Notebook » Behind the Scenes // A Look Inside U.S. International Media Mon, 18 Nov 2013 17:37:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Connie Stephens: U.S. Elections Around the World // // Thu, 25 Jul 2013 20:47:33 +0000 pubaff //  

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.

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Behind the Scenes: Bob Long // // Tue, 23 Jul 2013 14:18:46 +0000 pubaff //

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!

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Behind the Scenes: Aladin Telalagic and Kim Conger // // Thu, 20 Jun 2013 19:18:40 +0000 pubaff // Earlier this month, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) hosted Innovating at the Speed of News, a digital innovation expo highlighting the tools that the BBG uses to reach and engage audiences worldwide. One of the featured innovations was Pangea, a next-generation content management system (CMS), which is used across four of the BBG’s broadcasting networks and was developed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Aladin Telalagic and Kim Conger visit RFE/RL’s offices in Washington, D.C.

Aladin Telalagic: “My proudest moment while working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty came when I received an email from André Mendes stating that Pangea was selected to be the platform for shared content management among the BBG’s broadcasters.

I have personally been working on Pangea since 1998 when we published the first version; it is now in its sixth edition. One of the reasons why Pangea is so useful is that it’s tailored for journalists. We set up three teams that looked at the CMS of the other entities and analyzed them for their technological, usability and financial elements.  Technological considerations included the scalability and reliability of the CMS, usability looked at how the user would interact with an agency’s website and the financial team considered the costs of content management.  We wanted to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard and that all opinions were taken into consideration.  As a result, Pangea is efficient and user-friendly.”

Kim Conger:  “I have worked on the Pangea platform with Aladin since 2005. It has been very rewarding to be a part of a product that has such an impact on RFE/RL’s — and now the BBG’s — mission. The RFE/RL Digital team is a very talented group of people who enjoy what we do and work very well together. We’re like a family and are fiercely protective of that. Aladin and I work very hard to get the right people with the right talent and temperament to get the job done.”

Aladin: “In addition to enabling content sharing, Pangea also makes economic sense. In this atmosphere of sequestration, we saved BBG over $1 million.  The websites are also more responsive to users.

Pangea provides the backbone for around 200 of the BBG broadcasters’ websites, including those of Voice America, Radio and TV Martí, and Middle Eastern Broadcasting Networks.  It also hosts the Global News Dashboard, mobile platforms for each entity and Showcase.  The tech team regularly updates Showcase with new training materials and design planning tools. The various BBG agencies can use the site to train themselves to use Pangea and see what their agency’s site would look like on the Pangea platform with their own branding.

The BBG has also accepted our vision for the development of mobile software.  We have spent two years analyzing the Android and iOs markets for RFE/RL and the other agencies are cloning our code to use.

On a personal level, the selection of Pangea was also very gratifying. I joined the team in 1999 as a maintenance engineer, moved up to department programmer, and now I work as the Director.  My team is very dedicated and put a lot of time and energy into the project.

I also feel personally accountable for the security of the websites hosted by Pangea.  When the Russian Government attacked RFE/RL’s website, I worked more than 24 hours to block their interference. It’s our responsibility to protect the data on the servers.  The language services, clearly, are a target.”

Kim: “The BBG has faith that our team is up to the challenge. We are meeting that challenge and it’s gratifying.”


Aladin Telalagic, Director of Internet Technology, and Kim Conger, Deputy Director,  helped create Pangea, RFE/RL‘s best-in-class content management system. Pangea now serves four of the BBG’s broadcasters. By migrating content into a shared management system, BBG has improved coordination and interoperability among our broadcasters, reduced systems duplication, and expanded in-house capability.


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Behind the Scenes: Gina Barroso // // Wed, 22 May 2013 16:25:38 +0000 akolobrodova // Gina Barroso with Rosa María Payá

Gina Barroso with Rosa María Payá

“The death of Oswaldo Paya was a huge moment for me. He’s a name that I remember hearing growing up. My parents mentioned him often. He was a household name. He died in a car crash in 2012. I cried. One day you are writing about his work and the impact. The next day, his death. I found out about his death while at work at OCB. Initially, the staff worked to confirm the news. We had all of the monitors tuned to news on his death. Everyone went live with the news, it was that huge. We were one of the first to broadcast the news. The Cuban government, at the time, said his driver lost control of the vehicle and ran into a tree. Not everyone believes that story. We always felt there was foul play.

Oswaldo Paya was a wonderful human being, a spiritual man. He never gave up fighting for democracy. To lose someone like that is a huge loss to the entire country. Cubans on the island who are aware of him were touched by his death. He was very involved with the Catholic Church. When he died the Pope sent a letter of condolence to his family. Through the church in Cuba, many young people knew who he was.

What is making his legacy even more important now is his daughter. She is a world traveler and visited the White House and the U.N. to carry on his work. She is making sure that next generation of Cubans will know his importance.

One week, Oswaldo Paya’s daughter, Rosa María, visited the OCB studios. Her visit to the studios was emotional and all of a sudden, she turned, and came to me and gave me a hug. I have no idea why she chose to hug me. I could not help myself and started crying. We are family and we are here for our family in Cuba. We are not going to stop until all Cubans have the same liberty and opportunities.

We are the only thing they know, we are their voice.”

Gina Barroso works as a Public Affairs Specialist for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami, Florida. The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) oversees the operations of Radio and TV Martí from its headquarters in Miami, Florida. Radio and TV Martí serve as consistently reliable and authoritative sources of accurate, objective, and comprehensive news for people in Cuba, where media are controlled and highly censored by the authorities.

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Happy Willis Conover Day! // // Fri, 26 Apr 2013 17:50:42 +0000 lmoy //

Whereas, on April 25, 2009, the Big Band Jam will honor the Voice of America and Willis Conover and the joint contribution toward spreading the language of jazz and American cultural diplomacy around the world over a span of more than 35 years;

In April 2009, a resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives proclaiming April Jazz Appreciation Month, and April 25 to be Willis Conover Day.

April 25 was Willis Conover Day! Find out more about Willis Conover, and his legacy in cultural diplomacy and international broadcasting, by watching the VOA YouTube clip up top and reading about him on Inside VOA & What’s Up VOA.

Yesterday the VOA House Band put on a program to commemorate this important day!

Do you have a personal memory of Willis Conover? What does jazz mean to you? Please leave us a note in the comments!

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RFE/RL Celebrates Havel Fellows, Discusses Press Freedom in Eastern Europe // // Thu, 11 Apr 2013 21:26:53 +0000 pubaff //

 David Kramer directs questions to the Havel Fellows Gotisan (left), Stepanyan (center) and Taghiyeva (right) during a panel discussion April 9


Media freedom was celebrated last night as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty held a panel discussion entitled “Media Freedom in the European Neighborhood: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova” last night, April 9, 2013, at the Embassy of the Czech Repulblic that featured this year’s recipients of the Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship.

Havel fellows, Seda Stepanyan from Armenia, Tahmina Taghiyeva from Azerbaijan, and Irina Gotisan from Moldova, served as panelists and discussed the freedom of press in their own countries. The event was moderated by David Kramer, President of Freedom House, which compiles an annual report, Freedom in the World, on the state of global freedom.

The Fellows also presented videos that they had produced, demonstrating their excellent journalism and multimedia skills.  Following the presentations and a round of questions prompted by Kramer, the discussion was opened up to the audience.

Gotisan responded that she and the other Fellows could be optimistic about the future because they are, “young and smart” when an audience member asked about the potential for increased freedom in Eastern Europe. Each of the Fellows agreed that the legacy of the Cold War and their nations’ transition to democracy still play a role in the level of freedom enjoyed, but they were also enthusiastic that programs like the Havel Fellowship helped to encourage objective journalism.

Fellows Gotisan and Taghiyeva discuss press freedom with John Todoroki of the Prague Freedom Foundation


This is the second year in which Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has awarded the Havel Fellowship. This year’s recipients have extensive experience working in journalism in their home countries.  The program is open to promising journalists with English fluency from the Russian Federation and the European Partnership Countries: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.  Fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis and offer on-the-job training alongside RFE/RL’s seasoned professionals.

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VOA Persian Celebrates Norouz // // Fri, 22 Mar 2013 15:27:50 +0000 pubaff // Voice of America’s Persian Service hosted a luncheon yesterday to celebrate Norouz, the annual holiday that marks the Persian New Year as well as the first day of spring.

Guests from all over the agency joined in the festivities.

Norouz is about new beginnings and reaching out to others. It’s inclusive and is a time to celebrate for everyone.  Not only is it the Persian New Year but the first day of spring.  It comes at a time when people are looking for renewal and rebirth.  The historical and cultural traditions of Norouz reflect that.

Mora Namdar, Producer and Special Assistant focusing on National Security and Policy

This year, the staff wanted to celebrate Norouz with everyone, not just inside the Persian Service.  They wanted to invite the whole house.  When I was asked, I thought ‘To quote David Ensor…why not?’  They were all very excited.  This is a great holiday, and they rallied at the chance to share it.  They worked hard to raise funds for the event.

Billy Otwell, General Manager of VOA Persian


A staff member from VOA’s Persian Service hands out drinks for the Norouz celebration

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