How to Become a Journalist in the Military
The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines are each responsible for handling their public affairs—spreading the good (and bad) word to their members and the American public without contradicting military policy or hurting the mission. (For example, the Army Public Affairs Specialist acts as a liaison between the Army and the press.) The boots on the ground are the military journalists, enlisted individuals who do everything from writing print articles to producing radio and television broadcasts that cover military events, spread command information, and deliver entertainment to the troops.
As an enlisted field, entry-level journalists require no college education. All applicants must be high school graduates and need to pass the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery with scores that meet the requirements set by their chosen service branch. Once accepted, the prospective military journalist attends all of the basic training required of any other soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, followed by advanced training specific to their fields, such as print journalism or television broadcasting.
Military Guidelines and Requirements
In addition to basic requirements, prospective journalists may have to demonstrate a minimum typing speed, such as the Air Force requirement of no less than 20 words per minute. For fields such as broadcasting, you may also have to pass an audition—because the swagger you gain from graduating boot camp doesn't necessarily make you a good public speaker.
TV broadcasters in the military definitely buck the unfair stereotype of the brainwashed soldier—take a look at a podcast from The Pentagon Channel, the only branch of the Armed Forces Network available free to civilians, and see just how savvy and confident they are. Auditions are there to make sure you've got a good foundation to build on, and that being the face of the military on TV isn't an unrealistic goal for you.
Duties and Responsibilities
Depending on the branch of service and specific Military Occupational Specialty, military journalists learn to do a surprising variety of jobs. Not just writers or talking heads, they can also work in editing, behind-the-scenes media operations, and as liaisons with the public. To keep pace with the current tech and entertainment trends, these roles even extend to working in web-based media to deliver articles, blogs, and podcasts.
The Downside of Journalism Work in the Military
There are inherent contradictions to being a military journalist that might make skeptics, cynics, and aspiring investigative journalists bristle. For example, policies such as Joint Publication 3-61, Public Affairs emphasizes the importance of transparency and trust between the military and the public but simultaneously limits the scope of that transparency when it would threaten national security or undermine the mission.
However, those with a troublemaking streak should take heart that kindred spirits have done the job and come through to the other side marching to the beat of their own drum. Novelist Gustav Hasford began his career in the Marines as a combat correspondent before immortalizing the perspective of the "unreconstructed Vietnam veteran" in The Short-Timers, the basis for the film Full Metal Jacket. And gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson spent his time in the Air Force working on the base newspaper until he received an early discharge because he was (so he claimed in a satiric press release) "totally unclassifiable."
But is it really propaganda to exercise caution, and make sure the good news gets out with the bad? Military journalists inform the public of events and ideas they might otherwise never hear and counteract the effects of enemy propaganda.
Embedded civilian journalists, though vital storytellers are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing inside information and, more importantly, understanding the troops' perspectives. Journalists within the military are better able to give voice to the daily lives of their brothers- and sisters-in-arms, delivering difficult facts without losing sight of the good news. They provide a vital service to the troops themselves, keeping them informed and entertained in every clime and place.