by The Federalist
The Voice of America (VOA) Newsroom is not a happy place:

It is one of the primary targets in the proposed 30% reduction in VOA broadcast operations.

It is a place with an estranged relationship with its managers who are seen as defensive at best, vindictive at worst.

It is being saddled with a set of production objectives which are impossible to meet, mainly involving the time-consuming requirements to integrate the disparate needs of radio, television and agency websites.

It is being used as a clearinghouse for commingled content between itself and the agency grantees which have different missions and standards which raises a number of other serious concerns.

The latest reaching the Federalist from various sources:

On Thursday, March 15 (the Ides of March no less), VOA Director David Ensor held a meeting with Newsroom staff. He got an earful. He may not have been happy with what he heard. Nevertheless, he needed to hear it, directly from the staff feeling the consequences of poor/hostile management and the disarray as the direct consequence of BBG/IBB decisions adversely impacting on Newsroom operations.

Ensor should take staff input seriously, rather than accepting the sycophancy coming from Newsroom management.

In the Newsroom and elsewhere in the Cohen Building: threats, intimidation and bullying are poor substitutes for leadership. They have become an institutionalized part of the agency’s management philosophy. It makes the agency what it is: a hostile work environment. These are not qualities. They are liabilities, along with the people who perpetuate their existence. They don’t need to be encouraged, much less condoned or supported. They are not hallmarks for an effective and mission-successful operation. They are the basis for failure.

Mr. Ensor may not have experienced a reduction-in-force (RIF) firsthand. He should be concerned. If you haven’t been through it, it would be unwise to allow one’s ego to dismiss the effects caustically. The effects are felt long before the actual event.

In an agency with a long history and tradition, such an action is a breach of faith with the workforce. Ensor would be well served to remember what he said some months ago in a previous meeting with the Newsroom staff – his comment about the place not being the same with what is to come. Worse, if what the BBG/IBB proposes comes to pass, it would likely be one of the largest RIFs on record in the agency – fertile ground for things to get messed up or manipulated.

In short, Mr. Ensor has it right. It won’t be the same.

It will be worse.

There are certain things which VOA does well. They should be the top priority, rather than the BBG/IBB “flim flam plan” approach of trying to reinvent the wheel. The BBG/IBB likes to throw caution to the wind, rely upon cheesy and arrogant pronouncements and tamper with core operations.

One of the things the agency doesn’t do well is television, with elongated production costs, staff and time requirements. In this regard, too much of what the agency is doing is cheap television done badly. Shortcomings in other areas aside, this is the one thing capable of taking the whole place down. One of the principle fault lines for this is the Newsroom.

It is no secret that we are big believers in radio: it is immediate, it is right now, it is covering the news as it happens. Everything else comes – later.

The message to Mr. Ensor and the BBG/IBB is simple: play to your strengths, not your weaknesses.

Start with the Newsroom. Bag the notion that big cuts to the Newsroom operation will make things better. Forget it. It won’t. Not even remotely.

Beware of cheap television done badly.

The Federalist
March 2012