DoD's Early Bird to fly by e-mail

Generals who expect a crisp copy of the Current News Early Bird waiting on their desks each morning will have to get used to a new routine. Rather than flipping through the newsletter's pages, they will have to click through its hyperlinks.

Fax distribution of the Early Bird, a roundup of full-text news articles relating to defense, is being discontinued by the Current News Service, an office within the American Forces Information Service at the Defense Department. In its place, the service is offering a web-based format of the Early Bird that will be delivered via e-mail.

Articles in the Early Bird are cut and pasted into a single document to save officials time and to give them a complete look at defense news coverage around the world. The service produces and distributes 1,900 copies of the Early Bird throughout the Pentagon every day. In addition, an average of 200 issues are faxed to local think tanks and journalists and major military commands around the world.

Distribution of the Early Bird is restricted to members of the Department of Defense, active duty military personnel and Department of Defense civilians. Certain exceptions are made for journalists and other experts whose work is used to produce the newsletter.

The Early Bird will be delivered by e-mail as an HTML attachment. HTML is the formatting language of the World Wide Web. Using their Internet browsers, readers can open the attachment and browse the new Early Bird just like any other Web page.

The switch to electronic distribution was made to reduce distribution costs of the Early Bird, and supports the Defense Reform Initiative, an effort to identify savings and modernize systems at the Defense Department. According to a Current News Service employee, the new e-mail distribution will save the service $30,000 a year in long-distance fax costs and will reduce paper production substantially.

The service is also switching to e-mail because its fax server is outdated and unreliable. Last year, the service paid $20,000 for a fax maintenance contract for the 10-year-old machine. Because they have no maintenance contract this year, the service decided it was a good time to switch to electronic distribution. As the employee explained, "if the [fax] machine breaks down, we're out of business anyway."

One added benefit of the new version of the Early Bird is its user-friendly format, the spokesman said. The web-based version features a table of contents with hyperlinks that take readers directly to the articles they click on. Hyperlinks allow for selective reading, whereas the fax version of the Early Bird requires readers to flip through every page to see what information is in the newsletter. The hyperlinks add "tremendous value because you don't have to sort through articles you aren't interested in," the employee said.

Fax distribution of the Early Bird stops Nov. 30. The Current News Service is not automatically sending the web-based version of Early Bird to its fax distribution list. To request the new version of Early Bird, contact the service at 703-695-2884.

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