. Despite criticism that the program would jeopardize the objectivity of media reporting, it was a resounding success. Living rooms across America had front-row seats as they watched the battle for Baghdad unfold. The media were effective tools in telling Soldiers' stories during the early days of OIF.
Over time, media outlets established bureaus in and around the International Zone (IZ), commonly known as the Green Zone. The IZ has become the epicenter for both coalition forces and the Government of Iraq. Once in the IZ, media could obtain their credentials to cover military stories. In 2004, Western media were criticized for reporting from their hotels instead of from the field and encouraged to get out with the military units and get the real story.
The 3ID returned to Iraq in early 2005 and had the important mission of overseeing the transition from the interim government to a freely and fairly elected representative Iraqi government that had the support of the Iraqi people. During this time, journalists reported on good news associated with the Constitutional Referendum in October 2005 and then the elections in January 2006. It seemed that Iraqis were in control of their future, and the U.S. military was building capable and competent Iraqi security forces.
There was no shortage of embedded reporters (embeds) during the 3ID's second deployment. Brigades juggled anywhere between eight and ten media embeds on a weekly basis. Multiple correspondents staffed Baghdad media bureaus and were able to spend adequate time with military units. There was a constant flow of embeds from the United States and international media outlets.
Units reached out to Pan-Arabic media, whose numbers seemed to grow on a daily basis. Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND-B), led by the 3ID headquarters, managed a Baghdad media club, so there was no shortage of Iraqi journalists available for day trips and press events. To a certain extent, public affairs pursued hometown outreach, but it was usually second or third in the priority of effort. Much of the hometown outreach was geared to the home-station media. In the case of 3ID, outreach with Savannah, GA, media was a weekly occurrence but never matched the daily interactions with the Baghdad media bureaus.
Reporting the war changed after the Samarra mosque bombing in 2006. Attacks against coalition forces were on the rise, and positive news was often hard to get out. The military criticized the media for always reporting the negative story. The media often responded back with, "How can we report on the positive stories when the security situation is so bad?"
The "Surge" Brings Change to Media Reporting
President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq on January 10, 2007. The announcement of the "surge" brought some optimism for the way ahead and gave the military the necessary leverage to start turning the tide of negative coverage.
By the end of the month, the 3ID received the notice to deploy back to Iraq. The public affairs office deployed with a staff of seven Soldiers and a kit bag full of talking points and messages to tell the story of the "surge." The Iraq conflict became a dominant political story, and during the month of January 2007, coverage of the war consumed a full quarter of the print, television, and online news.
Despite the political debates surrounding reducing the U.S. involvement in the war, there was a lot of media interest in the deployment of the 3ID for its unprecedented third tour to Iraq. After two successful tours to Iraq, the division was called upon to secure the belts surrounding Baghdad. On April 4, 2007, 3ID stood up the Multi-National Division-Center (MND-C) headquarters. Reaching out to the Western audience would be a challenge for the new headquarters. Media were familiar with MND-B and already had relationships with 1st Cavalry Division and its brigades. The 3ID needed to reestablish relationships with the Baghdad media and make sure they knew there were Dog Face Soldiers' stories to be told.
This challenge was coupled with changes. The media landscape was quite different from the previous deployment. Gone were the days of 25 bureaus with multiple crews and correspondents that could embed for a long time. After journalists were seriously injured in the line of duty, media organizations placed stringent travel restrictions on their journalists. In January 2006, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman were seriously injured when the military patrol they were traveling in was hit by a roadside bomb. Another tragic incident occurred in May 2006 when CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously injured during an Iraqi car bomb attack in Baghdad. Her cameraman and sound man were killed along with a U.S. Soldier and his Iraqi translator.
Media embeds and day visits were closely scrutinized, and some journalists were not allowed to travel in uparmored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles. Some media could only travel in mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, and other bureaus mandated that their journalists travel with a battalion commander or senior leader since they usually had a dedicated personal security detachment. Due to security concerns coupled with dwindling broadcast time dedicated to Iraq stories, U.S. based corporate offices for the Baghdad bureaus put a crunch on reporting.
The early days of the "surge" provided an opportunity to tell the story through the national media. Many of the operations were lethal, and MND-C Soldiers took the fight to the enemy using ground and air assets. Soldiers told their stories with press releases, photos, handheld video cameras, and weapons system videos.
The division headquarters had more flexibility to tell the story with Apache gun tape footage, fixed-wing bomb footage, and unmanned aerial system clips that were more appealing to the television networks. This video was also important in telling the American people how the U.S. military was taking the fight to the enemy. The volume of these video releases by the 3ID prompted CNN to package a story about the Department of Defense's liberal policies for releasing footage.
Despite the potential for good news coverage, Americans still received a grim portrait of the war in Iraq during the first ten months of the year. Almost half of the reporting consisted of accounts of daily violence. There were spikes of coverage throughout the year; the most notable was the coverage of GEN David Petraeus' progress report on Iraq in September 2007. Both the military and media agree that the overall trend of Iraq coverage has been on a steady decline since January 2007.
For the first nine months of MND-C's deployment, priority of effort went toward national media outreach. This outreach was a combination of monthly media lunches in the IZ, daily reach-outs to the Baghdad-based media to market breaking news stories, and battlefield circulation. MG Rick Lynch gave an open invitation to the Baghdad media to travel with him during his visits across the MND-C area. He encouraged the public affairs office to schedule media for these visits throughout the week and determined that the ideal balance was scheduling print journalists the majority of the time and a television crew at least one day per week. These visits built the relationship between MND-C and the media, provided coverage of brigades' events, and paved the way for future embeds.
In addition to battlefield circulations, MND-C scheduled monthly media lunches. The concept of the Baghdad Bureau Chiefs' Lunch (BBCL) carried over from 1st Cavalry Division and proved to be an excellent way of introducing a new military operation to the media. BBCLs were not usually instant news makers but did build rapport with the journalists and assisted MND-C in lining up embeds and day trips for brigades.
Although the media operations center (MOC) operated 24-hours each day, the stateside media cycle kept Soldiers busy into the early morning hours. Stories were marketed to the Baghdad-based media and select Pentagon correspondents. The public affairs office used the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System regional representatives based in Atlanta to assist brigade PAOs with setting up interviews with national, regional, and local media outlets. The MOC also maintained contacts with the Pentagon Press Corps, and through continuous engagements, the division built mutually beneficial relationships with Fox News Channel and CNN.
There were additional spikes in national media coverage for MND-C during the remainder of the year. As the "surge" began to reduce the violence, journalists produced more feature-style stories. The Baghdad media helped the division carry Soldiers' stories to ever-larger audiences. The 3ID's 90th birthday garnered some national and local area coverage in November 2007. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas provided opportunities to tell Soldiers' stories and connect with the home front.
Need for Change
During the early days of 2008, the division commander was eager to find a way to break through the national media filter and share the hard work of Soldiers with the American public. He tasked the public affairs office with conducting an aggressive hometown outreach program. The approach was three-pronged and implemented at all levels of the command.
One of the programs was called Operation Thank You. This program allowed unit leadership to reach out to their local hometowns and give an update on current operations. All staff sergeants majors; command sergeants majors; battalion, brigade, and division primary/special staff; and battalion, brigade, and higher commanders completed a hometown interview over a 90-day period. The MND-C public affairs office also drafted a hometown thank-you letter that Soldiers were encouraged to send to their hometown newspapers.
In addition to staff interviews and command team interviews, the division also encouraged Soldiers to conduct interviews with their hometown media. Brigades rotated Soldiers through engagements with the home station media to include weekly radio and television interviews. Soldiers from the special troops battalion assigned to the 3ID filled out hometown news releases and the public affairs office released them to hometown media outlets through the Hometown News Service in San Antonio, TX.
At the division-level, the CG directed Fort Stewart, GA, to stand up a hometown outreach cell. This group was responsible for setting up 15 interviews per week for the Top 5 leaders of the division. This group included the CG, division command sergeant major, deputy commanders for support and maneuver, and the chief of staff. Each member of the command group was required to conduct television and print interviews every week. Their schedules were deconflicted by the MOC, whose staff prepared packets with biographies and outlet backgrounds and monitored the interviews.
This component of the program was conducted over an 11-week period with positive results. After conducting more than 140 interviews, the Top 5 had reached out to 32 states. Radio interviews proved to be the most fruitful for getting the message out with a 100 percent air rate. Television and print interviews were not as successful but were still effective with a 50-55 percent air and run rate. Overall, MND-C achieved the desired outcome of reaching out to the American people through the hometown markets and telling the MND-C Soldier's story.
The division still conducted national-level media outreach but on a more selective basis. Breaking news stories were still marketed to the Pentagon-based and Baghdad media. These stories were marketed because of the type of story or the strength of the elements. If there was quality weapons systems' video, the capture of large caches or caches with Iranian munitions, or a need to counter a potential negative story, the MOC developed the package and pushed the story out to the national media. As for battlefield circulations, the public affairs office focused more on getting the right reporter out to the right unit to tell the right story.
The latest initiative has involved reaching out to the national talk show radio hosts in an effort to keep up the drumbeat on the success of the surge and MND-C's transition to capacity-building operations. This has been very successful, and in the first week alone, it was estimated that MND-C sent its message to an estimated 15 million listeners.
Breaking the national media filter has gotten much harder since the early days of the war. It continues to be a challenge for military units as they compete for coverage with the ongoing 2008 presidential campaign. Iraq continues to be a topic of interest but on most days accounts for less than 10 percent of the daily news. Public affairs staffs must get creative and find ways to tell stories associated with the hard work of Soldiers. The Baghdad media are still viable and PAOs should engage them, but they should be not the sole means of getting the story out. Every Soldier has a hometown, and units will find the most success in marketing their stories to those outlets. Many of these news organizations are eager to use the hometown connection to localize the context of Iraq news and, ultimately, tell the Soldier's story.
- Why News of Iraq Didn't Surge." Retrieved March 26, 2008, from Pew Research Center Web site http://pewresearch.org/pubs/775/iraq-news.
- "The Portrait from Iraq-How the Press Has Covered Events on the Ground." Retrieved April 15, 2008, from http://www.journalism.org/print/8996.
Reaching Out to an Influential and Overlooked Population:
Task Force Marne Partners with Iraqi Media
LTC Frank B. DeCarvalho, MAJ Spring Kivett, and CPT Matthew Lindsey
Note: Previously published in Military Review, July-August 2008, and reprinted with permission.
Since the beginning of major combat operations in Iraq in March 2003, the media has circulated countless war-related stories and articles of interest across the vast media continuum; reaching out to not only American citizens and military families back home, but to an international community keen on gauging the coalition's progress and gaining insight into the ultimate outcome for the Iraqi people. Public cravings for information about the war are virtually insatiable, from the administration's evolving strategy to achieve success to stories of the many Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen executing their daily duties and responsibilities. To satisfy these growing appetites, the media has invested expertise and resources, often in the form of embedded correspondents, to capture and accurately portray events as they materialize.
Although many sensational "bad news" events seem to capture and hold the public's attention for lengthy periods of time, others less dramatic but potentially more important often go virtually unreported or seemingly unnoticed. These events seldom receive international attention as they usually do not depict "spectacular" insurgent-type activities, human suffering, and infrastructure degradation. According to CNN International correspondent Nic Robertson, "There is an awful lot of what might be construed as bad news here [Iraq], but it is the dominant information, it is the prevailing information."
However, in many cases, the "less-than-worthy-of-attention" events have a profound effect on the perceptions, attitudes, behavior, and allegiances of the most influential of all global audiences involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Iraqi citizens are closest to the truth and they are the "tip-of-the-spear" of unfolding events. It is through their eyes that the Government of Iraq (GOI) and the coalition are either working toward improvements and progress or destroying what little they had during previous times and under old regimes. Undoubtedly, influencing the Iraqi point of view is extremely valuable not only in a war of lethal engagements against terrorists and criminals, but in a war of contrasting and conflicting images.
Unfortunately, other than using limited psychological operations (PSYOP) and capabilities, the GOI and the coalition have spent relatively little attention, effort, and capital in communicating with the Iraqi population. For the coalition to make significant progress toward winning the information war, it needs to address two central issues: providing Iraqi media security and, more important, facilitating access to the most relevant stories-of-interest. Should the coalition continue to overlook these two fundamental issues, the insurgents will remain the dominant and most influential groups influencing the Iraqi population's perceptions and behavior.
Breaking the Paradigm
Doctrinally, public affairs (PA) focus primarily on informing internal, American, and international audiences. Although media pundits could debate whether or not the Iraqi population is considered part of the international media community, it is no secret that its fledgling and limited pool of credentialed media does not share the same clout and respect as its international or American counterparts. All too often, Iraqi media is an afterthought, and many coalition commanders simply do not see the benefits or feel comfortable including them in their daily battlefield circulations. The language barrier and the need for dedicated media escorts and translators can be resource intensive, making it easier to exclude them when planning media operations. It is for these very reasons that Iraqi media has had limited impact and success in providing relevant news to the general Iraqi population on coalition and GOI improvements along all lines of operations. Breaking this paradigm requires careful thought and changes to the status quo; however, for those who are successful, the positive results will sway even the most stubborn of anti-GOI and anti-coalition critics.
Challenges Facing the Iraqi Media
The Iraqi people are frustrated with being kept in the dark and desire immediate access to the many newsworthy events that are shaping their country and affecting their way of life. Nothing is more aggravating to Iraqis than receiving outdated news from Iraqi media sources, especially if it is a recap of what was already covered by the American or international media. However, before one can say that Iraqi media is truly nonexistent or ineffective, one must look at its recent past and how it is currently operating today throughout much of Iraq.
During Saddam's reign, there were few news outlets and all were government sanctioned, funded, and operated. The news outlets were all pro-government, and attempts to disseminate anything contrary were dealt with harshly. Once the coalition lifted these barriers, a plethora of free media outlets emerged to circulate an abundance of information, some political, some religious, and some unbiased toward any particular group or individual. The ensuing counterinsurgency became the sole focus of these newly formed media outlets; however, as the environment quickly deteriorated, holding an Iraqi media position became and still remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
Modest estimates indicate 118 media deaths and more than 300 media casualties (many through targeted assassinations) in Iraq since March 2003. Most media were killed trying to convey to the world the rampant suffering of the Iraqi people under the hands of nefarious criminals and insurgents. Fox News Channel's Jerry Burke stated: "The media has a very difficult job. We have to cover some aspect of the story so we cover what we can cover without getting our anchors and our reporters blown up." Media correspondents have become targets solely because they portray stories of hope, progress, and offer a glimpse of Iraq's potential future as a stable and prosperous country. Despite the recent successes the coalition and the Iraqi security forces (ISF) have had, working for the Iraqi media is still dangerous. Fortunately, there are still many Iraqis who continue to pursue jobs with the media. It is, after all, an honorable, patriotic, and respectable form of employment for many Iraqis willing to put their fears aside in order to portray the reality of what is happening in Iraq, as well as to better inform their fellow neighbors and countrymen.
In various discussions with Iraqi media journalists, Task Force Marne learned that many were perturbed over their previous experiences working with the coalition. Their perception, to a large degree an accurate reflection of reality, is that they are not given the same opportunities as American or international media correspondents. The truth is the coalition has done very little to include Iraqi media as part of its daily battle rhythm. The amount of attention and, more important, access given to American and international media operating in Iraq on any given day far exceeds that of the Iraqi media. The number of journalists may be fewer for American and international media, but the amount of funding, logistics, and reach-back support to their home stations places Iraqis in a distant second place. Despite the significant differences, the Iraqi media is a potent shaper of Iraqi nationals' perceptions and attitudes.
The advantages to having Iraqi media cover noteworthy events and publish stories are numerous: placing an Iraqi face on published works, capturing the ground truth in near real-time, countering anti-GOI or anti-coalition propaganda, eliminating the language barrier when conducting interviews with other Iraqis, and gaining instant credibility and acceptance among the Iraqi population. By working together, the coalition has the ability to inform the Iraqi media about events that will most likely impact and shape the information environment. Having stories of progress resonating throughout Iraqi communities serves to mature relationships, achieve acceptance of coalition presence and actions, and strengthen the resolve and commitment to denounce terrorism. Two additional significant advantages for the coalition are the Iraqi media's unwritten guarantees that stories of interest will be accepted, unmodified, and aired in a timely manner and the elimination of a sometimes time-consuming PA approval process. Commanders who discount the capabilities and effectiveness of the Iraqi media and exclude them from daily coalition operations miss opportunities to make a positive influence on the Iraqi populace.
Dedicating and Aligning of Resources
In the International Zone, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) resourced a section dedicated to fulfilling coalition requests for Iraqi media embeds. The section, called the Iraqi media engagement team (IMET), serves as the operational linkage between Iraqi media and coalition forces. The IMET, with only three full-time individuals, is a component of MNF-I's larger Combined Press Information Center (CPIC), which focuses support to American and international media. As one can imagine, the IMET is an extremely busy entity; supporting every unit's request for Iraqi media embeds is often problematic. With the priority of support primarily to MNF-I and Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), it is a challenge to schedule events for multiple Multi-National Division (MND) customers. Although the IMET is dedicated to working with all coalition organizations below corps-level, there is a significant shortage of credentialed and experienced Iraqi media personnel. This shortage stems primarily from a high level of media turnover, the current lack of coalition interest in Iraqi media, and difficulties associated with correspondents registering and obtaining credentials from the CPIC.
In order to capitalize on the capabilities and advantages of using Iraqi media, Task Force Marne established an Iraqi media section (IMS). The section consists of eleven personnel working in three departments: battlefield circulations, articles and press releases, and media monitoring.
Figure 3-2-1: Iraqi media section organization
Veering from current joint and Army doctrine, the IMS does not work for the public affairs officer (PAO), but rather falls under the direction and oversight of the effects coordinator (ECOORD). This nondoctrinal alignment serves two purposes: (1) It allows the PA detachment to focus its resources on its internal and American audiences, and (2) It provides the effects staff another "influencing" tool with which to better coordinate and synchronize PSYOP themes and messages. The IMS link to PSYOP is based strictly on the commonality of the target audience. Enabling the effects and PA elements to concentrate on separate audiences better focuses the command's "influencing" and "informing" efforts to support the strategic communications plan and the nonlethal targeting process.
During the nonlethal targeting working group sessions, the ECOORD prioritizes and synchronizes IMS efforts with those of all other nonlethal contributors to include information operations, PA, civil-military operations (governance and economics), Iraqi Advisory Task Force, and staff judge advocate (rule of law).
MG Rick Lynch, commanding general of Task Force Marne, stated during a division-level strategic communications conference: "Targeting the American audience is a PA responsibility, and targeting the Iraqi audience is an effects responsibility." MG Lynch, having worked for GEN George W. Casey during OIF III as the MNF-I strategic effects coordinator, knew very well the benefits of partnering effects with Iraqi media. By separating Iraqi media from PA, the CG established clear lanes of responsibility based on his past experiences working with these different audiences. Moreover, according to current Army counterinsurgency doctrine, the decisive battle is for the people's minds; hence having effects responsible for engaging and using the Iraqi media greatly enhances the overall effectiveness of operational-level themes and messages.
Contrary to what many doctrine writers and military scholars might believe, this "out-of-the-box" approach has worked extremely well for Task Force Marne. As of this writing, the IMS has conducted 38 battlefield circulations, brought Iraqi media crews to the story, and translated and disseminated more than 300 "good news" stories in Arabic. Market penetration for IMS-translated articles remains constant at more than 50 percent and battlefield circulations average more than 98 percent. When it is critical to get news out quickly, the IMS generates a media alert. For example, when coalition forces executed a warrant on a corrupt city councilman, the media alert advised the local population that an Iraqi judge had issued a warrant for the councilman's arrest. Of note, the Iraqi media has picked up 100 percent of IMS's media alerts. All efforts have served to increase market penetration while improving the Iraqis' situational awareness of coalition and GOI initiatives and strengthening partnerships with concerned citizens groups (CCGs) throughout Task Force Marne's operational environment. Although the IMS is separate from PA, it is held to the same standards; relationships between the IMS and the Iraqi media are founded on professionalism, credibility, and trust.
From Media Monitoring to Battlefield Circulations
The IMS initially began as a two-person operation that focused solely on Pan-Arab media monitoring, also referred to as open source intelligence (OSINT). The media monitoring function, handled by Army O9 Lima Soldiers, was designed to obtain information on what the media was reporting (atmospherics) on the coalition and to identify any particular "slants" or trends to the reports. Having up-to-date insight on Pan-Arab and Iraqi sentiments and perceptions of the coalition serves to validate or adjust the division's strategic communications plan.
The IMS's media monitoring cell captures a majority of its atmospherics through viewing Iraqi and Pan-Arab television; reading various MNF-I, MNC-I, and independent media reports; and scanning the Internet. Every day the IMS correlates, analyzes, and provides all media monitoring information, to include stories particular to Task Force Marne, to the Division Commander for situational awareness.
With the addition of two personnel, the IMS expanded its mission to include developing, translating, and disseminating coalition-related stories to a host of Iraqi media outlets. The IMS quickly established itself as a credible and timely source for articles and information with 7 radio stations, 8 television stations, and 13 newspaper outlets. As the IMS continued to disseminate its stories to its Iraqi media contacts, the list quickly expanded as more journalists became aware of the quality and value of information the IMS was providing. Today, the IMS has contacts with 11 radio stations, 13 television stations, 27 newspaper outlets, and a host of media Websites. Additionally, the IMS established an exclusive contract with the very popular al-Sabah newspaper. This dedicated contract guarantees that Task Force Marne "high priority" stories of tactical and operational importance are disseminated to a large segment of the public.
The IMS regularly receives requests for military-type information, updates to developing stories of interest, and interviews. Stories and articles are published with full Task Force Marne attribution, leading to frequent unsolicited tips from concerned citizens on insurgent-type activity. Although the IMS is currently not staffed or equipped to accommodate television interviews, cross talk and leveraging of organic division-level PA capabilities adequately accomplish the mission.
In order for the IMS to effectively interact with the Iraqi media, it needed to first understand its unique organizational dynamics. Significant cultural and language barriers were only two of the many challenges. The right mix and amount of personnel resolved some early "growing pains"; however, having the training and expertise in media operations is a work in progress. Iraqi media personnel are no less demanding than American or international media. They expect the same level of professionalism, cooperation, treatment, and courtesies. Knowing the media's concerns and quickly handling any issues that may arise can make the difference between a great media event and a complaint upon its completion. The IMS, in order to lessen the likelihood of mishap during execution of a media event, accompanies Iraqi media crews with dedicated military escorts and linguists. This procedure ensures Iraqi media crews are treated fairly and with respect while interacting with coalition forces throughout the event. It also keeps the Iraqi media crews on schedule, focused on the mission, and out of harm's way.
Another major IMS challenge is coordinating logistical aspects of battlefield circulations. Battlefield circulations are resource intensive; however, the payoff in media penetration is tremendous. Freedom of movement is currently limited throughout most of Iraq, and it is no small feat to get Iraqi media crews out to cover stories that the coalition wants highlighted. Delays with aircraft, tight security measures at the International Zone (IZ) and IMET, last-minute changes to missions, and occasional media cancellations cause frustration and inconveniences for Iraqi journalists and IMS escorts. The preferred and safest method for transporting media crews on battlefield circulations is using rotary-wing assets; however, there are times when ground convoys become a necessity. In either case, having detailed back-up plans usually alleviates much of the stress and disappointment of change while on the go. A typical battlefield circulation entails IMS escorts and translators flying from Camp Victory to the IZ in Baghdad to link up with the designated Iraqi media crew. From there, the team continues air travel to the forward operating base closest to the event. The requesting maneuver unit uses a personal security detachment to provide ground movement to the event. The mission is not complete until the IMS safely escorts the media crew back to the IZ and the escorts, in turn, return to Camp Victory.
For example the IMS conducted a successful battlefield circulation in al-Rashida, a small town southwest of Baghdad, which was previously an al-Qaeda safe haven. The local Sunni population had become tired of al-Qaeda militants freely roaming the area, attacking coalition forces along Route Malibu, intimidating peaceful citizens, and committing heinous crimes. The townspeople banded together and formed a CCG. They members manned several key intersections and checkpoints and kept vigilant watch over their neighborhoods day and night. Within a short period of time, the CCG was successful in forcing al-Qaeda out of the area. Since then, al-Qaeda has had no significant presence or activity in al-Rashida or along that portion of Route Malibu.
The IMS felt it important to capture this "good news" story as it highlighted the positive effect that CCGs have on preventing terrorism and securing neighborhoods. Additionally, this battlefield circulation allayed neighboring Shi'a fears that the coalition was arming Sunni CCGs. Task Force Marne also felt this story would encourage the Shi'a population to see the value in developing their own CCGs to assist in the fight against Shi'a extremism.
Having Iraqis report this "success" story underscores the importance of having an Iraqi face on vital messages supporting coalition efforts. The IMS escorted al-Iraqiya and al-Fayhaa television crews out to the site where they conducted multiple interviews with the CCG leaders and its citizens. The segments aired for several days on Iraqi television. The story highlighted Iraqi citizens of al-Rashida taking a stand against criminals and securing their neighborhoods. The battlefield circulation was so influential that al-Fayhaa produced a 15-minute special program on CCGs, which aired the following week. To keep the momentum going in the press, the IMS published several articles on the event and disseminated them to its Iraqi media contacts. Numerous Iraqi print and Internet outlets picked up the stories, indicating a significant public interest in CCGs. Since the airing of the special segment, other CCGs around al-Rashida have sprouted and today total approximately 8,000. Leaders from 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, have reported a dramatic decrease in insurgent-type activity and equate this recent downturn to the involvement of the CCGs within its operating environment.
One of the greatest benefits of a battlefield circulation is putting an Iraqi face on the story; an Iraqi reporter talking to fellow Iraqis has a much greater effect on the Iraqi psyche than if the coalition told the story. Having representatives from the local government or ministries during the planning, building, and media event dramatically increases the impact of the interview. To ensure success, a goal of the IMS is to establish trusted relationships with the Iraqi media; however, this is a slow and long-term process. The vast majority of first-time Iraqi media journalists the IMS works with have little experience interacting with coalition forces. It is important to understand that Iraqis are constantly forming and refining their opinions of the coalition and its interaction with the populace. For this reason, it is important for the IMS and its escorts to do whatever is necessary to make the Iraqi journalists' initial experiences positive. Maintaining their levels of enthusiasm, optimism, and dedication in providing a valuable service to their nation is paramount to winning the war of images.
Another important factor during the coordination phase is to provide the designated media crews with as much information about the upcoming mission as possible. Of course, to ensure the safety of both Iraqi journalists and coalition soldiers, operations security measures are factored into each media event. When the IMS informs the Iraqi media members on what to expect, they are less likely to get upset should the mission parameters drastically change. The key to success in communicating with the Iraqi media and developing the battlefield circulation plan is to remain both optimistic and flexible.
Enlisting the Help of Experts
The IMS could not function without the dedicated support of its four O9 Lima translators. These Soldiers are the workhorses of the section and support all three departments. There are times when the O9 Limas cover down on multiple tasks simultaneously. It is common for an O9 Lima to serve as a translator on a battlefield circulation in the morning, spend the afternoon coordinating events telephonically with the Iraqi media, and translating articles in the evening. Their insights into streamlining processes and offering recommendations have contributed immeasurably to the IMS's overall success.
To bridge the gap between Iraqis and the coalition and to better understand the cultural, religious, and ethnic differences that could potentially affect a good working relationship, the IMS acquired an Iraqi cultural advisor. This individual provided the important and necessary function of interacting directly with the various media outlets. Acting as the IMS's initial face, the cultural advisor was also charged with reviewing all stories and transcripts for proper translation and conformity with cultural sensitivities. Having an Iraqi cultural advisor communicating directly with the Iraqi media established the IMS's credibility and increased the media's willingness to partner on future events.
In addition to the cultural advisor and the four Army O9 Limas, the IMS hired two bilingual bicultural advisors (BBAs) to author and translate articles and serve as media analysts. By having BBAs on its staff, the IMS ensured that articles were written in such a fashion as to resonate acceptably among the target audience. Some English words, phrases, and titles simply do not translate into Arabic. Failure to recognize these subtle linguistic nuances has caused friction and misunderstanding in the past. For example, the term "foreign fighters" generated a considerable amount of negative feedback from the IMS's readership. To a majority of Iraqis, the term "foreign fighters" also refers to the coalition, hence the obvious misinterpretation. The erudite eyes of the story writers and cultural advisor have greatly reduced these types of issues. They are also adept at preparing articles so the audience better understands the intent of a story.
By emphasizing issues the Iraqis find most interesting, the IMS increases market penetration and acceptance. Although large parts of coalition operations revolve around rebuilding and providing essential services, it is important that the IMS not overly advertise these acts. Iraqis understand the coalition is here to assist the GOI and its population, but they do not necessarily want to be reminded of all the coalition reconstruction efforts ongoing throughout their country. Also, where PA articles mention units and Soldiers by name, the IMS "Iraqifies" its articles for better translation and simplicity. Given the target audience, providing specific details on Soldiers and their backgrounds does little to enhance the IMS's stories. After all, the main goals of the IMS are to accurately portray the coalition's efforts, positively influence the Iraqi population, and to change any negative perceptions that may exist because of misinformation.
Teamwork and Communication
The IMS does not operate autonomously from within the division headquarters. It works in conjunction with each of the brigade combat team's (BCT) ECOORDs to identify events worthy of media coverage. There are times, however, when the IMS plans events based on division-level input. This is the exception, not the norm. The BCT ECOORDs synchronize planning efforts with each of their maneuver battalions and nominate events for Iraqi media coverage. Once approved by the BCT commander, they develop a detailed concept of the operation (CONOP) plan and submit to the IMS for scheduling. Typical events planned for and covered by Iraqi media include school openings, combined medical engagements (CME), civil project completions, community leader interviews, and other events of general interest. In the event the IMS receives multiple CONOPs requesting media for the same day, requests are prioritized based on significance and supportability. Currently, the IMS can support two battlefield circulations per day. On several occasions during battlefield circulations, the Iraqi media crews were able to capitalize on other newsworthy opportunities, including interviews with concerned citizens and tribal leaders and "spur-of-the-moment" community events. The IMS carefully reviews each BCT's battlefield circulation request as it is not always a simple process to allocate media to particular events.
The IMS, working closely with the IMET, must also take into account certain religious considerations before assigning Iraqi media crews. Sunni reporters may not feel comfortable entering a Shi'a community or covering a Shi'a event and vice versa. Due to operations security requirements not to disclose exact locations prior to the events, correspondents, due to their religious affiliations, sometimes chose to cancel the day of the event. The IMS works diligently with the IMET to accommodate the Iraqi media's religious concerns and to prevent potential friction. This is especially crucial during Islamic religious holidays and the month of Ramadan. Additionally, some journalists, despite significant coalition force presence, perceive certain areas as simply too dangerous and will not support the mission under any circumstances. Some contentious areas that have frightened off Iraqi media are former al-Qaeda sanctuaries, areas with high levels of criminal activities, and areas with high numbers of extremist militias.
The future for the IMS holds much promise for continued growth. However, expanding the IMS is dependent largely on two factors: changing coalition perceptions on Iraqi media, especially at the company through brigade-level, and increasing the fidelity of deliberate media planning. Commanders must embrace the reality that Iraqi media is a powerful "influencing" tool and should steer away from viewing it as a second-rate or "low-payoff" force multiplier. Coalition forces should treat the Iraqi media on par with its American or international counterparts. Once the coalition recognizes the value and potential of Iraqi media, the IMS can better align and utilize its limited resources to support "high-payoff" events. In line with supporting high-payoff events, the IMS is currently exploring the feasibility of hiring independent Iraqi media correspondents and developing a sustainable network of informed journalists.
Using "out-of-the-wire" media facilitators will significantly reduce the expenditure of IMS resources in the form of translators and escorts and decrease the time required to provide Iraqi media coverage on the battlefield. Developing an external IMS Web page is another initiative that has merit. The IMS hopes to create a venue and repository for all its articles and media alerts on par with many of the current Pan-Arab media online sites. Public access to historical articles will allow the Iraqi populace to gauge forward momentum and progress within Iraq. Lastly, the IMS plans to offer a mobile media credentialing program to expedite vetting and registering potential Iraqi media journalists. Currently, this service is only provided by the CPIC and is often problematic and time-consuming. The IMS taking on this function will reduce CPIC involvement and spare Iraqi reporters from traveling long distances to reach the IZ. Additionally, the IMS will benefit by expanding its pool of Iraqi media contacts available for dispatch on future battlefield circulations.
As the coalition transitions its focus from security to governance and economics, the need for cooperating with Iraqi media becomes paramount. Having a credible and capable "influencing-tool" with which to convey GOI and coalition successes will greatly enhance the visibility of the stabilizing and rebuilding efforts within Iraq. The IMS has shown the benefit of engaging and partnering with the Iraqi media. Reaching out to the populace through the Iraqi media has shown an overall acceptance and understanding impossible to achieve with PSYOP assets alone. The sheer market penetration and continuous dissemination of factually-based stories by Iraqi media enhances the local population's awareness of the labors of both the GOI and coalition. Stories of reconstruction, partnership, and progress show the Iraqi populace there is more transpiring in Iraq than combating insurgents. The IMS, through continued partnership with the Iraqi media, is increasing the level of optimism throughout Task Force Marne's area of operations. Once governance and economics become Task Force Marne's main effort, the IMS will, no doubt, experience a sharp increase in the number of requests for Iraqi media coverage. Telling the story in true Iraqi fashion will continue to have a positive influence on the population while increasing its support for the GOI and its efforts to unify the country. Task Force Marne's IMS is optimistic that the future holds much promise for Iraq. The IMS will continue to forge new ground in promoting Iraqi media as a competent and value-added entity while assisting in telling the story of a stable, prosperous, and enduring Iraqi environment.
Becoming an Effects-Based Communicator
LTG William B. Caldwell, IV
Note: Based on an address by LTG William B. Caldwell, IV, Commander, Combined Arms Center to the Worldwide Public Affairs Symposium, March 2008.
Figure 3-3-1: LTG Caldwell is interviewed by Iraqi media
You should understand that a couple of years back, when I got the word that I was going to be the primary spokesman in Iraq my initial thought was, "I'm an operator and I'm really not interested in being a game show host."
But the 13 months I spent as the spokesman in Iraq not only changed me as a communicator, but changed me as a leader more than any other job I have had in the Army.
I have gained a real understanding and respect for the difficulty of the job the Army continuously asks you to do. Telling the story of the United States Army and our Soldiers is not only a noble calling, but in today's information environment, it is essential to the success of our mission and to the overall success of our nation in this era of persistent conflict.
I want to speak about what it takes to be effects-based communicators. In doing this I hope to say a few things today that will challenge you to think outside of your traditional public affairs officer (PAO) skill set. What I mean is this-if your idea of being a successful public affairs officer can be boiled down to writing news releases, visiting the local mayor, dusting off the occasional responses to query, and recycling the plan for last year's Fourth of July celebration, then you are obsolete. And if we, the Army's senior leaders, do not see our public affairs professionals as an essential combat multiplier, then we are stuck in the mentality of the '90s and will also quickly become obsolete.
There is a reason that commanders like me have reached out almost desperately to understand the strategic communication concept. Today's commanders understand that reactive public affairs provides no real added value toward the accomplishment of our missions. In order to be effective in our operations, we need the ability for our communications to be proactive or as we call it, "effects-based communication."
Today I want to share four tools with you for your public affairs toolbox that I feel will help you become an "effects-based communicator."
Tool 1: Be an Active Listener
If you think back to your basic communication theory classes, you will remember that in order to communicate you must have a sender, a receiver, and that you split about half of your time sending a message and the other half receiving a message.
This means that to be effective communicators, we need to dedicate 50 percent of our communication effort to active listening.
Do not underestimate the importance of stopping to listen. As a PAO, you need to know what the word is on the street. Listen to what is being said and read what is written about your organization. From listening, comes understanding, because you need to understand your audience if you are going to be able to effectively communicate to them.
This concept of listening should also include reading-consume everything that you lay your hands on to gain a more well-rounded view of the topics that affect your command.
In an attempt to be a better listener, every now and then, you need to un-tether yourself from your e-mail. Step away from the desk, and go out and listen to others, both inside and outside of your organization. That is why I take my director for strategic communications everywhere with me.
Of course, it is not enough to just listen, but you need to capture and use those best practices and lessons learned. For instance, as part of our Combined Arms Center engagement strategy, we recently took a trip to New York City, arguably the center of the news media universe. But we made it a point to spend half of our time listening and learning. Following the New York City trip, my team returned with new ideas and corporate best practices that they used to restructure our StratComm Office. Our new organizational structure more closely replicates a collaborative organization as opposed to the traditional hierarchical structure.
So being an active listener is critical.
Figure 3-3-2: LTG Caldwell visits with the staff of Google
Tool 2: Be an Adaptive Learner
This leads us into the second tool I believe you need in your public affairs toolbox, which is to be an adaptive learner.
To be an adaptive learner implies continuously assessing your strengths and weaknesses and recognizing the most effective means to improving your ability to become a better communicator. This is not an easy or painless process. Much of this learning results from painful lessons and new and unfamiliar experiences.
Experiences like those that I had when the 82nd Airborne was called in to conduct relief efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. I have to admit it was uncomfortable and unfamiliar terrain. However, I had a great PAO who encouraged me and prepared me to operate in this foreign environment (yes, foreign even in the United States). What made her effective was her ability to help me build on my strengths, recognize my weaknesses, and learn from each engagement. Although it was uncomfortable at first, the more engagements I performed, the more I was able to adapt to new and changing environments.
These experiences and those from Iraq were so important and influential to me that I felt it was necessary to build opportunities for our majors at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC).
Today, every CGSC student must conduct at least one media engagement, one public outreach, and must post at least one blog. Notice I said "at least." What I would hope is that they see the tremendous benefit of doing these engagements and learn from each opportunity to share their story.
What we are finding are these students are embracing their abilities to be adaptive learners and are better able to articulate our Army's story.
Tool 3: Be a Creative Thinker
Being an adaptive learner and an active listener are only part of the equation. With so many messages floating around so many mediums, how do we as an Army get our message across? One of the keys to reaching your target audience is my next tool for your toolbox. You need to be a creative thinker.
As an effects-based communicator, you need to understand and be able to articulate to your boss, "What is the desired end state?" of every planned engagement. One of the questions my team asks me during preparation for a media visit is, "What is the headline you want to see in tomorrow's newspaper?" Thinking this way helps focus me in on those messages that will hopefully provide the context that will help frame the way the story is told.
Another aspect of creative thinking is understanding whom you are talking to. When you are talking to the New York Times, you should not be talking to the reporter but instead be talking through the reporter to your audience.
There is no better example of this than my recent experience with "The Daily Show." When we were invited to share about Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, on "The Daily Show," I must admit, I was less than convinced that we should do it. It was not until the Army's chief of public affairs reminded me of Jon Stewart's primary audience, an audience of men and women between the age of 17 and 35, the most attractive advertising demographic and, coincidentally, the same demographic as our Soldiers. He reminded me that our Soldiers more than anyone needed to understand the importance of FM 3-0, and this clearly was a golden opportunity to reach them.
Figure 3-3-3: LTG Caldwell and Jon Stewart during the taping of "The Daily Show"
Not only is it important to understand our audience in America, but it is also critically important to understand the audience where we are operating. For example, in Iraq, I believe we had surrendered the information battlefield to the enemy in the Arabic media. When I arrived, we were doing two separate news conferences each week. One on a Wednesday for the Western press and one on Sunday, several days later for the Arabic press using the same news information for both. Because of this realization, we decided to think creatively and seek alternate methods to reach out to this key and essential audience.
Along with developing creative ways to deliver our messages and understanding the audiences we are delivering them to, we need to understand that traditional news outlets are losing valuable air time to new media outlets. Blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia, and podcasts are frequently becoming the news source of choice for many people. As effects-based communicators, you need to be in tune with this new media. Embrace these changes and learn to creatively and actively deliver our messages using these new communication portals.
Tool 4: Be a Global Communicator
Tied closely to this discussion on new media and blogging is my fourth and last tool for your toolbox today-you need to be a global communicator.
As Soldiers, we understand the maximum effective range of our primary weapons systems and exactly what that means.
With the emphasis on information as an element of combat power, we need to understand that, the maximum effective range of a message is unlimited. All communications have the potential to be global, and we need to expect that our messages will be heard and understood in multiple countries, in many different languages, and more important, through many various cultural filters. Always think through the implications of your messages and how they will be interpreted on a global scale. Remember that in many parts of the world, an American Soldier will be the only contact that many people will have with our great nation. Where before we had the "strategic corporal," today we have the "strategic private."
A tactical action on the battlefield today can have strategic consequences in living rooms tomorrow. Understanding this dynamic is critical to how we operate in this "information battle space."
We also must understand the power of language and the words we choose to say.
Understanding how to communicate globally also implies we must be culturally astute and understand the importance of training and transitioning not only combat forces, but also spokespersons for the countries we are assisting. These spokespersons, much like you, can become combat multipliers if resourced, trained, and empowered properly.
We saw this first hand in Iraq when training the Government of Iraq (GOI) communication teams. It was actually easier to get a GOI rep for these new conferences than a State Department rep.
This is why it is imperative that we take a whole of government approach not only for contingency operations, but also for strategic communication if we truly want to be effective global communicators.
If we are to take this comprehensive approach, then I can see a time in the future when perhaps in the Defense Information School there is a metamorphosis into something like the National Center for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy, allowing our government to train and educate to speak with one voice. Simply put, "many messengers, but one message."
In closing, never before in the history of our country has your vital mission been more important than it is today. Never before have the people in this room had the ability to impact and protect our national interests more than you do today.
To seize this opportunity, your call to action today is to transform yourselves to become effects-based communicators, who are active listeners, adaptive learners, creative thinkers, and global communicators.