Frustrations of Journalism

Frustrations of Journalism

Edited by Phil for Andrew Burton, News21 partner. Written by Andrew Burton.


(Despite my rant below, Phil and I did get to try out the Army’s Blackhawk simulator, used by the 101st Airborne for Training – it’s pretty cool. Surround-view screens, a complete pilot’s cockpit and full hydraulic motion leads to a very real experience. Add in simulated machine gun fire, heat seeking missles, other aircrafts, tanks and foot soldiers and a person gets into it. Our trainer told me I was a great flyer and did an amazing job landing the bird, but that I sucked at dodging heat seeking missles.)

Few things make me more inspired to write than anger, frustration or sadness. Today, it is frustration.

Phil Tenser and I have been in Hopkinsville, Kentucky to explore how technology is changing this military town, specifically in young soldiers for a fellowship with the Carnegie and Knight Foundation’s News21 challenge. We spent our first trip in a town where the stories were visually challenging, so we were excited to come to a more visually stimulating environment. Our questions are many, and we came into town one week ago, excited, prepared, already connected with many local citizens.

Some of our initial questions included: How are soldiers trained differently than 20 years ago? What role do simulators play in this training? Is there a psychological connection between soldiers who play video games and these simulators? How do soldiers in the field keep in touch with family and friends? And what is the opinion of simulators for soldiers who have seen combat?


(Phil and I are hoping to return to this simulator when pilots are training. The simulator’s technician sits at the desk on the right and chooses various types of simulation while pilots engage in flight and combat. It only takes a few clicks of the mouse to put the pilots in Germany, Afghanistan or any other of a number of locations)

Phil did a phenomenal job at making military connections months in advance. We explained our project, we were open about what we hoped to accomplish and the time constraints we were working under. I’m happy to say that leading up to our visit, everything looked great. The military was timely, cooperative and clear about what would be possible and what wouldn’t. I’m also happy to report our first full day on the ground was very successful. After a great lunch with the military press affairs officers (PAO) it looked like we would have a busy schedule for two weeks as we spent time exploring our questions. We were even able to get on base that first day to observe a ‘Call for Fire’ simulator. Things were looking up.

Unfortunately, after the untimely sickness of one the PAOs last week, Phil and I have little to do but meet others in the communities and scratch for stories that are often unrelated to the military. We’ve spent countless hours making cold calls, sending emails and meeting people on the streets. And while Phil and I have experienced limited success, we are also trying to stay true to the reason we are here: technology and young soldiers.


(The outside view of two Blackhawk simulators. This technology was installed in 1987 and has only recieved moderate software updates. The projected lifespan of these simulators is 60 years, suggesting that these could be in use until 2047)

The problems continue with the fact that any military person who is willing to talk to the press has to first clear it through the PAO, which as explained above, became unavailable last week. It lead to a long, slow weekend of hoping we could pull off a hail mary during our last days in town.

Our military contact was quick to get in touch with us on Monday, but as we are learning far too quickly, the military likes to take its time. Even with the PAO back in action (and on our side), we are now slowed by the approval of individual unit commanders, soldier training schedule and the PAO’s availability to escort us on base. Moreover, we are told that the soldiers have today off. It’s all leading up to the very real possibility of us leaving this town nearly empty handed.

It’s tough to know what we could have done differently. We are playing by the rules. We aren’t trying to be exploitive or uncover dirty secrets. Moreover, the PAO and people we have talked to seem interested and willing to help with our topic. Still, we have little to show for our efforts.


(These little guys are a lot more troubling than they look, especially when they are programed to shoot at you. The ground visuals are based on actual aerial photography, with 3d models of trees, infantry, houses and water towers built on top of it. Therefore, as you go higher into the sky, the ground begins to look more and more realistic as you approach the height the photos were actually taken at. Bullets, missles and other projectiles are shown with full visuals when they are shot at you. The experience is pretty crazy)

Today we were able to get back on base for the first time in a week. We eagerly showed up to the Blackhawk simulator used by the 101st Airborne ready to interview soldiers, capture moments and tell individual stories. Thanks to more bad luck however, we found ourselves being given a tour by a contractor and simulator technician with no soldiers and training in sight. The PAO happily accompanied us, but suddenly left before we could set up more meetings.

Phil and I are now getting desperate. Camped out in a coffee shop across the street from the Fort Campbell’s entrance, we are trying to get ahold of the PAO in an attempt to get back on base today. Of course, that assumes they have the time. And the clearance. And the approval. And that soldiers are training today (to be clear, this is not one person’s fault. Its the result of trying to align numerous schedules in a time frame that has become too short).

Ah, the frustrations of journalism. Patience is a virtue, but the clock is winding down. At this point, we’re starting to wonder what a Hail Mary would look like, and if one is even possible.