FORT LEE, Va. – The post newspaper will be discontinued as of its Jan. 28 edition.
Gannett, the publishing company printing the Traveller since 2017, informed the installation in October that it was experiencing significant financial losses from the product due to the lack of ad sales in the midst of COVID-19. In support of its military partners, the company agreed to continue production into the New Year.
Meanwhile, the Garrison Public Affairs Office made preparations for the shutdown, developing a digital alternative for news distribution – www.army.mil/lee. With that now established, the OK was given to suspend the contract and prevent further financial losses.
“We know this announcement will disappoint many loyal readers who counted on the Traveller week after week for Army news and information,” acknowledged Stephen Baker, PAO director. “For my team, it represents the end of an iconic publication that has served this installation for a little over 80 years (not counting its predecessor, the Camp Lee Bayonet). The Traveller endured when so many other military newspapers across the force went away in the past decade. It was part of the fabric of Fort Lee.”
Baker noted the publication’s website, fortleetraveller.com, also will be discontinued. The printed community guide and post map that was part of the same contract are going away as well. The final 2021 edition of the guide will be distributed to organizations across post during the first week of February.
“We’re already focusing on the new Digital Garrison app, launched in August by the Army Installation Management Command in partnership with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service,” he said. “Available for Android and Apple smartphones, it provides the same information as the guide and more. Plus, the information there is continuously updated.”
In addition to that, users can find FMWR event information and links to AAFES sales flyers and its online ordering site. The app is available to service members, government civilians, family members, retirees and others. “It’s a great product,” Baker confirmed, “and it will keep getting better with new features being introduced in the near future.”
An August article that introduced the app can be found at www.army.mil/article/237660.
Addressing what news dissemination to the Fort Lee audience will look like in a post-newspaper world, Baker excitedly spoke about greater use of social media, new products being released throughout the work week, the ability to go after special reporting projects and delving into video broadcast stories.
“First, I want to make it clear that this new development should not be interpreted as a loss of Public Affairs support to the greater Fort Lee community,” he pointed out. “We’re looking at it as an opportunity to tell our story in a whole new way – one that capitalizes on digital media venues that are more popular among today’s consumers of news.
“My staff has already been pumping products into the new army.mil/lee page and we’re planning on more detailed reporting projects we couldn’t do before because of the hours we had to commit to producing the Traveller.
“We’re simply closing the chapter on the post newspaper being the ‘center of our universe’ for Fort Lee news,” Baker said. “The new vision is to tell the story in bigger, better, faster and more contemporary ways.”
The first eight-page edition of the “Camp Lee Traveller” was published on July 2, 1941, six months after the installation was reopened by the War Department to be used as a training base for troops preparing to fight in World War II. It was printed by Southside Publishing Inc. in Petersburg. The masthead page stated the newspaper cost 3 cents a copy on-post and 5 cents off-post – or 13 weeks for 30 cents.
Maj. Gen. James E. Edmonds, the first Camp Lee commander who had served as the managing editor of a civilian newspaper before entering the Army, introduced the Traveller in an article headlined, “To the Soldiers of Camp Lee.”
“The function of the Camp newspaper is to interest and entertain – giving to the Soldiers … the news concerning them and their affairs, which they can obtain in no other way so well,” Edmonds wrote. “I know that here at Camp Lee, we have the talent to make the Camp Lee Traveller one of the best, if not the best, publication of its sort in the United States. The endeavors of its editors will have my cordial continuing interest and cooperation.”
In a highlighted box at the bottom of page one, the newspaper explained the origin of its name under a headline “Lee’s Traveller Returns to Army.”
A portion of the article read, “The ghost of General Robert E. Lee’s famous grey horse, Traveller, comes back to Camp Lee today with the publication of this newspaper. Traveller was a familiar sight and name in this part of the country during the Civil War, as General Lee rode back and forth among the ranks spreading cheer and confidence among the Soldiers. It is hoped that the new Traveller can perform a similar function at Camp Lee in the months to come.”
In the years that followed, the Traveller functioned in the manner Edmonds described – both informing and entertaining the military community. A Dec. 10, 1941, issue recapped the national address by President Franklin Roosevelt when he announced the nation was declaring war on Japan. An April 1948 edition announced the arrival of the first Women’s Auxiliary Corps members. The paper highlighted the official opening of the Army Quartermaster Museum in June 1963. President Barack Obama’s visit in September 2016 also garnered the coverage it deserved in Fort Lee’s official news publication.
What weekly Traveller readers arguably appreciated most throughout its history, however, is the content that “captured the essence of living,” as one editor phrased it in a 25th anniversary edition printed in 1966.
A search of the newspaper’s archives reveals countless articles intended to promote community pride, acknowledge individual achievement and keep the community abreast of important policy and procedural changes. There were moments of levity such as the 1941 story about the “Mustache Cup winner” and the 1945 commentary presented from the viewpoint of Maude the mule. Pfc. Clyde “Sonny” Helmer could play the trombone with his feet, according to a 1955 feature.
While the Traveller’s journey has come to an end, what its many editors and staff writers over the years endeavored to do has not changed, as Baker noted earlier. Members of the Army Public Affairs community, one past editor observed, must strive for content “that will make readers wiser or more knowledgeable, that will make them think seriously or entertain them or cause them to remember or make them laugh.”
That is what constitutes the mission of a newspaper serving the military community, and that is the stated continued aim and purpose of the Fort Lee Public Affairs staff.