Odierno: Building trust with media important
October 19, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 19, 2012) -- "A large majority of people I've associated with over my 36 years in the Army have been very professional," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, referring to his interactions with the media.
"I don't ever remember a time when that trust was broken and I think that's important. And, I really, really do appreciate that and that's the kind of relationship we want to continue as we move forward," Odierno told about 60 reporters attending the 10th Annual Military Reporters and Editors Conference in the Rayburn House Office Building here, today.
In referring to "trust," Odierno said it worked both ways: The Army providing reporters with all the correct facts they need for their stories in a timely manner, and relying on them in turn to maintain operational security.
"Off-the-record sessions were some of the best sessions I've had with reporters," he said. "It gave me the opportunity to discuss what's on my mind and they discovered and discussed things with me that I didn't know that enabled me to do my job better."
He said the Army must continue "to reach out to the press. We're going to engage and outreach with you and have a relationship with you here, overseas, during training events, no matter where it is, during tough problems and good problems. We're going to build a relationship and work together to get you the right facts so your stories are reported accurate, important and cutting edge."
The relationship with the press has evolved in positive ways, Odierno said. He said the Army is now working more closely with reporters and evolving away from embedded media, where "I think sometimes the media feels trapped because the military says when and where they go and don't go."
He said the media is moving around more and building networks but that there will be times when they must still embed for safety and security.
Odierno said he has genuine positive feelings for the media.
"As corps commander in Iraq and then Multi-National Force-Iraq commander, I was impressed with the heroism (of the media) as I watched many people operate, putting their own personal safety at risk to deliver news to people back in the United States," he recalled. "I learned to respect that."
The big challenge facing the media and the Army in the future is working in an uncertain environment where the speed of communications is ever increasing, he said.
"As we move forward, and as I look at what's going on around the world, the ability to communicate instantaneously is only going to get faster and faster and faster and the ability to report is going to get faster and faster and faster," he said. "And, the pressure requirements on you and as well as me to understand the environment on what's going on is going to become more important as well. You have to get the story in quickly to be able to publish what you think you're seeing."
In this fast-paced environment, Odierno said it is inevitable that first reports out will usually be wrong about 50 percent of the time due to a variety of circumstances. He said it is up to the Army to follow up on those first reports by getting the most accurate information back out to the reporters as the facts become known and available.
"This requires a good interchange, strong relationships and trust to do that," he added.
The chief of staff admitted that his own efforts to report the news have been less than successful. He said he's had a Facebook page ever since serving in Iraq, but that his audience is mostly internal. He said he's had more success reaching an external or non-Army audience with the recent launch of his Twitter account.
Odierno followed up on his remarks with a question and answer period with the media, speaking on a variety of topics including putting greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific Theater, but not taking his eyes off other regions. He said the Army is establishing programs of multilateral engagements throughout that region, including training exercises and humanitarian missions. He said it is crucial to build more transparency with China and held out the possibility that "some of these multinational exercises could include China."
He also touched on the Army's professionalism.
"We have a battle-hardened, battle-tested leader capability that will give us an advantage as we look and adjust to the future," he said, adding that the Army will need these leaders as it adjusts to a more complex world environment.
"What we ask our captains and our lieutenant colonels today is a lot harder than what I had to do when I was a captain or lieutenant colonel, because the world is more complex and difficult and the challenges they're going to face are more difficult," he said. "They're adaptive leaders who mix the science and art of war together to come up with the right solutions at right time."