Since the start of the Iraq war, the importance and viability of military blogs has stirred up tremendous debate. There have been issues of military censorship, journalistic viability, and ethical dilemmas. Recently, talk of where (and how) military blogs fit into the war's narrative has seemed to intensify to some degree. Here's a look at what's happening:
The Columbia Journalism Review published a lengthy article in its last issue profiling Bill Roggio, a U.S.-based military blogger who's set up his own media operation aimed at reporting on terrorism and "small wars" beyond what the mainstream media can do. Before the piece gets to Roggio, the intro takes a look at the gap military blogs aim to fill:
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, among the seven-hundred-odd journalists who embedded with combat units were few who were familiar with the military in any intimate way. To many critics, especially those with military experience, this revealed itself in the press’s coverage of the war, which they felt often missed the mark when it came to explaining the hows and the whys of the fight, as well as the mundane realities of military life and culture.
Army veteran Roggio first started blogging about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to put the events in perspective for his family. But, as CJR notes, a transformation took place that's changed the way Roggio operates—and underscores the significance these blogs can have:
It was during the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004, however, that he began to focus his effort. He had been posting detailed battle maps of Iraq’s Anbar province on his site, showing where Marine and Army units were meeting the stiffest resistance from insurgent groups who harassed them with roadside bombs and the occasional ambush. In the spring of 2005, a new group of readers began logging on to Roggio’s site. The Marines in Anbar province were embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, and looking for any tactical advantage they could find. Officers with the Regimental Combat Team 2 discovered Roggio’s site and began using it as an information source, calling his site the “Command Chronology of Western Iraq.”
While Roggio continues to build up his Long War Journal, a contributing writer to An Unofficial Coast Guard Blog said he was recently fired from his job working for a USCG contractor after writing posts critical of the branch. Mike McGrath, who comes from a Coast Guard family, wrote of his firing:
Was told that my position would have been downsized anyways within the next few months, my behavior on the blog sites just made it easier to make me the first to go...Did I mention that I just had my performance completed within the last 2 weeks, scored perfect all across the board, got a raise (which I will never see) and that there was no indication from anybody that there was anything wrong ; no feedback, no counseling, no pointing out of where I might be violating any written policy, nothing - no indication whatsoever.
There's a brand new beginning for British military bloggers detailed by the Guardian. Corporal Lachlan MacNeil will be one of the first British soldiers allowed to blog about his experiences during an upcoming Afghanistan deployment. He'll be blogging directly for the Guardian, but as the paper points out this is quite rare:
Last year, the MoD introduced new guidelines barring military personnel from speaking about their service publicly. Soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel are not able to blog, take part in surveys, speak in public, post on bulletin boards, play multiplayer computer games or send text messages or photographs without the permission of a superior if any information they use concerns matters of defence.
Wired's Danger Room blog wrote of a 2006 U.S. Army report that considered secretly hiring military bloggers to "promote a specific message." The military's comment on the story is that this report was simply an educational exercise intended to be thought-provoking. Here's an excerpt from the Joint Special Operations University report titled "Blogs and Military Information Strategy":
The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however, and depending on the person running the blog, may impose a significant educational burden, in terms of cultural and linguistic training before the blog could be put online to any useful effect. Still, there are people in the military today who like to blog. In some cases, their talents might be redirected toward operating blogs as part of an information campaign. If a military blog offers valuable information that is not available from other sources, it could rise in rank fairly rapidly.
Finally, PBS show Frontline has this "making of" video taking a look at a new documentary following Army soldiers in Iraq. One of the featured soldiers is the founder of milblogging.com. As the website explains:
To record their war, from private reflections to real-time footage of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on the ground, director Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) creates a "virtual embed," supplying cameras to the soldiers of the Bad Voodoo Platoon and working with them to shape an intimate portrait that reveals the hard grind of their war.