Military Reporters Group Offers Base-Closing Coverage Guide

By: Joe Strupp

With some 100 military bases around the United States likely to be shut down in the next year or so, Military Reporters & Editors has assembled a special coverage kit to help journalists organize and plan their coverage of the upcoming Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission process.

“Department of Defense officials have suggested that up to one-fourth of the 425 major military bases in the continental United States — and a sizable number of the 1,200 smaller installations and facilities throughout the country — may be recommended for closure or realignment as the Pentagon pushes for a more efficient military force in its fifth BRAC round,” MRE said in a press statement Thursday.

In an effort to help reporters best approach coverage of such closings, MRE is placing a package of tips, ideas for coverage, and information for its members on its Web site. The group also plans to hold a one-day seminar in Washington, D.C., in early June.

“The base closure process can be a bewildering and confusing subject for reporters to cover if they haven’t had previous experience covering the Defense Department or earlier BRAC rounds,” Sig Christenson, military reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and president of MRE, said in a statement. “We hope that our MRE BRAC Kit will aid news organizations in preparing for a complex and controversial assignment that will have a major impact on their communities.”

The online kit includes:

? An in-depth overview and background history of the Defense Department’s BRAC process, including an analysis of current base closure and realignment procedures.

? Suggested coverage strategies for both print and broadcast organizations.
* A detailed chronology of the 2005 BRAC round, including key milestones, public hearings and decision dates.

? Criteria to be used by the Defense Department to select bases recommended for closure or realignment.

? A list of formal military base categories identified by the Pentagon, which is vital to identify the bases that will be “competing” with local installations for survival.

? A roster of background reports and studies including previous BRAC commission reports, including links to documents posted online.

? A source roster of BRAC experts and former BRAC commissioners (now being compiled for later posting on the MRE Web site).

The BRAC Kit is free to MRE members at the organization’s Web site.

Non-member journalists can join the organization by completing an online membership application form. Annual membership dues are $50 ($40 for students).

The BRAC process starts in earnest on May 16, 2005, the MRE press release stated, when Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will release the Defense Department’s list of bases proposed for closure or realignment.

“It is essential that newspaper reporters and broadcasters be fully prepared when the Pentagon announces its list of base closure candidates,” said Christenson, who covered the shutdown of Kelly AFB in San Antonio during the late 1990s, in the statement. “Communities will only have a brief period of time to begin preparing for public hearings to respond to the BRAC Commission, and journalists will want to be well-versed in the issues that will impact their readers and viewers.”

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