New Pentagon Budget Proposes Funding Cuts To Military Newspaper 'Stars And Stripes'
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
One of the items targeted for cuts in the Trump administration's budget proposal is a newspaper that first published during the Civil War. Stars and Stripes is editorially independent from the U.S. military, but a big chunk of its budget comes from the Pentagon. And the Pentagon plans to cut some of that funding starting this fall.
I'm joined in studio now by Terry Leonard, editorial director of Stars and Stripes. Welcome to the program.
TERRY LEONARD: Thank you.
CORNISH: At this point, what do you know about just how much money you could lose and how that would affect your budget?
LEONARD: Well, we don't know exactly how much money we'll lose. We have unofficial numbers that we'll lose $7 million. That would represent about 35% of our operational spending.
CORNISH: I want to have you respond to something from a Pentagon official, Elaine McCusker, who is acting comptroller right now. And she was quoted as saying the newspaper is probably not the best way we communicate any longer. Given that the paper is editorially independent, what do you make of that statement?
LEONARD: I think it's ill-informed. First of all, we're not just a newspaper. I mean, we're a printed newspaper. We're online. We've got local products, other separate products. We've got a podcast. And I think our audience - daily audience is about 1.4 million for all our products combined.
CORNISH: Tell us about that audience. Who are your readers, and how - what role does Stars and Stripes play in their lives?
LEONARD: It varies widely with the audience, and we have several different audiences. For example, our - the audience for the print newspaper - the newspaper - the daily newspaper's only delivered overseas. Most of the audience there is active-duty military, their families and DOD civilians. We do stories that other mainline newspapers don't cover because the audience isn't big enough for them.
CORNISH: Is it that people are interested in military policy? Is it that they're interested in family life?
LEONARD: They're as interested in national security issues and war issues and that - but the biggest interest is in the family issues. These are the issues that other newspapers don't cover as much as we would other news organizations because it's - you know, the pay and benefits, the - what your life is like, what the - the different things that happen to families - military families, military children, military schools. And you know, we even cover high school sports in those areas. Who's going to cover their sports? - not that that's essential, but it's - it gives them a sense of their own life - you know, of having a normal life even though they're stationed 9,000 miles from home or something.
CORNISH: Have your readers reacted to this news?
LEONARD: We've got comments from some former PIOs in Afghanistan who were upset that they're cutting us. And others - some others - people who were just - served there were saying that this - we were their only source of news there. It's a small part of our overall audience, but it's an important part. And it's really the reason that Stripes first existed - was to make sure that the men and women defending our democracy had access to the information that allows them to participate in it.
CORNISH: I know that you are not an opinion writer, but what's your response to people who may look at this and see it as a sign of disrespect?
LEONARD: I don't think it's a sign of disrespect, although I do think it's a sign of - that news and information is important to people in the military - I mean, to some of the leaders in the military. There's a tendency that's in all our organizations to try to control the message. And it's the biggest problem we have - is not with the military interfering with what we report, but they try to control your access. And we're finding that in the current atmosphere, that access is getting tighter and tighter everywhere. You can't help but see that there's people that resent the fact that we're not playing ball with the team.
CORNISH: Terry Leonard is editorial director of Stars and Stripes. Thank you for coming in and speaking with us.
LEONARD: You're welcome.
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