I was once had the great honor of being forced to attend a brief given by the Sergeant Major of the Army, Raymond Chandler. He was on a whirlwind tour of Kuwait, and our Battalion was one of the stops. I can’t count the number of distinguished visitors we had, but SMA Chandler stuck out for a few reasons. You often see generals and politicians, but you don’t often see THE Sergeant Major of the Army.
He talked about lots of things; deployment cycles, uniform changes, SHARP, ect. Then he did a Q&A session. His visit occurred about the same time the Army was considering changing the PT test or adding a combat skills type PT test, so you know that some kid was going to ask about it.
“Sergeant Major, when are we going to see the new PT test?”
You could see the life drain out of the SMA’s eyes. He gave exactly no f*cks, and this is the one question he get's asked every time. But you can’t tell some kid to shut up when you are the SMA. He gave the canned response, but then got into the Army Times.
Now, I am paraphrasing here, but he said something like this:
“There is a reason that the Army Times is wrapped in plastic at the checkout counter. It has absolutely no content and if you were given the opportunity to really think about the purchase or to read it before buying, they would go out of business”
Is he right? Let’s take a look.
Anyone who buys a coffee, tobacco or electric piss water (advertised as Monster) before they start their day is forced to contend with the Army Times staring them right in the face. Since that guy in front of you just has to have that one weird can of dip that only the other cashier has, you will look at it in your boredom.
Garnett (company that publishes all the military times papers) is not stupid. They know their place. So they design their cover to maximize the 3-5 seconds that you may actually be looking at it.
They want to grab or shock you. In order for you to buy it, they know that you have to be worried and outraged by something, or that something has to have a very personal interest to you. They can’t just trigger your curiosity like Time or a normal newspaper. You have to be actively engaged to buy the Army Times. So how do they do this?
The main article is something that is always either very controversial or indicates major change in the force. This week’s issue deals with the recent change to AR 670-1, specifically about the tattoo policy. Now, I have no particular beef with the policy, but I do not necessarily think it was the right way to go about business. I even helped draft an AR change memo for one of my NCO’s who wants to be a WO, but has sleeve tattoos.
The title on the cover is inflammatory to say the least. It grabs you and attempts to offend you. But not directly, it wants you to feel like you should be offended because the big bad Army is oppressing you. Woe is you, the honest Soldier.
This equation is repeated almost every week with a slightly different topic. Toxic leaders, the threats to your paycheck, 39 ways Obama is ruining the military, the newest patch chart, the new PT test, all framed in the most “they are out to get you, and we are the only one’s that will tell/help you” way possible.
Sometimes, even the side articles get into it. Just look at the “new rules for NCO’s” portion. Instead of saying “who is in and who is out”, you could have just said “What are the qualifications”. But by saying “who is in and who is out”, they threaten the reader. You might be out, so you better buy this and see.The iPod article is worse. Though it may suck not to be able to wear it while running, the statement is very divisive. It is like one big “Why won’t the Big Bad Army let you do what you want to do?”
Once you actually start reading these articles, you see they have very little or no substance. The information can usually be learned by keeping a weather eye on the MILPER messages (where you can see it in more detail and better accuracy), or the information has already been out for some time in the mainstream media.
Who covered it better.
All of this overshadows the real tragedy of the Army times, in that they have good writers. That may seem strange to hear, but if you read the stories that are not represented on the front page, they are usually pretty high quality. They have informative articles written in an accessible way that are relevant to your service, even if it is not a pressing subject.
They go further in depth to military subjects that effect most Soldiers than almost any news source do, save for the Stars and Stripes. But when you buy it (and you will break down from time to time and buy it), it is not for those articles. You are outraged by what is on the cover or they claim to have unique, important and time sensitive information that you need to know. You buy it for that. And you are always disappointed. It becomes hard to even justify paying attention to the rest of the paper at that point, and it gets tossed aside; relegated to the company ops room or the trash bin (recycle if you are on Fort Hood).
This pandering to the lowest denominator is causing me (and others) to disrespect the paper. I dump it in the same category as the National Enquirer or Star. Just another gossip magazine that does not care about accuracy or legitimate journalism.
But then, after picking up a cup of coffee, I see it.
“Officer Separation Boards- Who are they going after and what do you need to do?”
“… I had better get that.” My ID-10T side says.
And I do. Then I open it up.
Great. It says exactly what the MILPER said. I just got tricked out of four bucks. Maybe someday I will learn. I am going to go perform some ID-10T maintenance.