Army, Gaylord College program canceled
Military training organized by Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication that helps Army captains engage with the media has been canceled this year by the U.S. government.
For the last three years, the Gaylord College Institute for Research and Training has contracted with the U.S. government to train Field Artillery Captains from Ft. Sill in Lawton, Okla., how to communicate with the media, professor Charles Self.
After Ft. Sill asked Gaylord to expand the contract for the program this year, people in Washington notified Ft. Sill saying the training no longer would be included.
“Most people don’t know what the members of the service go through,” professor John Schmeltzer said. “This was kind of a way to let the media in and show them what we do and how to answer the questions.”
Self and Schmeltzer said they think the training was canceled because of lack of funding from the federal government.
“My guess is that they are trying to prepare for the budget cuts that are expected in January if Congress can’t approve a federal budget,” Self said. “My guess is that they’re afraid to enter into any contracts until the budget cut is approved.”
Under the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last year, the Defense Department could see budget cuts - known as sequestration — amounting to more than $500 billion in January, according to ArmyTimes.com.
“I was really, really disappointed when this budget cut came through,” said Robert Pritchard, professor and retired Navy captain. “I think it was a huge initiative for the army and one that I wish all of the services could do.”
Pritchard said he was in the military during the last force reduction in the 1990s, which was “dramatic,” and he said he believes these budget cuts could be even worse.
“This is not the only contract — many contracts have been canceled because of the sequestration that has started,” Schmeltzer said.
The program began when the Captain’s Career Course at Ft. Sill contacted the journalism college and asked if faculty would be willing to train the captains how to talk with the media, Self said.
The career course already provided media training for the captains at Ft. Sill, but officials of the course decided they wanted the captains to practice working with real journalists, so the course entered into a contract with Gaylord.
The training provided an opportunity for print and broadcast journalism students to practice interviewing with the captains and operating video camera equipment to record the interviews, Schmeltzer said.
“It’s just as much a loss for our students as it is for the army,” Schmeltzer said. “It helps students on their interviewing skills — most students need help with that.”
At the beginning of training sessions, experienced war correspondent and professor Mike Boettcher would offer the captains insight on what journalists in the warzone are looking for, Self said.
The captains then would split into groups and Gaylord faculty would teach the captains about ethical issues and give them suggestions for how to handle questions from the media, professor Kenneth Fischer said.
After the faculty teaching, the Gaylord students would be given interview scenarios and break into groups to practice questioning the captains.
“Some of them went over the top, which was fun,” Fischer said. “But some were the opposite — too timid.”
The groups would meet back up afterward with the professors, who would watch the recorded interviews and critique them, Fischer said.
Pritchard said he helped critique the interviews and gave the army captains tips on how to better engage with the media to get their messages across.
“You know, communication is such a huge part of command,” Pritchard said. “So to begin to expose those officers to that very important task of leadership is really important, and I think the army was going to end up with better communicators as a result of what we did.”
This training also made captains, who had negative views of the media, more open to speaking with the press, Smeltzer and Fischer said.
“A lot of them walk in with not real positive attitudes about the media,” Fischer said. “I think we diffuse at least some of that."
Schmeltzer said one army captain began the training openly expressing negative opinions of the media, but by the end of the session he was by far the best person in the class to work with the media and participate in interviews.
“We don’t paint a rosy picture about everything, but they walk away understanding that journalists are people who have jobs to do too," Fischer said.
Self said he knows the people at Ft. Sill appreciate Gaylord’s training because they have celebrated it in military publications.
“I think [the army] sees this as necessary training, [and] I don’t think they see it as fluff,” Pritchard said. “We’ll just keep our fingers crossed that the budget situation will settle out and well be able to reengage.”
“Bottom line is I think we — all the ones who’ve been involved with this — I think we would all say this has been a really good experience for Gaylord Hall, and it’s a shame that it’s stopping now,” Fischer said.