Friday, December 28, 2007

Better Late Than Never

Sometimes, the reporting staff at the Military Times newspapers resembles that proverbial blind hog. Every now and then, they stumble across a news "acorn," but in terms of enterprise reporting, they're often behind the pack.

Latest case in point: the F-22 Raptor's first intercept of Russian Bear H bombers, off the coast of Alaska in late November. We reported the incident more than a month ago; Air Force Times finally "discovered" the story yesterday, apparently because the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) issued a press release. Apparently, NORAD was preoccupied with its annual "Santa tracking" operation, and delayed announcing the landmark intercept until after the holidays.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the public affairs community, but then again, we've never held high expectations for that crowd. As for Air Force Times, you'd think they would have gotten wind of the intercept before that p.r. handout. Along with blogosphere coverage, the intercept has been discussed--at length--in on-line fighter aviation forums.

Oh, that's right, since blogs and internet forums aren't real journalism, professional reporters don't believe anything that's posted there. Better to wait for NORAD to crank out that press release and get the story from an "official" source.

Gannett, which bought the Times publications several years ago, likes to brag about their penetration of the military market. But, a closer reading of their on marketing brochure suggests otherwise. Their "paid subscriptions" for the four papers totals 240,000, barely seven percent of the U.S. military population (including dependents). And their weekly readership of 1 million represents only a third of the total armed forces audience.

Truth is, a lot of military members gave up on the Times years ago. Those former readers tend to fall into two different camps; one group claims the papers are too liberal in their coverage of military issues; the other believes that Times reporters miss too many stories, or rely on p.r. handouts to drive their coverage.

Like that NORAD handout on the F-22's first Bear intercept--a month after it occurred. As the public affairs crowd at Peterson AFB (and the folks at Air Forces Times) might say: better late than never.

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