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Released May 13, 2004

MILITARY-MEDIA FORUM BRIDGES COMMUNICATION GAP

HATTIESBURG -- A forum hosted lasted week by The University of Southern Mississippi Army ROTC and the School of Mass Communication and Journalism focused on bridging a long-standing communication gap between the military and the media.

The panel discussion was the culminating event of a semester-long senior project of Southern Miss ROTC cadets, which included working with embedded reporters from "The Student Printz" serving as public affairs officers during military field training exercises, researching various aspects of military-media relations and writing papers.

Pat Peterson, a reporter from the "Sun Herald" in Biloxi and a member of the panel, was embedded with members of the U.S. Navy Seabees, based in Gulfport, while they were serving in Iraq. He served two tours as a reporter in Iraq. He said initially there was suspicion from military personnel about his presence. In time, the suspicion faded.

"After three days, word gets around, and everyone is comfortable with me," he said. "As a news reporter, things become much less formal in an embedded situation."

Other panel members included retired Maj. Gen. Walter Yates, a 1971 Southern Miss graduate; Col. Daniel Zajac, commander of the Training Support Brigade at Camp Shelby; Maj. Joe Hargett, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and Mississippi Army National Guard officer; Rachel Quinlivan and Chad Applebaum, members of "The Student Printz" staff who served as embedded reporters with the Southern Miss ROTC; and cadets Josh Ulrich, Lee Greco, and Henry Hall. Lt. Col. Kevin Dougherty, professor of military science, moderated the discussion.

Since the Vietnam War, the media and military have shared a strained relationship, marked by institutional distrust and mutual suspicion. One of the goals of the project undertaken by the ROTC was to repair those relations through a new generation of officers, soldiers and reporters.

"The Vietnam War was a watershed in military-media relations," Yates said. "It might be considered a low point."

One of the current problems some journalists face, Peterson lamented, is the involvement of news commentators in the media's coverage of war, which he believes undermines the job reporters are doing. "Don't confuse reporters with commentators," he said. "Those guys make our job difficult. People think I come in with an axe to grind. Most of what I do…is report on what happened that day (as opposed to subjective commentary)," he said.

Quinlivan said her experience as a participant in the project was enlightening and educational. "I have a much better understanding of what the military does here on campus, in Hattiesburg (at Camp Shelby) and nationally," she said.

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May 14, 2004 12:42 PM

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