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Signed Defense bill blocks Stripes’ newsroom move to Fort Meade

In the hundreds of pages of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama this week are two paragraphs that block the Defense Media Activity proposal to move Stars and Stripes’ central newsroom to the home of command-centered information at Fort Meade, Md. Those two paragraphs don’t rise to the level of news coverage, but they matter for the readers who depend on Stripes to operate as a First Amendment publication, independent of command influence.

As I’ve written previously as this issue played out since spring, Stripes’ independent newsroom shouldn’t be housed in the central production facility of command-centered and command-controlled print, web and TV operations.

But that doesn’t mean the newsroom should stay in its rented commercial space in the National Press Building in downtown Washington, D.C. As a responsible cost-saving move (as I’ve also written previously and as Stripes’ publisher and advisory board propose), the central newsroom and administration should move to government-owned space other than Fort Meade.

That’s exactly what those two paragraphs envision. Here’s the actual language in the bill:

SEC. 593. PRESERVATION OF EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE OF STARS AND STRIPES.

(a) MAINTENANCE OF GEOGRAPHIC SEPARATION.—To preserve the actual and perceived editorial and management independence of the Stars and Stripes newspaper, the Secretary of Defense shall extend the lease for the commercial office space in the District of Columbia currently occupied by the editorial and management operations of the Stars and Stripes newspaper until such time as the Secretary provides space and information technology and other support for such operations in a Government-owned facility in the National Capital Region geographically remote from facilities of the Defense Media Activity at Fort Meade, Maryland.

(b) IMPLEMENTATION REPORT.—Not later than February 1, 2013, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report describing the implementation of subsection (a).

Inserted into the House version of the Defense bill in April, the prohibition on the Fort Meade move remained in the bill after the House and Senate versions were reconciled in conference, passed by the House and Senate and sent to the president just before Christmas.

President Obama signed the bill on Wednesday.

So the next step will be to see how the Defense Media Activity – of which Stripes is an element – responds by that Feb. 1 deadline for an implementation plan. 

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Ernie Gates

Stars and Stripes ombudsman

As a journalist for more than three decades, Ernie Gates has been a reporter, editor and news executive, including 10 years leading the enterprising print and digital newsroom of Tribune Co.’s Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Va.

News for and about service members, families and veterans has always been a key focus in Hampton Roads, where every branch of the armed services has a significant presence.

As vice president and editor, Ernie was responsible for all news, business, features and sports coverage and oversaw the editorial page. He also wrote the daily Feedback column, responding to readers’ questions and comments about coverage, news judgment, journalism ethics, taste and other issues. Representing the paper as a public speaker, he focused on News Values and Credibility.

He is a past president of the Virginia Press Association and a past chairman of Virginia Associated Press Newspapers. 

Since leaving the Daily Press in 2010, Ernie has stayed active in public affairs. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at the William & Mary Law School.  He is also serves on the Coalition Partners Advisory Panel of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Ernie and his wife, Betsy, live in Williamsburg, Va. They have three adult children.

Ernie Gates can be reached at ombudsman@stripes.osd.mil or (202) 761-0587.

Follow ombudsman Ernie Gates on Twitter


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.