GV Expo: DMA Soldiers Toward Media’s Future

Education, collaboration and trust are key to organization’s success, Director Shepherd says November 29, 2017

WASHINGTON—If you can remember seeing a commercial promoting the Marines, National Guard, Army or other military service branches, visited a military website; or checked out the Armed Forces Network, then you’re already familiar with some of the work of the Defense Media Activity.

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The DMA is a Department of Defense Field Activity reporting to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Led by Director Ray B. Shepherd, the worldwide media organization is a consolidation of five media organizations, located in Ft. Meade, Md.

As the direct line of communication to U.S. forces, civilians, contractors and families, the DMA provides news, information and entertainment on a variety of platforms, including television, internet, social and emerging technologies.

And doing that requires innovation through education, collaboration and trust, according to Director Shepherd, who shared insights into the DMA’s strategies and workflows in an address entitled “From Combat Cameras to Emerging Internet: Innovation at DMA.”

Created in 2005 as part of a Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act, the DMA not only needed to co-locate—they moved into their current building at Ft. Meade in 2008—each military branch has its own production house as part of DMA, and they also merged “ideas, technology and methodology” in order to be most effective and foster innovation.

There is one studio for everyone at DMA, and it features worldwide connectivity. The connectivity enables DMA to effectively get messages out in real-time.

According to Director Shepherd, education is key and he is proud of the types of training they provide. The DMA offers general training through DoD Visual Storytelling Workshop, Syracuse University’s Newhouse, SMG, Disney, Maine Media Workshops & College, among others.

More specifically, they also have been early adopters of using drones as video production tools. They take education seriously, and require that operators become FAA- and DoD-certified drone pilots. In addition to flying skills, production is also taught to operators. Director Shepherd says they aim to teach “correctly and sustainably,” which means they have strict rules, including requiring pilots to log at least 30 hours/month to maintain proficiency and sending operators out in pairs to ensure safety protocols are followed.

The Army acquired Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, and today DVIDS is one of the best sources of public domain content related to the armed forces. The system facilitates communication between the military and the media in a variety of ways. “Nine out of ten times, if it’s military video on a network, it probably came out of DVIDS,” Director Shepherd explained.

DVIDS also feeds DefenseTV (a free mobile app), which features the “best of the best” from military and partners. Its channel lineup features content from service branches, war commemoration committees, NATO TV, Army medical and more.

Collaboration is crucial to DMA’s success, and Director Shepherd and his team do their best to foster cooperation and innovation. For example, they’ve set up a Facebook group for DMA employees to discuss issues and ideas.  “All the geeks together, no matter what discipline you’re in,” Shepherd joked.  

A good, practical example of this working is a 360-degree interactive display used by the Navy to demonstrate a haircut that meets its standards. The videographer didn’t originally have the skills to do this as envisioned, so they learned the coding from a coworker who did.

Trust is also a key element for the organization to flourish. Director Shepherd noted that “Failure is an option because we don’t learn otherwise.” However, this means that trust is required—between employees and supervisors, between the DMA and the individual branches of the military with which they work to craft messages. They’ve even “lost” a few drones over the years, but it’s part of the process.

In the past decade, the Defense Media Activity has experienced and embraced numerous technological shifts through education, collaboration and trust. 

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