Archive | July, 2013

Friday Media Roundup

In the last week:

  • A New York Times blog referenced Radio Free Europe’s video on Aleksei Navalny’s return to Moscow.
  • PBS Media Shift wrote an article on the effects of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.
  • AP quoted Radio Sawa’s interview with the PYD spokesperson in Syria.
  • A Radio Free Asia interview with a Buddhist monk who was almost killed on Sunday was picked up by Reuters.

See more mentions, citations and articles of interest on

Connie Stephens: U.S. Elections Around the World


Connie Stephens sits in her office in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve worked for VOA and IBB since the mid-1980s.  I started in VOA Hausa when we dialed dozens of times from Washington to reach a correspondent, and transferred that call to the newsroom where the report was recorded and transcribed.  It was such a victory to finally reach Sonja Pace, who now leads the newsroom, when she was the VOA West African correspondent covering breaking news in Nigeria!  Now I marvel at how we send instant updates with iPads and mobile devices.  A consistent thread across the platform changes has been how much U.S. international broadcasting means to our audiences, especially where credible information is scarce. Election night is absolutely one of the best times to work for the Voice of America.

One of my favorite election memories is the 1992 presidential election: Specifically, the concession speech offered by then-President George H. W. Bush. When he realized that Bill Clinton had won the election, he gave the most gracious speech to wish his successor well and thank the voters.  I heard my Hausa colleagues, most of whom were Nigerian, remark on the potential audience impact of that speech.  We were broadcasting to a continent still struggling to make peaceful transitions. Holding an election is not the most difficult part of the democratic process, as we’ve seen time and again.  The bigger challenge is when the electorate decides that they want a leadership change, because it’s so difficult to carry out a peaceful transition that maintains the rule of law and sustains key institutions.  Seeing a smooth turnover is perhaps most important for those who support a losing candidate.  If that change nurtures faith in the government and the electoral process, then there’s always the next election.  But when the winners take all — and you don’t know when or if the next election will be scheduled — then there’s far more at stake; violence is more likely. That night in VOA Hausa we were a bit awed by our opportunity to cover such a striking example of that key to a successful democracy.

Whatever the media platform, there’s also been a consistent pattern of interactive journalism. Successive changes have deepened the ability of our audience to connect with each other and with professional journalists whom they often know by name.  When I started in VOA Hausa, we were getting thousands of letters a month, the majority of which were for Listeners’ Questions programs.   The queries were all over the map: Did an astronaut really step on the moon? What’s the favorite food of your newscaster?  Often Hausa broadcasters researched answers and interviewed experts.  Then, when cassette tape players came into vogue, people began sending their questions on cassette tapes so we could play their voices on air.

The 2000 election was a memorable milestone in that trend.  It was the contest between George W. Bush, then the Governor of Texas, and Vice President Al Gore.  I was coordinating a pilot project to establish an English web desk and a 24/7 VOA news website, and we wanted to launch the new website to cover the presidential election live. We met that goal and reported detailed results all night and into the next morning; but the winner was still undeclared. Ultimately, that election was decided by the Supreme Court.  The new website proved to be a timely way to dialogue with our audiences:  We could accept reader emails and conduct polls; they could even use the website to interact with each other.

For me, it’s now a pleasure to watch mobile apps and social media turn those examples into ancient history as they create even more direct ties between global audiences and the stellar journalists who work here.”


Connie Stephens has worked for the BBG since the mid-1980s.  From 1984-1993, she served in the VOA Africa Division, and led the Hausa Service from 1985-1989.  In the mid-1990s she joined the newly created Office of Marketing & Affiliate Relations.  Later she became the first Director of the Office of Internet Services, which evolved into today’s Office of Digital and Design Innovation.   She is currently the Deputy Director for Resource Management in the Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation.

Behind the Scenes: Bob Long

Bob Long is a program analyst in the BBG’s Office of Performance Review, where he reviews programming from across the agency for balance, timeliness, diversity and compliance with the agency’s principles of being objective, accurate and comprehensive. Joining the BBG in 2012, Long was impressed with the performance of all of the broadcasters under the BBG umbrella.

“The local knowledge of our broadcasters is extraordinary. There is nobody in the federal government that is smarter about what is going on at the ground level than our people, but our mission is unique. Our journalists and technicians have an abundance of knowledge on the local culture and the audiences to which we broadcast.”

Before joining the agency, Long worked in the media industry for years, acquiring experience and knowledge in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, wire services, and movies, both in entertainment and journalism.  He has seen news organizations, both commercial and non-commercial, evolve throughout his career in the radio and television industry. The BBG is unique as a news agency, in that it is not beholden to private, commercial interests.

“News was never intended to be revenue-generating; it was an obligation and a public service. However, there’s no requirement to do news anymore. Now it’s just another revenue stream, and a rapidly fading one. The BBG, of course, is protected by law and is funded by the government. Our mission is not to make money for stockholders. Instead, our stockholders are on the Hill and in the Executive branch. We have always fought for the independence of the agency and to protect the firewall.  The firewall has held mostly. There have been cracks, fissures, betrayals, treachery, but mostly it has maintained its integrity.”

Throughout Long’s extensive career in broadcasting, he’s had the opportunity to work with many different people and personalities. On occasion, he has been able to meet some even before they became famous!

““The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a CBS sitcom about life in and around a TV newsroom in Minneapolis.  MTM’s aunt was the business manager at the CBS station in Los Angeles where I worked and had suggested the show idea to Mary.  Our newsroom was full of real characters that were translated into dramatic characters on the show.  I was the assignment manager and alleged to be one of the models for the Lou Grant character played by Ed Asner.  Mary spent two weeks working as my desk assistant to get a feel for the newsroom.  I didn’t know who she was.  The picture was taken in 1970.”

Bob Long is one of the many great people working in U.S. international broadcasting today, and we are happy to have him. If you have a fun or unexpected story from broadcasting history, leave us a comment!

David Ensor on U.S. International Media

David Ensor talking at the Global Diaspora Forum on May 14 in Washington, D.C.

Voice of America director David Ensor knows how crucial U.S. international broadcasting is to spreading accurate, objective and comprehensive information. While on a speaking tour earlier this year, Director Ensor discussed VOA’s continued impact with students and members of the diaspora across the United States. Audience members who had immigrated to the U.S. reinforced his message, attesting to VOA’s importance in countries where the government controls or restricts media. For them often the only source of accurate and reliable news came from VOA or another BBG broadcaster. Many in the audience, however, didn’t realize that people around the world still relied on programs from U.S. international broadcasters.

But that may soon change.

Although journalists within the BBG network have been heard around the world for more than 70 years, only recently have the broadcasts been allowed to be made available upon request within the United States. The broader access will make VOA and other U.S. international broadcasters better known in the U.S. and conceivably allow diaspora communities access to accurate, objective and comprehensive news in their native languages.

Radio Free Europe Celebrates 63 Years of Broadcasting

Balloons carrying information flew over the Iron Curtain’s censors.

Happy Fourth of July! As our nation recognizes its independence, Radio Free Europe celebrates its 63rd anniversary — on July 4, 1950, RFE broadcast their first program in Czechoslovakia.

Over the years, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have made their mark on history by consistently reporting the news in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, though the methods in which they have done so have evolved.

When faced with media restrictions, U.S. international broadcasters have consistently been on the forefront of innovation with regard to getting programs to media restrictive environments.

One example from the archives: Between 1951-1956, news was delivered over the Iron Curtain by high altitude balloons. More than 500,000 balloons carried leaflets and other printed materials over the Iron Curtain, to locations including Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. Access to media and information was tightly controlled, and the printed materials from RFE gave audiences a rare view of the outside world.

The technology used today to reach people around the world is much different from the balloons used in decades past. Citizens are able to interact and be involved with the news like never before thanks to new technological innovations, and RFE/RL has developed new ways of transmitting news around the world. For example, in Afghanistan RFE/RL has enjoyed great success with its interactive SMS service, which allows listeners to subscribe to breaking news alerts, access content via their mobile phones and upload user-generated text and video content to RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. Through the interactive SMS service, Radio Azadi is in regular mobile contact with a quarter of a million Dari and Pashto language listeners.

Innovations such as this span the entirety of U.S. international media. The Broadcasting Board of Governors recently held an event, Innovating at the Speed of News, to showcase some of the ways that they reach people around the globe – ranging from anti-censorship technologies to innovative delivery methods to unique programming.

Through all of these innovations, one thing has remained constant: The critical role of broadcasters within the BBG network in providing balanced news and information to audiences who often lack it, and the essential role of U.S. international media as a model of free press.