By Quo Vadis (Marie Ciliberti)

Recently, a curious job announcement was posted on the Broadcasting Board of Governors Innovation Series blog (a site with practically no comments) advertising a hot new position in the new ODDI Division – BBG’s Office of Digital & Design Innovation.  Not for long, as the announcement with a July 6th deadline for applications, disappeared from the site as well as the archives.

The position, as the blog entry advertised, was for a Senior ID/UX Director and Front End Designer for the U.S. Government. As described, the position certainly was made to look exciting.

Come work for one of the largest international broadcasters in the WORLD and one of the Administration’s most innovative startups!

One of the Administration’s most innovative startups?  Is the blogger referring to a WH start-up like Solyndra?  Perhaps no one in the organization informed the blogger that VOA has been in existence for over 70 years.  Or, in the mindset of the ODDI team, perhaps VOA has already ceased to exist?

The announcement continued:

Yes, the application is a little like a tax form (it is the Government after all, so your job title is listed as Information Specialist but that is just for the application system.). You will get to work with some of the most creative talent that have recently joined our office from NPR Digital, Discovery and more! The office is made up of a mix of developers, project managers, strategists, researchers, analysts and journalists. The staff is creative, social and dedicated to collectively producing great projects.  Enjoy changing the world one interface at a time with a team of people committed to making user experiences and information accessible for a global audience in the developed and developing world.  In fact, here’s our latest campaign against Internet censorship …. called Weapons of Mouse Destruction, an iPhone and Android app that was created in-house.

(It was an expensive fiasco: Broadcasting Board of Governors builds a costly mousetrap that doesn’t work.)

You can see it for yourself: http://www.weaponsofmousedestruction.org/

According to the announcement, developers, project managers, strategists, researchers, and analysts outnumber what used to be the core component of the organization – journalists – by a wide margin.  Evidently, in one fell swoop, while no one was watching, the broadcasting team radically changed. Instead of the trusty, now-boring writers, editors, translation-adaptation specialists, producers, and technicians, the new BBG broadcasting team requires a whole new layer of different skill sets, the least of which is journalism.

The announcement continues with a few words about the Agency, leaving out, as you would expect, its dismal ratings as one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government.

You can see for yourself: http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/rankings/detail/IB00.

According to ODDI, what is the Agency all about?  Read on.

BBG is the American federal agency equivalent of the BBC World Service split into five brands: Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Radio Marti and Middle Eastern Broadcasting networks. The mission of the BBG is to inform, engage and connect audiences around the world to information that improves lives.  The group that oversees the BBG (the Board of Governors) is made up of the best and brightest — ranging from corporate media executives to State Department officials.  We create 3000 hours of original programming broadcast in 59 languages to over 112 countries to an audience of 187 million people PER WEEK.  Our budget is nearly $800 million dollars.

The reference to the BBG as an equivalent to the BBC World Service is a bit mystifying. Although there are similarities (other than the first two letters in the acronym), there are also striking differences between the BBC World Service and the BBG’s “five brands” of U.S. international broadcasting in terms of origin, mission, and role.

Regarding what seems to be the new mission of U.S. international broadcasting as stated in the announcement, it looks as if the Agency has made a quantum leap from “The news may be good or bad — but we will always tell you the truth”.TO “inform, engage and connect audiences around the world to information that improves lives.”   We now broadcast news and information to improve lives? That’s a new one. Won’t even ask how ODDI plans to do that.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the Agency has chucked the VOA Charter, which at one time codified its mission of international broadcasting. Guess that times are a-changing…

Regarding the make-up of the Board:  there is only one member of the BBG from the State Department, an ex-officio representative: the Secretary of State or his/her designee.

Moving on.  What kind of a person do the ODDI honchos have in mind?

What We Are Looking For:

Leadership and incredible talent to help transform international new media broadcast (mobile, social, web, devices) into beautiful useful and efficient experiences for news, journalism and information.  We are in an environment of high experimentation as the in-house lab to try and break new things for what will work in newsrooms and for news consumers.

The above spiel leaves out the fact that just recently, the Senate Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations of the Senate Appropriations Committee in its report language on the FY2013 budget for the BBG stated and we quote:  “The Committee does not support the proposed BBG digital media development initiative.”  

Must not make any difference.  Unfortunately, it’s common knowledge that the BBG/IBB pays little or no attention to the wishes of Congress which apparently exists only to provide funding to the Agency with no strings attached.  Forgetting the fact that it is taxpayer money that is being appropriated by Congress, not theirs exclusively, the BBG staff keeps developing pie-in-the-sky projects and recruiting despite the fact that the pesky Congress tries to put restrictions on what they plan to do.

Nothing new.  In 2008, the same Senate subcommittee stated in its report language not to cut VOA Russian but the strategic crew at the BBG decided to cut all radio/TV to Russia contrary to the wishes of Congress. That was right before the Russian invasion of Georgia. And we all know what has happened in Russia since then.  In exchange, the BBG gave them VOA Russian on the Internet and a new vehicle – Podelis –  which only a few hundred people in Russia have seen or even heard about.

Back to the position description in the posted vacancy announcement:

Things to Note:

This job is based in Washington DC and is a full-time Position

U.S. Citizens Only May Apply

Salary Range:  $89,003.00 to $115,742.00 Per Year. 

And here’s the kicker where the Announcement states:

After the first probationary year, you have job security for life as a Federal Employee.

Job security for life as a Federal Employee?

That’s news to many rank-and-file employees at the Agency who are threatened with a RIF (Reduction-in-Force) on an annual basis and before the guillotine falls, have to weather one of the most hostile work environments in the Federal Government.  But perhaps that statement only pertains to management officials at the BBG/IBB where people are retained and rewarded with giant bonuses no matter how many bad decisions they make or how little productive work they do.

Whether the posted vacancy was canceled or whether there were some qualms about how it was presented in the blogosphere is immaterial.  If anything, it created a lot of confusion as to what direction U.S. international broadcasting is going and why.

The Chronicles of ODDI…. drumroll…. to be continued…..

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