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SPJ concerned about Stars & Stripes move to Maryland


For immediate release

John Ensslin, SPJ President, 973-513-5632,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Manager, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,

INDIANAPOLIS – John Ensslin, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, sent a letter last week to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressing concern over the department’s intention to move the headquarters of the independent military news service Stars & Stripes.

Stars & Stripes is the news service for deployed troops and, while funded by the U.S. government, is independent from government interference or censorship. The move from its current home at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., to Fort Meade, Md., is meant as a cost-cutting measure. However, critics of the move anticipate the potential for interference from military staff at the base.

Independence from interference is essential to unbiased, trustworthy reporting. Ensslin’s letter argues this point and offers assistance to the Department of Defense in facilitating a more appropriate solution to the budget question.

The letter is included below.

Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

March 8, 2012

Dear Secretary Panetta:

My name is John Ensslin, and I am president of the Society of Professional Journalists. I have been reading with concern the coverage of a proposal to move the Stars & Stripes office from Washington, D.C., to Fort Meade, Md.

As you know, the Society of Professional Journalists had a hand in obtaining the Congressional action that firmly established the independent journalistic role of Stripes. It is essential that this independence be maintained no matter where this much-honored newspaper is headquartered.

In journalism, geography matters. Many journalists work in newsrooms where the advertising department is kept at a careful distance from reporters and editors.

We understand that there are legitimate reasons for wanting to find office space for Stripes that would be less costly for taxpayers. But if the decision is made to move Stars & Stripes journalists to the command information production facility at Fort Meade, we ask that it be done in such a way as to maintain some physical separation between the journalists, the sales and administrative personnel, and people doing command information work in adjoining suites or cubicles.

Better yet would be to find suitable government-owned space away from the conflicts posed by inter-mingling the Stripes staff with the military's command information personnel – that is, not at Fort Meade.

It would be inappropriate to mix these groups together in such a way that would make it impossible for any members of the groups to have a confidential conversation or make intimidation of the journalists easier for those with different interests.

Stars & Stripes has a proud and distinguished history as an independent newspaper. Thus, we urge the Department of Defense to continue to follow the Congressional directives to keep hands off the news gathering and the copy, and provide facilities that will minimize opportunities for perhaps well-meaning command information personnel from meddling.

Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you and your Stars & Stripes staff facilitate this effort. We will watch with great interest if the move takes place and will withhold judgment until we can assess the outcome.

Yours truly,

John Ensslin
Society of Professional Journalists

cc: Sen. Carl Levin, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee; Room SR-228, Russell Senate Office Building; Washington, DC 20510-6050

Rep. Buck McKeon, Chairman, House Armed Services Committee; 2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Max Lederer, Jr.; Publisher; Stars & Stripes; Suite 350 National Press Building; 529 14th St., N.W.; Washington, D.C. 20045-1301

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