MEDIA PROFILE: Stars and Stripes brings American culture to the front lines

If your pitch is focused on something of interest to men and women in uniform, Stars and Stripes is probably interested as well. But such stories can get lost when conflicts heat up

If your pitch is focused on something of interest to men and women in uniform, Stars and Stripes is probably interested as well. But such stories can get lost when conflicts heat up

As war approaches once again, Stars and Stripes, the news source for men and women in uniform, will be there. The 61-year-old newspaper is already all over the diplomacy and the battle preparations. And, should the US invade Iraq, you can be sure it will be on the front lines, alongside its readers. But, in talking about the future of the paper, Washington bureau managing editor Doug Clawson isn't so interested in describing war coverage. Instead, he's tossing off future cover possibilities, and he's more interested in talking about the star of Friends - the one who's married to Brad Pitt. "You might see Jennifer Aniston on the front page, as opposed to Colin Powell," he says. Not too long ago, this would have been an unthinkable statement from an editor at this hothouse for war correspondents and investigative reporters - a place that spawned diggers like Andy Rooney and Steve Kroft, and even let a fatigue-wearing Al Gore do some seed sowing. But in this age of readership surveys and focus groups, youth is king, a demographic that Stars and Stripes has in spades, even if its foreign-affairs-obsessed pages didn't acknowledge it until recently. Earlier this month, Stripes rolled out its version of an alternative newsweekly, and the editors are talking about a an overall change in sensibility that could make the tabloid read more like, well, a tabloid. "The content is becoming a little racier, a little edgier," Clawson says, "sometimes to the chagrin of older readers." Still, Stripes, with its circulation of 60,000 and a daily readership of more than double that, will stop well short of becoming a New York Post for the military set. There could be a war on, after all. And if there is, it will become first priority for a reporting staff based mostly in Europe and the Pacific Rim. So warns Brian Bowers, assistant managing editor for features, who saw good story ideas get lost in the shuffle when military operations began in Afghanistan. He expects the same if bombs start falling on Baghdad. "A lot of feature stories we'd like to have written may not be," he says. Yet pitching opportunities abound in Pulse, the new weekly supplement with the ambitious goal of appealing to a wide range of younger male service members. While most magazines pick and choose among the lifestyles they cater to, Pulse will seek to snare the attention of both the rock-climbing scuba diver and the PlayStation-playing couch-warmer. As a result, its editorial staff, all under 30, is wide open in terms of the products and events it will cover. "We are trying to get young, active things, whether it's an outdoors activity or it's something that involves gadgetry," Bowers says. Improving coverage of video games, movies, music, and trends back in the States are all targets for Pulse, he adds. For issues of interest to women, who comprise a smaller, but not insignificant number of the Stripes readership, the best forum remains Stripes Accent, a section that now runs on Tuesdays. Recent stories there tackled the paucity of weight-loss procedures in military hospitals, and a website for military mothers. Other features mainstays include a weekly section on travel and the issue-oriented Sunday magazine. Publicists, however, shouldn't limit their efforts to the features pages. The news pages, too, are open to stories of interest to the Stripes readership. "If it's interesting and it's news, we'll take a look at it," Clawson said. Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, is proof of that. In the early 1990s, his New York-based agency got Stripes to cover a campaign against the planned closing of a base in Staten Island. Stripes was important because, Paul says, he "wanted to reach the people who are making the decisions and their key influencers. That was our focus the entire time." Bowers says there is no formula for a winning pitch, and can't think of anything that's off limits. "Anything to help [service members] blow off steam during their limited free time is something that will catch our interest," he says. Bowers, when asked about examples of effective pitches, tellingly speaks of two that didn't make it into the paper - one about a book on paintball tactics, the other about a reservist in a Christian rock band - because of more pressing world events. For all the changes Stripes is undergoing, one important relationship remains the same: that between the newspaper and the Department of Defense. Though it's a First Amendment publication and most of its funding is self-generated, some money does come from the Pentagon. Editorially, however, Rumsfeld's bunch keeps its hands off the paper. ----- Contact list Stars and Stripes Address 529 14th St. NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20045-1301 Tel (202) 761-0900 Web E-mail Managing editor Washington Doug Clawson Assistant managing editor, news Chris Carlson Assistant managing editor, features Brian Bowers Editor, Pulse Danielle Kiracofe

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