Sunday, April 15, 2012

Parade of Champions - CHINFO Merit Awards & the Visual Information Awards Program

There are two events that create a significant buzz in the world of military journalists.  They are the Chief of Information (CHINFO) Merit Awards and the Visual Information Awards Program (VIAP).

The CHINFO Merit Awards are Navy-wide, and VIAP is military-wide.  I contacted a bunch of the winners and placers, and got a great response.  Each person was asked three questions.

1.  What did it mean to you to win?
2.  What is the most challenging thing about the MC rate?
3.  What advice do you have for those who want to create superior product?

To compete in categories like Outstanding New Navy Broadcaster, Print Journalist of the Year, or Military Videographer of the Year, the servicemember submits several pieces that they feel are their best.
These men and women are creating some excellent work, and they've got great insight into how they're doing it.  Enjoy the feast. 


 MC3 Nichelle Whitfield-Bishop, USS Nimitz
- 2nd place in Commentary, “Who You Callin’ Small?”

   To be completely honest, I was surprised my commentary was selected. I'm not just playing the modesty card on that one. I'm happy I placed though, it was the one piece I'd written all year that I was both attached to and proud of at completion.

I'm proud that I was able to expose a vulnerability
 and receive a positive reception from it. 

I spoke from the heart, with the expectation that only a few people would listen and care, and it grew a bit bigger than I imagined it would.

The most challenging thing about being a Mass Communication Specialist is the constant nonstop flow of our job. It never stops. There are always stories to find, research, write, edit, revise, and publish. There are always moments to capture, tours to give and places you need to be. The projects never stop. There are always improvements being made. Three "subcategories" for our overall job make the 10 Ten most stressful jobs list. It can all be a bit overwhelming if you are unprepared.
My advice to anyone and everyone would be to get organized and stay organized. Remove that stress so you can put your thoughts and energy to other things. More creative things. Fun things.

 "Who You Callin' Small"

MC3 Ryan Seelbach, American Forces Network Rota
1st place in Television Newsbreak, "Artwork"

 A TV newsbreak is a one or two-minute long story about a base function, exercise or event.  I was kind of surprised to find out that I won at all, let alone first prize. I was pretty excited though. I had done so many newsbreaks/spots over the last year that when we sent the CHINFO package off, I put in what I thought was my best work, not what I thought would win.

The most challenging thing about being an MC is that broadcasting and everything else we do is so different.

Being here at AFN Rota, and being a radio DJ has nothing to do with print journalism, photography, or really even video. I worked at the base paper for a week since I've been here and I felt like I completely forgot how to write a news story. If I had done the merger, I'd have kept the visual stuff (photo/video/graphic arts) as one rate and the journalism/radio stuff as its own rate. It's just too complicated to go back and fourth between the two.

Good products always have shot variations, well placed natural sound, good-looking interviews (working interviews are some of the best) and tell a great story.


Editor's Note: This is completely unrelated, but I have to mention that Seelbach has a scary sense of direction.  I once watched him guide our driver out of inner Baltimore with his eyes closed. 

MC2 Timothy Walter, USS George H.W. Bush 
 - Outstanding New Writer
- 1st place in Human Interest Feature Article, "Yellow Shirts: One Color, One Rank, One Family"
- 1st place in Series, "77-day Warrior Challenge"

 It was a bit of a shock. I've never felt like I was a gifted writer. And the truth is that on my own I can do nothing. But with God's help, I can do all things. So really the awards just showed me how much my Savior has blessed me in this past year, and I give all the credit to Him.

Look, listen and make the reader feel what you feel.

The most challenging thing about this rate is the diversity of skill sets needed to succeed in any billet. It will remain a challenge for Sailors to become proficient in so many disparate fields of study, each of which requires years to truly master.

My advice is simple: Don't limit yourself to one sense in writing or photography. Capture images that make you feel something. Pretty pictures are just that -- pretty pictures. But if you capture emotion in a graphically appealing way, then you've suceeded. Same with words. Anyone can tell you that seven people were promoted on this day. But how many people can do it in a way that makes you, the reader, feel as if you are in that same room with the same excitement as those newly advanced Sailors? Look, listen and make the reader feel what you feel. That should be the goal.

 “Yellow Shirts: One Color, One Rank, One Family”

“77-day Warrior Challenge”

Editor's Note: MC2 Walter is a nuke convert, and did not attend the Defense Information School.

- Print Journalist of the Year

 Well it’s an honor to be selected as CHINFO’s print journalist of the year for 2011. I truly enjoy my job and try to do the absolute best with every story I tell. I’m extremely thankful that I was considered for the award and am thankful for the support of my leadership and peers throughout my time in the Navy. Also, this is the first time that I’ve ever submitted any of my work for any type of recognition.  

...I’m thankful for networking and look to my Chiefs, mentors and 
fellow MCs to help me out whenever I need it. 
Personally, everything is challenging and is a learning experience. Our rate consists of many different types of jobs and sometimes it can seem overwhelming. For myself, I find it pretty difficult being the only MC for my command, but I’m thankful for networking and look to my Chiefs, mentors and fellow MCs to help me out whenever I need it.
I definitely wouldn’t say that I create superior content, but the best advice I can give to others is do the best you can on everything you do. For writing advice, I’m not the best writer but I try to thoroughly plan out my stories to make sure I know exactly what I’m writing about. Since the audience is what’s important, this helps me understand what information matters to them. For photography, I just try my best to capture moments. Other than that, I trust in my mentors and Chiefs for any assistance I might need. 
MC1 Rosa Van der Loo, American Forces Network Rota
- 1st place in Radio Entertainment Program, "Thanksgiving"
- 2nd place in Radio Spot Production, "Elf Help"

 I was really excited to win. I actually spent the better part of last year really working on radio broadcasting skills, so it was sort of a validation that my over-the-top excitement for producing radio was, in fact, a good thing. To tell you the truth, I was really surprised that I won. We have so many great radio DJs in the military and it's awesome to be included on that list. It's also great that I got to share the spotlight because as you know Rota took home 1st and 2nd place awards in that category.

The most challenging thing about the MC rate is the huge amount of areas that you're meant to be proficient in. The U.S. Navy is the only service that requires one job field to have working knowledge of public relations, event planning, web design, social media, both TV and radio broadcasting, basic journalism, photography, basic newspaper layout and operations, and graphic design. That's a lot to be able to do and it's really a challenge to become that well-rounded of an MC to be comfortable stepping into any role. That said, the U.S. Navy is also the only service that offers training to match what they're asking.

Love what you do and be proud of it, not because it may win an award, but because it's something you love.

Take ownership of it in that way.  Know who your audience is and what will resonate with them best and use that to your advantage.  Prepare, prepare, prepare! Go the extra mile. The more prepared you are to do a great job, the easier it is to make your job great.  No matter what you do - print, broadcast, design, whatever - keep learning more about it. Keep working on perfecting those technical skills. Know what the best sounds like, looks like, and feels like and get constant feedback.

Lastly, don't be afraid to go out there. Way, way, out there. You don't get better without trying (and failing) a few things, so don't be afraid to fail.  That's how we learn.


MC2 Jen Lobao, American Forces Network Naples
- Outstanding New Navy Broadcaster
- 1st place in Radio News Report, "Vice Presidential Visit"
- Honorable Mention in Radio Spot Production, "Loaner Locker"

 It's an honor to be named the 2011 Outstanding New Navy Broadcaster. Last year I primarily worked as a radio broadcaster, but I had some really amazing opportunities in television as well. I am grateful for those opportunities, for the support I received along the way, and for these awards.

...don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone 
or to think outside of the box.

Being an MC can be challenging because of all the different hats we have to wear: public affairs, photography, broadcasting, graphic design, and more. Learning to be proficient in all aspects of the job may have its challenges, but I think along with that comes exciting and rewarding opportunities.

The advice I have for others is to practice, practice, and practice some more. Also, keep in mind that the amount of prep work you do beforehand can make a significant impact on the outcome of your project. And finally, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone or to think outside of the box.

Two of MC2's submissions for Outstanding New Navy Broadcaster:

Food Network
Change of Command


 MC3 Sebastian McCormack - Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific
 - Honorable Mention in MILPHOG - Combat Documentary

 I basically took a shot that I knew was composed cleanly, but I really didn't think it was anything special. Apparently, the judges thought otherwise.  My Afghanistan deployment has been challenging thus far.  I've had to deal with extreme cold weather and physical hardships during operations.  I've also been put in dangerous situations.  A COMCAM must know when to put his camera down and think of his safety first.

Buckle your seatbelt and stay locked on.

Not everyone will be able to integrate with certain units COMCAM are expected to support.  Special training and a certain level of professionalism are required.  Buckle your seatbelt and stay locked on.  There has to be a balance between being a good soldier and being an MC for a COMCAM to be successful.

Caption: 111212-N-MF277-167- An Afghan National Army commando breaches the door of a building suspected of harboring insurgents during an operation to disrupt a budding improvised explosive device cell in Chak district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, Dec. 12. The ANA commandos conduct counterinsurgency operations throughout Afghanistan to provide stability in the region. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sebastian McCormack/RELEASED)

MC2 Andrew Breese, Defense Media Activity
- 2011 Military Videographer of the Year
 - 1st place in MILVID - Field Production, "U.S. Navy Drill Team"
- 3rd place in MILVID - Documentary, "Pearl Harbor Final Wishes" 
 -  Honorable Mention in MILPHOG - Multimedia Story-Feature, "What is Pain?"

 First and foremost, I’m very honored and humbled to be selected as the 2011 Military Videographer of the Year. Winning MILVOY validated a lot of changes I made when it came to shooting video. In mid-2009 I decided to switch from standard broadcast cameras to HD DSLR cameras with video capabilities. It’s been a long journey learning the dos and don’ts with DSLR video, but I have become more developed as a Mass Communication Specialist managing both photo and video worlds together within one camera.

“If you don't like change, 
you're going to like irrelevance even less.” 

The most challenging part about being an MC for me was getting the higher ups (E-6 thru O-5) to accept change within our new community. One of my favorite quotes by General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. “If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less.”

Media has changed so fast in the last few years; from the way we consume it, how it’s produced, who sees it and how it’s repurposed. I’ve spent countless hours fighting with old legacy Chiefs (JO,LI,PH,DM) and PAOs about expanding on our style from the old broadcast formats and venues. The best way I found to combat this problem was (inception) to educate them on the variety of storytelling techniques and media outlets used by professionals today.

I believe many of the same stories in the military are recycled but the art of storytelling continues to reinvent itself. MCs must be innovative; thinking outside the 4:3 box is a key process that will keep the MC rate viable and strong in the future.

My advice to MCs looking to step up their game would be to: surf Vimeo constantly, use a HD-DSLR camera (Canon 5DMKIII or Nikon D800), apply your photography skills to video, find a long-term project for yourself not the military and make storytelling apart of your life not just your job.

It’s also important to branch out by attending workshops like the DC Shootoff, DOD Worldwide Military Photography Workshop and many others.

U.S. Navy Drill Team
Pearl Harbor Final Wishes
SERE Instructors
What is Pain?

MC1 Cote is dead center.

MC1 Brett Cote, Defense Media Activity
- 1st place in MILVID (Documentary), "U.S. Navy Concert Band"

 I was so stoked to win. The Navy Band piece was the only package I entered into the contest, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it to get first place. DINFOS streamed the contest online in real time, so a couple of folks had it on their desk tops in my workspace. When the judges picked my story, my cubicle mate and I did the Top-Gun-need-for-speed-high-five.

Dude, I could go on and on about this rate. In a nutshell, the most challenging thing is staying sharp and staying current. Why is that so hard? Because an MC isn’t a photographer, a writer, a graphic artist, a PA specialist, or a layout designer. A real MC is all of that, and all of those skill sets are evolving really fast these days. Right now the technology is changing so fast, and it takes a lot of work to stay current on any one arm of the MC octopus.

 For example, I’m kind of a video specialist, and right now video technology is like a bucking bronco that I’m just trying to stay on top of. DSLRs changed the game, but they’re still in their infancy. Prosumer 4K cameras and systems seem to be right around the corner. Web delivery methods and codecs are going through a lot of changes, too.

 It’s a lot of work to stay current while growing creatively and taking care of your day-to-day workload. 

Another example of the changing landscape is on the public affairs/public relations front. Social media is so massive. There are a million sites and apps catering to a gazillion demographics. I’m not even going to pretend I know a fraction of what’s going on in the social media realm. I’m holding down facebook (cote brett), twitter (@bpcote1), and instagram (bpcote1), but the rest of it is totally getting away from me right now.

You’ve got to stay hungry to learn, plain and simple. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I’ve been to Combat Camera, I’ve done a newspaper, I’ve been to Syracuse, I’ve won a few awards, and I still don’t know sh*t. Neither do you. No MC can be sharp at all aspects of the game at all times. If you spend six months becoming an After Effects ninja, then that’s probably six months you’ve spent neglecting some other arm of the octopus.

“Superior product” is a relative term. Not everybody is hungry enough to be MC2s Andrew Breese (, Patrick House (, or Drew Geraci (, but as long as your next project is superior to your last project, then you’re heading in the right direction. So, thanks for giving me this opportunity to run my mouth. I like what you’re doing with the homegrown pro blog. Keep killing it. -bc

The Navy Band

MC3 Glenn Slaughter, USS Nimitz
- Honorable Mention in CHINFO, Outstanding New Navy Broadcaster
- Honorable Mention in CHINFO Television Feature Report, "Midway Memories"
- Honorable Mention in MILVID - Feature Story, "Midway Memories"

 They're calling me the Honorable MC3 Slaughter at work.  How do I feel about all those Honorable Mentions?  I feel GREAT.  I'm serious.  I don't shoot to win awards, but there's a very comforting feeling that comes from all those nods.  It's like you know you're on the right track.

I've been blessed to work under a command that encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.  There are so many amazing things going on in the Nimitz's Media department.  The challenge has been to become a well-rounded MC.  Ever since I can remember, I've shot mostly video, with some creative writing on the side.  In the Navy, we're expected to have a knowledge of much more.  Giant, expensive printers scare me, and photography slaps me around quite often.

Find what you're passionate about and make that the center of your work.  For me, it's people.  Doing a story on dish washers in the scullery may not seem interesting, but the people in that dirty, steamy room each have a unique story.  If your people skills aren't great, work on them.  The key to telling compelling stories is having the ability to make people relax and open up a little.

Midway Memories


 Many thanks to all who took the time to write in and share their wisdom.  Thank you to Senior Chief Trent from USS George H.W. Bush for her help with this story.  The Sailors over there are putting out some great stuff.

Stop by the DINFOS Showcase page to see a list of VIAP winners (it's under March), and the Navy Public Affairs Professional Development page to see a list of CMA winners.

Two more examples from USS George H.W. Bush winners:

MC3 Greg Wilhelmi, 2nd in CHINFO, Personality Feature, “Second Chances”

MC3 Derrik Noack - 3rd in CHINFO, Personality Feature, “From boot camp to the White House"


  1. Wow, this is really great information! Thanks for putting all of this together. It means a lot to me as a future MC to have suggestions and insight from so many talented folks already in the field. Great work, everyone!

  2. I'm happy and proud to see so many former students listed on here! Keep up the great work!!

  3. I want to become an MC i the NAVY, right now I'm finishing my bachelors in photography and this is what I want to do. I will be requesting MC as a reservist and I have been wondering if reservist get lots of calls to become active to tell the Navy story often...I would not mind going active from time to time or even volunteering. Reason I'm probably not going active (I'm not entirely sure yet) is because I wanna finish a masters and I'm thinking that being full active will make it difficult for me to complete my masters. My goal is to become a photography instructor and I feel the Navy will set me up for this by giving me the tools and opportunities I need, also I would love to be able to be an instructor inside the Navy but I'm not sure if MC's get to do this in any kind (at least when up in the ranks?, I will be entering as a E-3 and as I have gathered I will be a E-4 by the time I complete A-school and was wondering where in the ranks do you get to become more of a mentoring model (without detaching myself from what I want to do, take pictures, video etc., I don't think that PAO is good for me right now and I know it is very difficult to get into, I'm leaning towards going enlisted).

    I have been doing lots of research and to finally come upon your blog is a blessing because it gives so much insight from the inside, insight that could have impossible to get otherwise. Thanks so much, hope to meet you one day!

    Hope you can answer my questions, thanks so much!

    God bless

  4. Hey Idali, thank you for reading. I haven't had much exposure to the Reserves. I've asked around, so hopefully someone will write in that can answer your questions better than I can.

    I actually just met an MC1 who is a reservist, and she just got back from an 8-month long Individual Augmentee deployment to Afghanistan. She served 8 years as active duty first, though. I don't know anyone who enlisted right away as a reservist. might have some useful information. I'll let you know if I can dig up anything else.

    As far as earning your Master's, it'll be more difficult on active duty. There are jobs available as instructors at the Defense Information School, where MC's receive training. The lowest rank I saw on an instructor was E-5, so expect to spend some time elsewhere before applying for that job.

  5. MC2 Benjamin KittlesonDecember 17, 2012 at 8:56 PM


    I was a reservist MC for 2 years and I was able to perform active work as an MC whenever work came down the pipeline. Last year alone, I was active more than 100 days in the first half of the year.

    Rest assured that if you get assigned to the right reserve unit, you'll have plenty of active work available to you, even regular opportunities for deployment if the money is available.

    Earlier this year, I finally bit the bullet and went full-time active.

    Hope this helps. Let me know if there's anything more you want to know!


    -MC2 Benjamin Kittleson

  6. MC2, thanks for stopping by. I'm going to repost this to the Facebook page.