Military’s proposed budget cuts to Stars & Stripes newspaper could impact combat reporting

A copy of the Stars & Stripes newspaper is delivered to military personnel in Iraq on April 3, 2003. (Photo: 1st Serg. David Dismukes/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout)

The Department of Defense has asked Congress to consider a proposal to enact budget cuts for the military newspaper Stars & Stripes, a defense official told the newspaper on Monday.

A senior military official said newspapers were “probably not the best way” to reach military personnel and their families throughout the world as the journalism industry increasingly shifts toward digital platforms.

Stars & Stripes is an editorially independent operation of the Department of Defense, covering military matters and other global stories of interest. In recent years, it has embraced publishing on digital platforms as its non-government peers.

As an independent operation, there’s some expectation that Stars & Stripes become somewhat self-sustainable, which is getting harder and harder to do as public news consumption shifts online. Commercial military newspapers, including those published by Gannett Corporation, and upstarts like the military-focused Task & Purpose website have given Stars & Stripes a run for their money in recent years.

It has stayed relevant by positioning itself as both a part of the military — many of its reporters are enlisted soldiers — and independent from it. At times its reporting has been at odds with official lines issued by the Pentagon, especially during periods of combat. That, says the newspaper’s ombudsman, speaks more to its mission than being a communications platform.

“Stars and Stripes’ mission is not to communicate the DOD or command message, but to be an independent, First Amendment publication that serves the troops — especially deployed troops,” Stars & Stripes ombudsman Ernie Gates said in a message relayed via Twitter.

Conversations are currently underway within the newspaper to figure out how to offset losses from any anticipated budget cut. One plan not on the table: A paywall, “which is how it ought to be,” Gates wrote.

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