Will Local TV Go to War?
Networks will be 'embedded,' but Pentagon's policy for affiliates unclear
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/26/2003 7:00:00 PM
Amid confusion, the Pentagon and Washington-based news managers last week continued planning for the "embedding" of journalists with the military in the event of a second Gulf War, but there was confusion about what access local stations will have.
At a meeting with Washington bureau chiefs earlier this month, Pentagon officials indicated that it will consider news personnel to take on missions based on audience size as well as whether the news organization had indicated a "desire to embed" by taking Pentagon-sponsored training for high-risk reporting situations.
But perceptions surfaced last week that local newspeople would be blocked from contact with the military. The Pentagon said that was not the case.
While the Pentagon was looking to Washington bureau chiefs (at both network news organizations and large station groups, such as Belo and Tribune, that maintain a presence in the nation's capital) to aid in the embedding, there was no prohibition on affiliates' and all other news organizations' operating as usual.
Affiliates are and will be free to send their reporters to the region even if they're not part of the embedding, said Major Timothy Blair, a Pentagon spokesman.
But embedding is another matter, apparently, and one that still seems unsettled.
It appears, however, that local reporters wishing to be embedded would signal their intentions to their affiliated network news Washington bureau chief. "We're going to allocate [embedding] slots to the networks. They will pick the allocations," said Blair. As far as embedding, "the networks will decide. Some organizations will get more than one, and some will get none."
There have been 240 requests for embedding as of last week, he said. "I've had lots of affiliates calling me. If an affiliate calls me, I tell them the networks will decide."
Some Washington journalists believe that the Pentagon wanted the bureau chiefs involved so that it could work with experienced people it knows. "The Pentagon is saying that the last thing they want to deal with are 150 affiliates. They're saying, 'You take care of them,'" said one source.
Blair noted, "There's no way in this situation to make every news organization and to make every individual reporter happy."
Fox News Washington Bureau Chief Kim Hume pointed out that "it's easier to have one single point of contact for each group. I'm pretty comfortable with what they're offering."
But, while some affiliates' concerns that they would be completely shut out at the Pentagon for war information were exaggerated, it nonetheless appears likely that, because of space limitations and emerging criteria likely to favor the biggest news organizations—networks or large station groups with a Washington presence—few if any affiliates will be embedded with the troops in an early campaign.
That concern prompted Radio-Television News Directors' Association President Barbara Cochran to ask the Pentagon to reserve space for local as well as network TV reporters in military operations. "While network journalists play a critical national role," she said, "local reporters also have an important role, particularly those at stations with military units based in their communities."
Added Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "There are affiliates based in parts of the country that have always covered the military." Having those reporters, she said, "makes sense" even if they aren't in the largest markets.
WAVY-TV Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va., News Director Gary Stokes concurs, saying networks would benefit from the expertise of a station like his, which routinely covers the military. "Our network knows the value of having our people involved in this. We have the knowledge and the context."
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