News Column

DINFOS hosts embedded photographer, journalist at forum

July 10, 2014

By Brandon Bieltz, Soundoff! Laurel, Md.

July 10--As the Defense Information School celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 1, the school that trains service members in the public affairs professions reached out to media members from the other side of the field to learn how to be effective public affairs officers.

In a literary event about working with embedded media, the school hosted photographer Robert L. Cunningham and journalist Steven Hartov who have both worked with various deployed units throughout their long careers.

The two professionals discussed their experiences from the media perspective and how public affairs specialists can better host embeds.

"I understand your jobs from the both sides," Hartov said. "I admire what you do. I don't envy your positions. It's an extremely difficult tightrope to walk between hosting a customer who wants everything they can possibly get and yet, you're unable to give them a lot of what they desire, or at lot of what they're trying to get. ... It's a really tough road to hove."

While the event served as the official celebration of the DINFOS anniversary, it was just part of the school's yearlong celebration of its 50th birthday.

DINFOS was established in 1964 at Fort Slocum, N.Y., before relocating the following year to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind. In 1995, DINFOS moved to Fort Meade. The current facility officially opened three years later.

Since its opening in 1964, DINFOS has trained nearly 100,000 service members, civilians and international allies to serve around the world in information career fields including public affairs, broadcasting and visual information.

Part of the duty of public affairs is hosting embedded journalists and photographers looking for stories, and to learn from the embeds themselves.

Cunningham and Hartov were the focus of the 90-minute forum.

"Today we celebrate 50 years since the establishment of the Defense Information School," said Maj. Jason Billington, team lead for Advanced Distributive Learning at DINFOS. "In doing so, I think it's very fitting that today we have a forum where experts in the field of communication can discuss with some students and experts in the field of military communication the importance of the strength of that relationship."

For more than a decade, Cunningham has worked as a professional photographer. His photos have been published in National Geographic, and on Fox News and ABC, in addition to being featured in international art galleries.

Cunningham's career has included documenting 132 missions as an embedded photographer with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Hartov, an author and New York Times best-seller, served as the editor-in-chief of Special Operations Report, a professional journal on military and law enforcement special tactics.

Cunningham and Hartov teamed up to write the book, "Afghanistan: On the Bounce," which features Cunningham's photography.

The two men, who have worked with various public affairs officers throughout their careers, opened the forum by discussing how to treat and work with embedded media.

"You have to treat an embed carrying a camera as just as lethal, just as deadly as, just as damaging as if he was carrying a weapon," Cunningham said. "He can end everybody's career, he can hurt our guys, he could jeopardize our guys, or he could be just as protective as body armor.

"When somebody says impropriety was going on in that area or that our troops are just hurting their people, it's your embeds who can turn around and say 'No.' "

Although it is the job of the public affair's officer to lead the media's eye to show the "command message," Cunningham said, it is also important to give the photographer or journalist room to find their own story.

"Raising an embed is very similar to raising kids," he said. "Give them a little leeway to run and let them do what they need to do and trust them. Then if they break that trust, pull them back a little bit."

Cunningham and Hartov both spoke on the positive and negative experiences of working with military public affairs specialists, including Cunningham being locked in a truck for 14 hours to prevent him from watching a mission.

DINFOS students had the opportunity to ask Cunningham and Hartov questions. Topics included how to spread the command message, developing relationships with the media and what makes a good public affairs officer.

"Be kind to them [the embeds], but guide them along," Cunningham said. "You know this world. ... A lot of embeds don't."

After the event, DINFOS Commandant Col. Jeremy Martin said the forum was beneficial for the students who will soon be working with media.

"It's been terrific," he said. "If you're a new PAO, you should have been taking copious notes about how to communicate."


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