09 December 2010


It’s time for this blog to go into a self-induced coma. Perhaps to be terminated at a later date.

I had fun writing about various journalism issues. But defending VOA against the many misperceptions out there was, frankly, quite tedious and repetitive – especially in an era where too many people aren’t interested in the facts, only their own beliefs.

The other problem is that it’s really no fun talking to oneself. While I had hoped for a dialogue, there wasn’t any evidence of interest on the part of the readership, even though it numbered in the tens of thousands over the last couple years.

That has been very disappointing. I had expected otherwise.

But I was wrong -- perhaps because, like I just read in a novel, "rationality is the enemy of consciousness."

You figure it out. I can’t.

30 November 2010

Wikileaks and The Media

The release by the Wikileaks organization of tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, as expected, has created a media frenzy. But it has got me to thinking, what if these were Chinese cables, or Iranian cables or, for that matter, diplomatic communications from any other country than the United States? Wouldn’t we all like to see some of those?

And it has also got me to thinking, how are non-U.S. media reporting on the latest leaks? I noticed an item on the Columbia Journalism Review website on how Arab media are handling the story. It is tantalizingly titled, “Tense scenes in Arab newsrooms right now.”

The title originates from a reference in the item to an article by Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy, who wrote: “I imagine there are some pretty tense scenes in Arab newsrooms right now, as they try to figure out how to cover the news within their political constraints.”

I’d like to hear from readers on how you think your own domestic media are handling the story. Drop us an email.

23 November 2010

Resentment is What Generates Ratings?

It was a week ago that we proposed creation of a network of media watchers. We asked readers in the 15 countries which have sent the most visitors to the VOA Media Watch to sign up. To say the response has been under-whelming would be too generous. In fact, no one has stepped up. That’s right. No one. Not a single message. Nothing.

So maybe we are going about things the wrong way. Let’s try a different tactic. We’ll put up a statement and see if anyone wants to comment on it. Here goes.

Does the following statement describe the content of any of the news outlets you follow?

“…the news exists in order to generate controversy. And controversy exists in order to generate resentment. And the resentment is what generates ratings… Resentment of whom? Well, a cultural elite that is corrupt and maneuvering behind the scenes to exercise power.”

Send in your thoughts (and we’ll reveal the source of the statement). In the meantime, enjoy the video.

18 November 2010

We’ve Had Enough And We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore

Well, that was the title of a posting I wanted to put up this week lashing out at those individuals who make waves by telling lies about VOA, occasionally out of ignorance but usually with malicious intent, hoping that if people hear the lies often enough, they will be accepted as the truth.

But then two things happened. First, I was talked out of it by my editor. And second, I received the latest copy of the Columbia Journalism Review. It contains an editorial decrying a recent media trend in the U.S. “where we increasingly live in separate information silos.”

It laments what it terms “ideological fracturing” in which some news organizations “profit by preaching to their respective choirs.” It says this “massive retreat into ideological niches” isn’t helping the media or the nation address their challenges.

And then the editorial offered some suggestions:

• “Ignore the bias bullies. If you are intellectually honest in your reporting and in story choices, stop cringing every time somebody says you are not.

• “Stand up for facts…

• “Stop groveling…

• “Do what you do best—deep reporting…”

It’s good advice for journalists, wherever they are. So, instead of worrying about the “bias bullies,” I’ll choose to ignore them. And VOA will focus on what VOA does best: serving “as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.”

17 November 2010

Notable Quotes: "...an antidote to malicious journalism…"

My thanks and compliments to columnist and author Thomas Friedman of the New York Times who provides today's notable quote in an item titled "Too Good to Check."

The piece discusses how Anderson Cooper of CNN exposed the falsehood that President Obama's recent trip to Asia cost $200 million a day. Friedman writes: "It underscored just how far ahead of his time Mark Twain was when he said a century before the Internet, 'A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.' But it also showed that there is an antidote to malicious journalism — and that’s good journalism."

The key quote comes at the end:

"When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet. All you can hope is that more people will do what Cooper did — so when the next crazy lie races around the world, people’s first instinct will be to doubt it, not repeat it."

15 November 2010

Building a Community of Media Observers

Since the VOANewsBlog began in January 2008, tens of thousands of people from around the world have visited. Excluding the United States, the top 15 countries with the most visitors have been:

1. Vietnam
2. Iran
3. Japan
4. South Korea
5. China
6. Canada
7. United Kingdom
8. Taiwan
9. Germany
10. Russia
11. Thailand
12. France
13. Turkey
14. India
15. Pakistan

As part of our redesign, I’d like to build a community of media observers, starting with these countries, who would comment on the information they receive from VOA and compare it to the quality of information they can obtain from their domestic media. What do they like about VOA news, or dislike? I might from time to time throw out a question to the community for responses and then collate and display the results here. (I won’t censor anyone’s comments, as long as they avoid hate speech, obscenity and the like.)

So how do we build this community? It’s really up to you. If you want to participate, send an email to VOANewsBlog@gmail.com

Please tell me a little about yourself, your background and any media experience you might have. Explain why you want to join up. Please add a comment or observation about VOA News.
So if you want to get involved, send an email to VOANewsBlog@gmail.com

As the new Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Walter Isaacson, said in a recent speech: “We have to be able to build online communities with our audience that actively engage them on issues of mutual concern and interest.”

That’s what we’re trying to do here.

And as you have probably noticed, we have renamed the NewsBlog and now call it the VOA Media Watch. And we’ve changed the template. New look. New start. Join us.

09 November 2010

Knee-Jerk Critics and Others

A recent post discussed the question of whether our editorial content is automatically suspect because VOA is financed by the U.S. government.

We know the answer is yes, for some people. But additional data, obtained from recent audience research conducted for VOA, suggests at least some of the suspicion is simply “knee-jerk” suspicion, not based on fact.

Take for example the following excerpt from a recent report on a monitoring panel asked to evaluate one of VOA’s language services:

“…despite the respondents’ high ratings for accuracy and objectivity, a minority of panelists expressed some concern about the possible influence of the U.S. Government in the broadcasts. For instance, one panelist opined that VOA tried to hide the drawbacks of American policy in its coverage of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, this same panelist went on to note that VOA’s unbiased look at the challenges faced by a Muslim–American soldier in the U.S. military made up for the shortcomings she perceived in the coverage of U.S. actions in Afghanistan and showed VOA’s concern for Muslims.”

Another audience panel was critical of a perceived bias in the way VOA reported on this year’s devastating floods in Pakistan:

“Some panelists even felt that [VOA] was using the flood as a propaganda tool to make Pakistanis -- who, according to the panelists, view the United States with anger and distrust --better like and appreciate the country.”

One of the panelists in this group admitted he would never view any VOA news item with an open mind, stating “Americans are treated with scorn and derision and we give them no moral weight.”

There is yet another group of audience members -- again, I suspect a minority -- who do not expect VOA to be objective and balanced and indicate they want it to be pro-U.S. all the time. While such comments, in my experience, usually emanate from people here in the United States, this comment came from abroad:

“It is unrealistic for VOA to be a government-owned body and claim to offer ‘balanced’ and ‘unbiased’ news coverage. VOA’s mission is to present the U.S. policies and not the opposition to these policies. Objectivity should not really be a part of the assumption or equation.”

Frankly, I don’t see how we can ever satisfy any of these critics. To those who want “gung-ho, pro-America, slam-our-adversaries all-the-time” programming, I can only say: “Forget about it. We have a Charter and we’re sticking to it. (And besides, we don’t have to bash our adversaries. They do a pretty good job of bashing themselves and all we have to do it report it.)

For those who don’t believe we can be accurate, objective and balanced, I would only ask: “Please don’t make any assumptions. Take some time to actually watch, listen to or read our content.”