By Bonnie Piper, co-chair of the Public Affairs Committee
Twenty chapter members had the privilege of an all-access behind the scenes tour of the press operations at Pentagon, the headquarters of the Department of Defense. PRSA-NCC member Patrick L. Evans, Defense Department Spokesperson for the office of the Secretary of Defense led the VIP tour.
Reporters know the Pentagon as a “shoe-leather beat” because you walk everywhere in the Pentagon.That walking exercise translates to covering corridors that total 17.5 miles and a building footprint as large as 34 acres.
Navy Captain Jeff Davis, Director of the DOD Press Office introduced the PRSA-NCC members to the DOD Press Briefing Room. So much is going on in the Pentagon that there is a resident press crew of 40 different bureaus plus an additional 250 credentialed reporters who cover the Pentagon and military issues. He estimates the DOD press office is the most accessible office than any other Executive Branch agency.
Social media has stepped up the pace of reporting – a tweet drives news, and it’s hard to prove the negative. His deputy director, Tara Rigler, described a typical day for a DOD press officer that begins at 5:00 am by reviewing email news service (from bases around the world), then contacting various DOD offices at the Pentagon or abroad to clarify information and then develop talking points. There are 25 press officers who cover a broad spectrum of knowledge and each has continuity with one account. In addition, there is an Office of Digital News headed by a political appointee.
The DOD Press office is a very different place since 9/11. Before 9/11, the Pentagon was downsizing, there was no digital media, no social media, no Facebook, and cell phones were new. The press office had more control – reporters had to come into the Pentagon to get news. Since 9/11, everyone now has cell phones and Facebook pages and people share news; social media has changed everything.
Is everything on the record? There are ground rules that must be followed, to include giving background for context or to help a reporter understand a technical point. After the tour, the group moved on to Sine Irish Pub and Restaurant for happy hour.
The event was organized by Bonnie Piper and John Scally of the Public Affairs and Government committee.