Back to People Rule

How to be a military journalist

They're Doing It Right Column: Stars & Stripes Editor Terry Leonard

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Terry Leonard has been the editor of Stars and Stripes for the past 5 1/2 years. Prior, he spent 28 years with the Associated Press - 20 of that overseas in places as diverse as Rome, Rwanda, Romania, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We caught Leonard for a few minutes and asked him a few questions about what he's learned over the course of his career.

ON EARLY LESSONS: I think the most important thing for young writers to learn, which changes the entire nature of how they perform their job, is that journalism is almost always about ideas not events. Most people write a story about an event and are just covering what happened, rather than writing about the implications and where it is going. People report things just because they happened and when you get further on you understand that what people really want to know is what it means. I see so many beginning journalists who go out to cover an event and they think the event is the story, but if you don't tell readers what the implication is, it's essentially irrelevant.

ON TECHNOLOGY: Technology has both helped and hurt the industry in many ways. The ways it hurts it is that it gives anyone the ability to file anything on the web but there are no real checks and balances as to whether it is credible or intelligent, and what they are writing isn't necessarily professional, so professional work can be confused with someone who just has an agenda or point of view. In many important ways it's changed the nature of what we do in this industry. One is it has made research a lot easier and a lot faster. You can access credible sources much quicker, you have so many more platforms to communicate your news, not only in the newspaper every day, but also online where you can be up to the minute. The danger of operating at that level of steam is to make sure your accuracy and credibility doesn't suffer. I know in my experience the ability to cover things in real time is really difficult but really important. I think as a result people have the opportunity to be much more informed if they are selective about which sources of news to accept. With modern, digital journalism that's rapid and in real time you can be providing in-depth analysis with in minutes of an event.

ON MILITARY JOURNALISM: The wire (AP) is unique in that they try to cover everything, and we certainly don't try to do that. But in many ways we've adopted more of the theories of a mainline newspaper. We no longer believe that our role is to cover change of command ceremonies. We see our role as covering the key elements of military life. We delve into PTSD. We've won awards for our investigation into how they are profiling reporters in Afghanistan and possibly denying them embeds because they didn't like their reporting. We've done reports on human trafficking. The military reopened a murder investigation because of the work we've done, and we are doing stories now on the errors in housing benefits for DoD employees and civilians in Europe. We decided several years ago that the key to being successful, even under the watch of the DoD, is that we have to provide independent news. But more important than that, it has to be relevant, relevant to individual lives.

ON MANAGING STORIES: You've got slow days and active, hectic days. There's always a slow news day. We've got editors in each theater around the world who decide what's newsworthy. We are always reviewing other news outlets and their info. We have meetings to try and decide what's relevant for the day.

ON THE NEXT BIG THING: We are trying to do much more digitally. We've got an iPhone app, we are working on an Android app right now. We've recently launched an iPad app that's in its first phase and working the bugs out. We are looking at ways to make the news more interactive, and get more news to a wider audience faster. In the long run, there are very important uses for print, but I do think that you can no longer think in single platforms, that you have to think about a broad spectrum. Some people use the iPhone, some the iPad, some the newspaper, some read our supplemental publications. You are always looking for ways to communicate better across the many platforms. At the moment we are focusing on digital simply because it's the fastest growing area. 

comments powered by Disqus