Bureaucracy Warning Sign

International Broadcasting Bureau – The Standard for Dysfunctional And Defunct in the Federal Government – Information War Lost:  VOA Newsroom Follow-Up – Forget About the Mission: Let’s Play Bingo!

By The Federalist

Newsroom Follow-Up



We’re back in the Newsroom again and quickly.

As previously reported, meetings have taken place recently between Ms. Sonja Pace and members of the Newsroom staff.

The employees were venting face-to-face with the management on a variety of subjects. Here is a representative sampling of topics:




One of the first topics to come up was the subject of potential retaliation for speaking out on a variety of Newsroom deficiencies, managerial, editorial, technical.

Keep in mind that one of the deputy managers is known for telling people to keep quiet or run the risk of losing their jobs.

That sets the atmosphere in the Newsroom and elevates the retaliation scenario. Instead of being serious about what is wrong with the Newsroom operation, the management chooses instead to indulge in “happy news” which essentially has no material impact on the Newsroom’s problems.

One of the things that the management decided upon was an “anonymous” locked “suggestion box” which could only be opened by the management.

To date, it appears no one has made any deposits to the suggestion box. One employee noted that the suggestion box was positioned below one of the security cameras that are present throughout the Cohen Building.




We know there are security procedures throughout Federal installations. That being said, the intimidating atmosphere created by the management is such that some employees have the feeling that the cameras are doing more to watch the employees than potential external threats that may have made their way into the Cohen Building.



Hostile work environment.

You get the picture, so to speak.


Instead of the suggestion box, it appears that the employees preferred the “safety in numbers” approach, confronting the management with their issues.


To Be Or Not To Be “IT”


Following the issue of retaliation came the subject of a myriad number of nightmares with the IT infrastructure in the Newsroom. The major complaint had to do with the agency’s longstanding DALET production software and the lack of timely IT or technical services support when the system freezes or crashes resulting in missed deadlines.

We know what the employees are talking about. We have dozens of emails noting system failures left and right, some localized to the Newsroom and others affecting broadcast operations throughout the building.

In addition, employees note that the concept of systems integration appears to be a novelty with the agency’s IT management: what software on one computer produces does not appear on others in the Newsroom. System uniformity: another novelty in the Cohen Building.

It is well that the Newsroom staff raises this issue because the IT/Engineering chief, Andres Mendes, is now the “Director of Global Operations” in the interim management model being embraced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Interesting to our point of view because, to outward appearances, IBB can’t keep its own part of the house in order and now is going global.

Not long ago, we had to laugh when an email was forwarded to us concerning an IT problem in which one executive responded by saying, in part, “Keep me informed every 15 minutes.”

In other words, with a problem of some magnitude, managers couldn’t find out what the problem is and couldn’t solve it for months and years.

Yet another leadership breakdown in the agency known for lack of leadership.

This reminds us of a skit performed on Saturday Night Live (SNL) years ago following the death of Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco in which the satire news segment would lead with the headline, “General Franco is still dead.”


“Give me an update every 15 minutes!”

Yep, DALET is still frozen.



Who’s In Charge? Is Anyone In Charge?


Employees meeting with Ms. Sonja Pace also noted that employees have yet to be informed about what is called a “Coverage Desk,” a Newsroom position that is supposed to coordinate assignments being handled by correspondents and reporters.


Sorting Through It All


In the 2013 Federal employee satisfaction survey, the agency continues its solid hold at/or near the bottom of mid-sized Federal agencies – essentially the same position it has held from the beginning of these surveys.

The Newsroom has the added distinction of being “the worst of the worst” inside the Cohen Building with the lowest marks in morale. Incredulously, Ms. Pace noted that senior agency officials were “surprised” by the survey results.

A lot of what is wrong with the Newsroom is a direct consequence of the actions of David Ensor (VOA Director) and Steve Redisch (VOA Executive Editor) to decentralize newsroom operations in favor of letting the agency’s language service run willy-nilly in newsgathering: something which they can’t do because they are as under-staffed and under-resourced as the Newsroom.

Thus, lack of agency-wide uniformity is now the house standard.

Hence, the dysfunction comes full circle in the daily editorial meetings in which the language service chiefs and their umbrella division chiefs come in with a “wish list” of stories they want the Newsroom to cover.

Two understaffed and under-resourced agency entities ping-ponging their lack of ability to cover news effectively.

And readers should be reminded that Mr. Ensor, early-on in his VOA director position said that there would be “blood on the floor” and the staff of the Newsroom would be reduced by about one-third.

What should come as no surprise is the lack of Newsroom or the agency’s English language website coverage to important world news events, often documented by BBG Watch.


Rehabilitating Newsroom Effectiveness


Voice of America Bingo Poster
Voice of America Bingo Poster

An organization that is described as “defunct” and otherwise known as dead is not likely to be rescued, recovered or rehabilitated. That’s our view. The management and employee culture (Bingo!) inside the Cohen Building appears to be one of denial – certainly the case with the IBB people and their dogged hold onto a defunct “strategic plan.”

But for those who continue to hold out hope, what should be done to stave off the inevitable fall of the agency could be the following. It is not intended to be an all-inclusive list, but rather things that jump out at us repeatedly:


  • Ditch the “43 newsrooms” concept. It was nonsense from the start. Anyone remotely familiar with the VOA language services knows they are not prepared to assume the responsibilities of what a Central Newsroom can do.


  • Get back to basics. There are still a few veterans of the old Newsroom to know what it takes to get it back to its proper posture. That includes the daily line-up of global news stories to be translated and used by the language services. Each service doesn’t need to follow the exact order of the line-up but can structure the global lead news stories to suit their target audience.


  • Language Services: “To Thine Own Self Be True.” When it comes to stories that are of consequence to a particular language service or division, it is incumbent upon them to write the story, use it in their news or feature segments (presuming they still have any meaningful direct broadcasts) and send it to the Newsroom to incorporate as a lead global news item or as part of regional news.


  • Assignments Editors: Clearly, the Newsroom is in desperate need of 24/7 hands-on leadership to maintain oversight as to what news stories are being covered or what needs coverage. At present, there is the appearance that the Newsroom goes to sleep at various parts of the day, weekends and holidays when typically the unexpected occurs.


  • Move the English Webdesk/Website Under the Newsroom. At present, the English website is part of the Worldwide English division, another part of the agency with a whole host of leadership/morale problems. The English web desk need to be incorporated into the Newsroom, emphasis on news with input from Worldwide English for other topical or human interest stories. As we see it, news is not important to the English web desk at present. This needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.


  • The Subject Is Video Not Television. This agency needs to disabuse itself of the notion that it is doing television. For the most part, it is not. It is doing video. There are plenty of alternatives to VOA who do video as part of their radio-internet-video media sets. One is Public Radio International (PRI). Local Washington, DC radio station posts videos. Both show the seamless connection between radio, video and the Internet. These models suit the agency and the agency would be well served to follow them. 43 CNNs inside the Cohen Building is not happening. Message to the BBG, IBB, Ensor and Redisch: The BBC, Russia Today, Al-Jazeera and Chinese CCTV do television. You do not. They have the infrastructure and fiscal resources. You do not and won’t. Not even close. Get with the program that works for you: video. The attempt at stand-alone television is killing this agency.


  • Follow the Charter. From a content perspective, the absence of the formula embraced in the VOA Charter is the key issue. In terms of credibility, this agency is going nowhere as long as it is off message and in some kind of la-la land of non-VOA-generated news and fillers.


Of course, we expect the usual cacophony of nay-saying and the like coming from the IBB, Ensor and Redisch. But remember:


They represent what is defunct.


Consider the source.


The Federalist

January 2014