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Air Force adopting new news-delivery method

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Terry Somerville
  • Air Force Print News
The ongoing reduction in the number of Air Force people will mean changes in the way people get Air Force news.

Public affairs staff members, who produce newspapers at most Air Force installations, are shifting their focus for news delivery to the World Wide Web. Printed newspapers will still be published at most bases, but responsibility will move to civilian publishers.

"A Web-based information-delivery system provides a number of benefits," said Col. Michelle Johnson, director of Air Force Public Affairs. Among them: posting news releases in real time; providing access to home-station news from deployed locations; and using the same delivery system at home and while deployed, the colonel said.

The new policy is being put into place over the next month. Air Force Public Affairs officials said guidelines for unit public affairs offices will be released soon.

A reduction of 200 positions in the 800-strong public affairs career field drives the change, but news will actually get to Air Force people faster under the new policy.

Public Affairs staffers and other news producers will instantly post stories, photographs and artwork to their unit's public Web site rather than waiting for a weekly publication to hit the streets.

"With the new Web management system, we can post content to Air Force Web sites within eight minutes," said Chief Master Sgt. Janice Conner, the Air Force Public Affairs enlisted career field manager. "This decreases the time between when an article is complete and when it's released from three to 10 days to within minutes."

Air Force newspapers have been published at many bases for more than 50 years. Civilian publishers print many of them under contract, using Air Force-generated content and keeping the advertising revenue.

A civilian publisher can continue to produce a newspaper for a base, but no longer under contract with the Air Force. The publisher will pull content from the base's public Web site and other sources.

Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., has already put the policy into practice. The last issue of the public affairs-produced Space Observer newspaper was published Oct. 12; a replacement, the Space Guardian, was on the streets a week later, produced by the same company that held the contract for the Space Observer. Public affairs staff members post news to Peterson AFB's public Web site; the Space Guardian's content comes from that site.

The transition "went rather smoothly," said Maj. Amy Sufak, chief of public affairs for Peterson AFB's 21st Space Wing. But first, the Space Observer staff had to let Peterson AFB people know about the new way to get information.

The staff put together a campaign "to make sure all of our audiences -- military, retirees, family members, everyone -- understood what kind of changes were coming, that we'd be putting out news and information in a new way," Major Sufak said.

The new way is mirroring what civilian news media are already doing, the major said. More people are turning to the Internet for their news.

Fewer Air Force people are picking up their base newspaper each week; surveys have shown the number of people who read every issue fell from 57 percent in 1994 to 38 percent in 2004.

Since Peterson AFB's move to the new news process, visits to the base's Web site are up by 50 percent, Major Sufak said.

Other bases have also started using the new process without waiting for guidance from the Pentagon. They include Buckley AFB, Colo., Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. A deployed location, Bagram AB, Afghanistan, has also made the change.

The policy was developed by a working group using Air Force Smart Operations 21 principles. The group was chartered by Air Force Public Affairs to determine the best way to deliver Air Force news in view of personnel reductions.

The group determined that each Air Force newspaper costs around 40 man-hours per week in page design and approval, making newspaper production a target for work savings. Eliminating the weekly product would allow a news staff to devote time to producing more and better news coverage, the group concluded.

"The beauty of base-level online news is the timeliness and worldwide accessibility of information," Chief Conner said. "Combine the ability to merge the multimedia capabilities of photographs, streaming video, audio news and features, plus graphics and links to other Air Force features, and we have a true multimedia experience all in one source -- the wing commander's No. 1 internal-information tool."