Sergeant Joseph Sanchez; Mosul, Iraq

Media Relations Coordinator Task Force Olympia Multinational Brigade Northwest

Media Relations Coordinator Task Force Olympia Multinational Brigade Northwest

Q. What country/area are you stationed in? A. I am stationed in northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which is the third largest city in Iraq with a population of over 2 million people. Q. What is your primary duty? A. I have many responsibilities, such as working directly with the local Iraqi media here in the north to educate them about the fundamentals of running a newspaper in a democratic society, while ensuring that they maintain journalistic ethics as they become an important aspect of Iraq's new democratic society. I write press releases for both the international and local media that cover military operational accomplishments. I assist in hosting numerous media outlets such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Army Times, Stars & Stripes, Washington Post, CNN, Washington Times, AFP, NPR, ABC, CBS, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and Fox News in both embed and special event settings. I answer and log many phone and e-mail queries from the international and local press. I have initiated an Arabic newspaper and satellite news channel media analysis program and spearheaded public education campaigns using paid advertising and public service announcements (e.g. Transition Administrative Law, weapons turn-in, energy conservation, Iraqi Security Forces, medical/health related issues) in local newspapers and television. I conduct comprehensive billboard campaigns focusing on nationalism, security, and hope for the future and educate the local media about the benefits of advertising so that their papers can sustain financially on their own when I leave. I have initiated an Iraqi Security forces public affairs officers' training program that educated members of the Iraqi Army and National Guard about news release development, response to queries, photography, and video acquisition. I coordinate crisis communication responses through print and video mediums for local and international media in order to mitigate the effects of anti-Iraqi force attacks and combat other situations as they arise, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. I assisted with the design and implementation of a bumper sticker campaign supporting the Iraqi Olympic Soccer team and purchased more than $100,000 worth of print journalism and office equipment for local papers and local satellite channels so they are capable of doing their job effectively. I pitch local media to attend special events such as school and clinic openings, Iraqi military graduations, etc. and organize and invite local media to attend press conferences regarding local and military issues. I engage and maintain local media relationships through one-on-one meetings and phone calls, and oversee five Iraqi translators that help me overcome the language barrier through written and verbal translation, assist with media analysis and serve as a cultural guide during many of my campaigns. Q. What has been the most rewarding experience from your time abroad? A. The most rewarding experience is knowing that I am impacting the Iraqi people through the many informational campaigns I've worked on, meeting with different editors of newspapers in Mosul inspiring them to do great things, holding press conferences that promote progress being made in the north, holding education seminars for government officials, Iraqi military personnel, and members of the local press, educating Iraqi Security Force PAOs so they can do our job when we are gone, and inspiring nationalism thorough billboards, PSAs, press releases, bumper stickers, etc. Q. What do you miss most about the states? A. Just the opportunity to be with my family and friends, doing the things we used to do that most people take for granted. Q. When do you expect to be home? A. I will be home in early 2005. Q. Who would you like to send your holiday wishes to? A. Merry Christmas to my wife, Myrna, family, and everybody back at Metropolitan Industries. Thanks to everybody that has sacrificed due to my absence. Q. What was your last (if any) public sector job? A. I was a director of public relations at a manufacturing company called Metropolitan Industries, which is located about 25 miles southwest of Chicago. When I return in early 2005, my job will be waiting for me and I will pick up where I left off. Q. What have your learned about public affairs/public relations from your work abroad? A. What is really nice about working PA or PR in the military is that you don't have to pitch stories because the media bangs down your door for information. But I have also noticed that negative stories are more popular with the media than positive ones. The most important lesson I've learned, however, is that news agencies are pretty reckless and inaccurate when reporting their news. The reason being because they all want to be first with the story or scoop, but in doing so, they do not confirm their sources of information with us (military PAO) before they publish it on the web. So what happens is the inaccurate information is published, i.e. "Six civilians die in car bomb," when in fact two just died. The way this happens is news agencies will quote Joe Police Officer on the street through one of their many aggressive stringers working in Iraq and publish it quickly before their competitors do. The story is then immediately picked up by tons of media outlets and runs on every major cable news channel's ticker. When we call the news agencies for a retraction, they say, "We don't retract, we update our stories." The problem is the updated versions are never as popular as the original report. So what you end up with is many news outlets publishing inaccurate news. I think that that is highly unethical and adds to the negative bias in the media, but the wire services prefer to risk having an inaccurate story rather than being beat by their competitor and losing the scoop. Q. What is the biggest challenge you face in your job? A. I think my biggest challenge and probably the biggest challenge for everybody is staying positive during difficult times. As PR professionals, we need to be the positive voices in the background but that becomes difficult when your translators are being murdered, friends are dying, and it seems that the situation will never get better. You have to put on a good face everyday despite the circumstances and forge ahead or you risk getting wrapped up in the negativity. Q. Do you enjoy what you do? Why? A. I love what I do. I joined this unit knowing that they would probably deploy to Iraq in the near future. Now that I am here, I can't wait to use the strategies and techniques I've learned in Iraq and apply them to my civilian PR job back home. Q. Is the US winning the communications battle abroad? 11 A. This is a difficult question to answer because how do you quantify success and failure of a communication program during a wartime situation? Most people think that success involves counting the number of positive stories published each day, but quite frankly, this is a war zone and hard news is what gets covered no matter how many schools you open or how many lives you improve each day. I measure success by the level of respect paid to us by the mainstream media and wire services. They know if we give a statement or answer their questions they can bet the bank and be confident that we told them the truth. Our level of credibility with the media is very strong. Strong credibility transpires into accuracy of most media reports because they believe what we say over what an eyewitness says and uses our statements and facts over others. If you look at credibility and the overall accuracy of what the media is reporting then, yes, I would say we are winning the communications battle. It is really hard to sugarcoat a car bomb explosion. Bad news is bad news no matter how you look at it, but we are effective [due to] our ability to communicate the facts each and every day about various situations that arise while maintaining our credibility.

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