Pentagon funding cuts may silence Stars and Stripes
By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
U.S. Army Sgt. Roger McCall, 153rd Military Police Company, reads an edition of the Stars and Stripes newspaper while in the Green Zone, Baghdad, Oct. 18, 2007. The 153rd MP Company is a unit of the Delaware Army National Guard currently assigned to the 89th MP Brigade. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brendan Mackie/Released)
Stars and Stripes may lose its $12 million annual federal funding — $12 million a year — under a proposal being considered by the U.S. Department of Defense, according to an April 21 column by Stars and Stripes Ombudsman Tobias Naegele. The paper is run by DoD's the Defense Department's (falling under Defense Media Activity), but maintains editorial sovereignty.
"Of the appropriated funds, $7 million comes from the regular defense budget and $5 million from overseas contingency operations funds — the war budget — mostly to pay for printing and distributing the paper downrange," Naegele wrote, noting that the paper’s publisher estimates the proposed cuts as being equal to 40 percent of its overall funding.
The rest of the budget comes from funds not allocated by Congress.
According to Naegele, a former Military Times executive editor, the idea to defund the newspaper came from the Defense Department’s Business Process and Systems Review team. The team It was established two years ago to "to reduce the cost of management headquarters by 20 percent over the next five years," according to an August 2014 DoD memo. Details of the proposal were not immediately publicly available at press time. Stars and Stripes Editor Terry Leonard declined to comment on the column, citing conflict of interest concerns.
Naegele praised the BPSR's concern as due diligence, and acknowledged that, when it comes down to it, the numbers don't work in the newspaper's favor. But he also made the case for print newspapers being a key link between service members who are forward-deployed in areas lacking reliable internet access and the news back home in the United States.
"Studying Stars and Stripes' balance sheet tells us the obvious: The newspaper loses money," he wrote. "It's the intangibles that are harder for us to understand."
This isn’t the first time that Stars and Stripes has come under fiscal fire. In 2013, sequestration-induced funding slashes put job cuts, printing-schedule changes, a pay-raise freeze and travel limitations for staff on the table, Politico reported. In current this case, though, Naegele proposed an investigation into readership among deployed troops before making a final call.
"Use it to dig beyond what servicemembers like or don't like about Stripes and discover the deeper value they derive from having it available and what the payoff is to helping them be better-informed citizens," he wrote. "Then, when we've gathered some answers, we can talk seriously about whether it's time for Stripes to go the way of sailing ships and hardtack, or whether it, like the ageless B-52 bomber, should be refitted with new wings and electronics and keep contributing to the military mission."