In an 11th hour reversal, Defense Department officials confirmed on Thursday that the military newspaper Stars and Stripes will not be forced to close by the end of the month.
According to an email acquired by the Associated Press, the order to stop publication by September 30th and move forward with the newspaper’s dissolution by January of 2021 has been rescinded. Army Colonel Paul Haverstick, acting director of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity, sent the informal notice to the publisher of Stars and Stripes on Thursday, suggesting that a formal memo by the DoD will follow.
“The memo will be provided once it is completed and properly vetted and approved within the Department,” Haverstick wrote. “We are trying to get this completed by the weekend, but this timeline may shift based on vetting.”
DoD had initially planned to cut the $15.5 million funding that it furnishes to the newspaper. That amount underwrites a portion of the publication’s expenses, the remainder coming from advertising sales. The cut would have led the newspaper to close down.
The reversal comes after the President had tweeted about the newspaper’s closure following news of budget cuts making headlines. It also comes just days after he was lambasted by the press over alleged remarks he made about veterans as was reported by The Atlantic on September 3.
The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch. It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2020
The seesawing of this decision hasn’t allayed fears regarding the newspaper’s financial viability. While the move to immediately shutter the storied publication has been halted, the fact remains that it will still have to find a way to fund its operations moving forward. Colonel Haverstick confirmed this in his email noting that the paper will be required to submit a budget plan for the next year.
The newspaper’s current budget has been passed by the House, but it will still need to be cleared by the Senate.
Stars and Stripes is no stranger to budget woes. In fact, the publication has been struggling for years to modernize its operations while finding ways to trim expenditures. A report from Politico in 2013 cited major belt-tightening measures for the publication. Publisher Max Lederer oversaw a 17 percent reduction in staff that year under directions to cut costs.
Furthermore, despite a recent outcry from Senators who favor keeping Stars and Stripes in circulation, the paper has not always been in lockstep with the powers-that-be. In some cases, the paper has come under fire for reports that seem to shed unfavorable light on the military writ large. This suggests that while the paper is a publicity darling now, it may not always bestow political dividends in the future.
While Stars and Stripes may have won the battle, the war is far from over. Provided the budget plan gets through the Senate, the publication will have to find stability in relatively short order if it is to survive. According to a recent report, in 2020 advertising spending is down nearly five percent worldwide; this represents nearly $77 billion fewer dollars in the marketplace. This means that Stars and Stripes will have to out-woo competitors for ad agencies’ dollars while finding ways to compete in a largely digital newsscape populated by increasingly digital-savvy readers.
With questions still lingering about the approval process, a budget awaiting approval by the Senate, and a looming down year in ad revenue, Stars and Stripes may have only delayed its sentencing.