Sequestration shouldn't be cover to shut down (or shut up) Stars and Stripes' independent voice

As Stripes’ newsroom reported last week, shutting down Stars and Stripes is under consideration as the Pentagon faces the prospect of dramatic budget cuts. Silencing Stripes’ unique, independent voice is a very bad idea, even if the motives are pure – and that’s never a sure thing when money's on the table.

In the current fiscal climate, especially facing the continuing additional cuts from sequestration, a top-to-bottom review of DOD spending is to be expected.That's basic management. But it's also an environment that can invite a few well-placed people to work out their personal preferences. In Stripes' case, that could mean someone who doesn't like its reporting using the rationale of fiscal pressure to mask an entirely different intention -- to eliminate an irritant.

That shouldn't happen, but it's something to be watchful about.

Good intentions or otherwise, Stars and Stripes shouldn't be on anybody's elimination list. Its independent and focused coverage is highly valued within the military community, based on my talks with service members around the world -- in every service, at many ranks -- and with family members, commanders and people in public affairs. As ombudsman, I listen to all voices, including the relative few who think Stripes should either fall in with the command message or go away. But those are far outnumbered by the readers who look forward to Stripes and rely on its independence.

Stripes' free press mission has mattered historically, it matters today and it will matter in years to come. Sequestration shouldn’t be used as cover to shut it down (or shut it up).                                                       

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Tobias Naegele

Stars and Stripes ombudsman

Over 30 years as a journalist, Tobias Naegele has focused almost exclusively on military and defense issues, headed up the Military Times newspapers — Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times — from 1998 to 2014, establishing Marine Corps Times as its own distinct product during that time. Prior to then, he was editor of Navy Times, where he created its weekly Marine Corps Edition.

From 2004 to 2014, he was editor in chief of the Military Times products as well as Defense News, Armed Forces Journal, Federal Times, and a number of other magazines and websites, including Military Times Faces of the Fallen and its Hall of Valor, along with the weekly syndicated TV program This Week in Defense News with Vago Muradian. Under his leadership, the newsroom was consistently recognized with awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, American Business Press Editors, Military Writers and Editors, White House Correspondents Association and more.

Tobias Naegele can be reached at naegele.tobias@stripes.com or (202) 761-0900.

The ombudsman

Congress created the post in the early 1990’s to ensure that Stars and Stripes journalists operate with editorial independence and that Stars and Stripes readers receive a free flow of news and information without taint of censorship or propaganda.

The ombudsman serves as an autonomous watchdog of Stars and Stripes’ First Amendment rights. Anyone who fears those rights are imperiled should alert the ombudsman.

The ombudsman is also the readers’ representative to the newsroom. Readers who think a journalistic issue or event was misrepresented or ignored or who feel complaints were not properly addressed by Stripes reporters or editors should contact the ombudsman.