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Pentagon's 'Early Bird' May Be Grounded

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon-produced daily defense news roundup that has long provided early morning reading for defense leaders, journalists and others is on hiatus, and may disappear for good.

The Current News Early Bird, which began in the 1960s as a collection of news clippings and in recent years became widely available over the Internet to a far broader audience, ceased publication Oct. 1 when the federal government shut down. After the government reopened Oct. 17, however, the Early Bird did not return.

The product has spurred sporadic complaints from publishing companies over the years, who have objected to the Early Bird’s cut-and-paste approach to aggregating news, which in the Internet age may reduce traffic and subscriptions on media websites and reduce advertising and other revenue.

The Pentagon has said, however, that publications could opt out of being included in the Early Bird if they wished and denied that copyright issues led to the Early Bird’s suspension.

The chief of the Pentagon’s Defense Press Office, which produced the Early Bird, said the office was reviewing whether the daily publication is still needed.

“I’m in the process of taking a look a the information products we provide the department’s senior leaders,” Col. Steve Warren said.

In the meantime, he said, leaders continue to receive roundups of all the news and analysis they need directly from public affairs staff. A number of other offices and components at the Pentagon produce their own daily news compendiums as well.

The Early Bird was born in 1963 when the military services and the Pentagon’s news clipping services were consolidated into a single entity, the News Clipping and Analysis Service. As the United States’ involvement in Vietnam deepened, the office began issuing multiple editions of news clippings throughout the day, with the first known as the Early Bird. By the early 1990s, the Early Bird became available in PDF form, and later in the decade, migrated to a DOD website.

Bryan Bender, president of Military Reporters and Editors, affiliated with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, said that although the Early Bird has been criticized for ignoring some critical reporting, it is a useful part of the daily interplay between the military and the media – and it’s convenient way for its audience to read news.

“Even if you believed the Early Bird was a form of military censorship -- a handpicked menu of daily clippings about national security that purposely left out certain stories and media outlets -- for decades it served a crucial purpose: allowing some of the major news media, and therefore the public, to be a part of the daily discussion inside the Pentagon and military bases around the world,” said Bender, a defense reporter for the Boston Globe. But, he said “I think its time has passed with the availability of so many online news sources. But I fear without that without it thousands of military personnel and government bureaucrats who have precious little time to pick their heads up from their cubicles will grow even more insulated.”

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