Monday, April 16, 2012

The news may be good...

“VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”
 -Voice of America Charter

 Last week, I made my way over to VOA for a meeting to discuss possible collaborations. I will share about such business later.   But prior, I got to partake in a fascinating tour about Voice of America.

I ended up having a personal tour, as the tour group that was slated to join me never materialized. As I was waiting for the tour group that didn't show, I got to admire some of the beautiful WPA murals by Seymour Fogel and Ben Shahn.  See under: When Art Worked. I couldn't help but think how shocking it would be today to try to re-institute such a program.

Anyway, my tour kicked off with a stroll down VOA memory lane.  There was an interactive component with a head set.  Picture displayed of FDR's initiation of the Voice after the commencement of World War II, as well as the famous words from the first broadcast from William H. Hale: "The news may be good.  The news may be bad.  We shall tell you the truth."

Moving forward, I got chills when I heard Willis Conover's smooth, smokey voice introduce Jazz Hour.  And also Satchmo's gravely welcome.

There was also a great quote by JFK on VOA at its 20th anniversary:
The Voice of America occupies, I believe, a key part in the story of American life. What we do here in this country, and what we are, what we want to be, represents really a great experiment in a most difficult kind of self-discipline, and that is the organization and maintenance and development of the progress of free government. And it is your task, as the executives and participants in the Voice of America, to tell that story around the world.
Also an interesting anecdote that 615 million people tuned in to the VOA for Neil Armstrong's broadcast from the moon, the largest in broadcast history.

The tour continued inside with a map showing all the language areas that VOA covers (43 to be exact) and a brief video introduction. There were great quotes from Lech Walesa about how there would have been no victory over communism without VOA, and from the Dali Lama about the importance of the VOA to Tibet.

We passed by the television studios and the newsroom behind it, and I heard about how the newscenter is staffed 24/7/365.  The guide mentioned that it was one of the largest newsrooms in the world.  Also that there are 22 radio dishes on the roof that beam to a satellite.  I also heard a bit more about VOA's production capabilities in tv and radio.

I passed by a radio studio where a host was giving a broadcast of Radio Ashna, which is for Afghanistan and reaches 8.8 million adults weekly.  If my notes serve me correctly, it reaches nearly 48% of Afghans, with 4 hours in Dari, 4 hours in Pashto and 4 hours of Special English (English in educational format).  The tour ended with another short video, discussing some of VOA's efforts and challenges.   I got a little broader tour after with my PD colleague Rick Barnes, who showed me some of the radio studios and program spots.

On the whole, the tour was quite good and should be mandatory for any PD student passing through DC.   I should hope that AU, GW and the Syracuse PD students stationed here in the city visit as part of class curriculum.  I have a great deal of respect for the work VOA does, and I think it is unfortunate that more of the general public doesn't know about its work.  I also think it is unfortunate that it is continually fighting rearguard actions to save itself.  I am reminded of a piece I previously penned for CPD on the need to use popular site like the Newseum to advocate on behalf of the field of public diplomacy.  Given that VOA already has a museum exhibit, it seems like such an easy partnership and way to get the work of VOA on a more public radar.

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