Military Reporters & Editors Group Faces Clouded Future

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By: Joe Strupp

Six years after it began, Military Reporters and Editors is set for its biggest upheaval ever with the group’s entire leadership expected to change during next week’s annual convention.

MRE, which launched in 2002 as a way for military correspondents to improve relations with the Pentagon, is also bracing for life under a White House that does not include George W. Bush.

“This is a pretty significant conference because it is coming 10 days after the election,” MRE President Ron Martz said about the annual gathering set for Nov. 13-15. “We will be the first major conference in Washington that is going to look down the road and see what is in store for the military and the new administration.”

But, perhaps more important, MRE itself is poised for major changes as its president, vice president, secretary and treasurer positions will all change. It remains unclear who will lead the group at a time when coverage of the military, a new administration, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at a crossroads.

“I am trying to find folks who are wiling to volunteer to serve on the board and as officers to help,” Martz said.

A 26-year staff writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Martz left the paper in 2007 and has been freelancing and teaching since. He no longer covers the military on a regular basis and had served as vice president before former president James Crawley died earlier this year, elevating Martz to president.

Martz has served without a vice president, while both Treasurer Rebecca Christie and Secretary Carl Prine announced plans to leave the organization because they, too, are no longer covering the military.

“I’d like to get some new faces on the board,” says Prine, a Pittsburgh (Pa.) Tribune-Review scribe who chose to leave MRE because he does not know how long he will remain a reporter. “Looking at the future of our industry, I am not sure I am going to have a job down the road.”

For Christie, who had covered the defense business for Dow Jones until August 2007, her place with MRE does not make sense since she is now at Bloomberg reporting on banking: “I believe in the organization and I want them to continue. If I were still a military reporter, I would still want to help MRE.”

In addition, two of the organization’s eight directors are stepping down. Leif Skoogfors, a freelancer, is recovering from a car accident, while Pam Zubeck of The Gazette in Colorado Springs is no longer on the military beat, Martz said.

Skoogfors said MRE had difficulties in some of its efforts to maintain membership. He hopes that it can continue given how little is being covered properly in some military circles.

“The Pentagon has done an excellent job of controlling the media,” he told E&P. “I hope the organization can continue. So many newspapers and media are not covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The initial enthusiasm for having [MRE] has just died down.”

Martz disagreed, stating that membership is increasing, including a boost of Associated Press reporters and editors in recent months. “We have a lot of new members coming in in just the past few weeks,” he said, estimating MRE total membership at 125 to 150. “I think this [leadership change] is good because it will attract some new blood — getting some folks from different parts of the country will help us.”

Sig Christenson, a former two-year president and founding member of MRE, agreed. “I don’t think it is an alarming thing,” said Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio (Tex.) Express-News and a current MRE board member. “All of us are tired, but we have enough people out there who want to fill those positions.”

Martz added that there is now an effort to make the organization less Washington-centered. “We started out wanting to appeal to regional reporters, but so many papers are cutting military reporting or combining duties,” he said. “MRE still wants their membership and their input and we don?t want to be too D.C.”

The upcoming conference will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and include panels on military justice, ethics, and what to expect from the next administration. CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier will be the keynote speaker. Martz said the Obama campaign had said before Election Day that they would send a representative if their candidate won.

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