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Liveblogging from Vegas

Andi, ArmyWifeToddlerMom, Sarah, and ButterflyWife are currently in Las Vegas at the Blog World Expo, attending panels on Milblogging.  I will update as the panel continues.

Milblogging Panel 1: What is a Milblog?

Started with Iraq, it was firsthand accounts.  But with the war being at the forefront of political debate, the milblogs have been elevated to more high profile, which is good and bad.

Steve Schippert from ThreatsWatch.orgBill Roggio from The Long War JournalUncle Jimbo from BlackfiveEric Egland, running for Congress in CaliforniaSo what is a milblog?

Steve:  I always go back to Vietnam -- many of my uncles served -- and the upheaval at that time.  A military victory was handed in for a political defeat.  And the public never heard from the soldier on the ground.  There was no outlet for their views, reports.  Instead in the US we had a handful of media outlets defining the conflict in Vietnam.  I grew up thinking that we had lost the Tet Offensive, which I learned later was not exactly the right characterization.  What milblogs do now are the avenue for a quick reaction time for the ground perspective.  The day of the old media is gone.  The soldier can write from the front lines, or veterans can travel to these hot spots and report what they see.  So a handful of media outlets will no longer be able to define the conflict, dictate the message.  The media coverage from right after the Iraq invasion was depressing and sensational, but the milblog said "also we built a school"

Bill:  Not just an active duty writer, there are also husbands, wifes, national guard, a wide menu.  One thing the blogs have done is that the readers can decide the truthfulness of the blog itself, which makes the message pass or fail.  It's an honest, unfiltered look at what happens.  Being someone who reports from a war zone, I know you're getting my view, but I stand by my work.

Is a milblog necessarily pro-mission?  Jimbo:  Not necessarily, but most of them are.  But the difference between blogs and new media is that blogs are hobbies and new media has jumped the fence.  Like Bill, who now professionally blogs, he has made the shift.

Do you have to be a soldier or a spouse to have a milblog?  Eric:  Not really.  The blogs give the troops a voice.  You don't necessarily need experience in a combat zone.  But we hear voices we wouldn't normally get, like Halp Us Jon Cary We R Stuck in Irak.

Bill:  You should do what you do best.  If you know military affairs, you should focus on that and do it well.

Steve:  There's no litmus test that says you have to support the mission, but most milbloggers come from the genepool of folks who a gung ho about the mission.  Bill blogs from on the ground, but my niche came with figuring out what dots to connect and how to explain them to my mom and my neighbor, to the regular person.

Breakthrough moments in milblogging?  Eric:  Blackfive itself, these men coming together.

Jimbo:  Michael Yon brought credibility to the embed.  He's a reader-supported overseas reporter.  He gets down underneath the news story to what's going on.  He's a war correspondent, the first pro.  Now his content is all over the world.  And his credibility has grown because it's all fact checked; Yon asks his peers "Am I right?"

Bill:  Eason Jordan, when he accused soldiers of targeting journalists in Iraq.  I was a part of this, contacting Blackfive and others once Jordan said this and called on him to release facts or take it back, and 11 days later he resigned.  It wasn't political, it was just the truth.  He wouldn't own up to his statement, and as the chief exec at CNN, he better back it up if he says troops are killing reporters.

Steve:  It's a mix between Yon and Jordan.  When Jordan said what he said, the gauntlet got laid down.  The milbloggers said put up or shut up.  So that was a moment when we said You do not own the flow of information.  Yon ties in to this because he has the most impact.  Not only do they not own the flow of info, but I own a piece of it.  If you won't follow the story, Yon will.  The American public is far better served by someone with a military background in a journalism role.  Yon took a stake in the flow of info.

Scott Beauchamp is another topic to discuss.  (Backstory on Beauchamp here.)  Was this a milblog, because it was about military matters?  Bill:  Well, Mike Goldfarb called on milbloggers to look into this incident.

This was a major news event.  When does the milblogosphere come full circle?  Steve:  They're not just "online journalists."

Bill:  Wherever we're engaged against the enemy...I am thinking about putting a blog on my blog (chuckles -- now that's full circle! -- Sarah)  You can go one way or another, we may all come back to our blogging roots.

Christian Lowe:  I am a journalist, but I have a personal blog.  And readers loved to read personal stories of the soldiers.  So am I a journalist or a blogger?

Jimbo:  It's all about intent.  If you intend to write a serious article, then you're an online journalist.  Blogging is pithy and funny and about the commenters.  And I intend to be both.  Pajamas Media wants to syndicate professional content and put it up along side AP.  But those same people will write smartass content on their own personal blogs.  We can be both.

How's it going at ericegland.com?  Eric:  Since I was on the front line, I was patrolling with the troops.  We collaborated on an article at The Weekly Standard, and got lots of feedback from troops.  We started Troops Need You to address soldiers' needs.  And then briefed the President on the work we were doing.  The troops had a voice to inform the American people, which prompted regular people to work, to influence the administration, to make changes.  From outside government!  And it fueled my campaign: if we can do that from outside, think of what we can do from inside!

Questions:

How do you feel about defense contractors?  Jimbo: Everybody has an agenda, we have just dropped the facade that no one has an agenda.  If you have something that you want me to write about it, and you get me an interview on something real, I will write a piece on it. 

Bill:  I just did a junket for Boeing.  I then co-wrote an article about what we saw.  Politicians reach out to journalists.  But you have to be willing to take the hit that you might not get the message out that you want to.  Just because you reached out -- big contractor, small blogger -- we aren't just going to lie.

Eric:  I have worked on dynamic technology with troops.  Many troops are willing to test run something, and it won't take a 7 year timeline like it would to go through the Pentagon.  You can go right to the battlefield.  Within the legal restraints, it is a good opportunity for defense contractors to do what they're set up to do.

Christian:  I connected a unit in Iraq with a robotic EOD unit.  It was an information exchange of ideas in the field, which helped the company work on their technology.  I'm always happy to write about something cool that mainstream folks might not hear about.  But be ready for a lot of feeback from people who know what they're talking about.

What about KBR or Blackwater?  Are those milbloggers?  Bill:  They're not really in our circle, but we know there are some of them out there.

I have a tatoo-removal business.  How can I reach out without just buying ads?  Jimbo:  Ha, we like ads!  Steve:  Create a relationship with a blogger.

What lessons can the public learn from your blogs to survive a natural or military disaster?  Jimbo:  This came up once, when a guy died in the snow and we as military survival wonks discussed stuff like, duh, how to start a fire.

Steve:  Each blogger and commenter has expertise that he can bring to the table.  The power the blogs has unleashed is real-time communication about the battlefield.

Have you written about something that turned into something else?  (Tee hee, that was from Jack Army!)  Jimbo:  You mean like running for Congress?  Haha.  Eric:  It's a collaborative effort, from the troops, that turned into a book.

Bill:  I never intended to be here doing this job.  I just started writing about Anbar.  I wrote about what/why/when would happen and then closely tracked it and tried to tell the story.  The Marines figured out I was the only guy writing about it, and the Marines invited me to embed.  And my life has changed.

Steve:  Mine goes back.  At 9/11, as the only military guy in my town, people kept coming to me for what was going on, and I had to research it to be able to answer.  Six years later, I'm launching a non-profit center for threat awareness.

We're out of time!

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