All views expressed are those of the author.

One Year Later — Dysfunction, News Failures, Self-Promotion and Pandering at the Voice of America


There is a good chance that legitimate concerns of hundreds of Voice of America employees. . . were simply disappeared. . .or watered down to the point of being invisible.

By Dan Robinson


Remember the famous wood suggestion box placed outside the VOA newsroom? It was put there by managers desperate to demonstrate they were making an effort — any effort — to respond to pent-up frustrations exploding across VOA’s newsroom.

As I departed VOA last February, VOA’s leadership had before it, courtesy of their being published by BBG Watch, a list of more than 30 recommendations. These included some suggestions in that box, but many more based on extensive consultation with my former colleagues. . .by no means exhaustive but a fairly comprehensive collection of concerns.

Even as Andy Lack has departed, it would be instructive for others, to re-read these recommendations:

If you don’t have time to click that link, but think of yourself as someone who really cares about VOA and the larger agency, ask yourself if managers have:

. . .moved to correct a situation in which by all appearances, VOA managers were intent on destroying what was once a robust VOA English radio operation, while failing to appreciate effects on staff of being thrown into labor-intensive TV projects that sacrificed breaking news coverage?

. . . moved to end a pattern in which those raising legitimate concerns, were ridiculed, often in public, and in which managers tolerated and condoned destructive personnel practices, including using the official evaluation system to denigrate performance and personal commitment?

. . .made an unambiguous statement on morale-building efforts, required the VOA Director, all IBB and Central News managers, and others to make definitive statements in support of chairman Shell’s remarks about the importance of employee morale, and disavow the Steve Redisch statement in 2010 to newsroom staff, that “you are responsible for your own morale?”

. . . rejected statements that devalue breaking news coverage or criticize correspondents who pursue breaking news as somehow failing to support the “BBG mission”?

. . .established a journalistic Ombudsman position so VOA can finally join news organizations and demonstrate a commitment to focusing on assessing its own journalistic and coverage issues?

. . . studied, discussed, prepared, implemented confidence-building measures regarding the Office of Performance Review to prohibit use of language in preliminary or final reports that denigrates or has the appearance of denigrating, work or capabilities of one class of employees (GS or FS) in contrast to another, and prohibiting OPR from using as examples without prior consent material of reporters who may be subjected to criticism in open sessions?

. . . taken confidence-building measures regarding the Office of Labor Relations and Office of Ombudsman and consult with AFGE 1812 to address employee concerns regarding these offices ability to impartially deal with labor and other issues?

. . . moved to resolve outstanding performance evaluation issues, end the practice of inserting negative remarks in employee ratings specifically to punish those expressing alternative views?

. . . halted other damaging personnel tactics such as denying staffers leave without pay based on legitimate needs, and examine application of telecommuting policy?

. . . conducted an aggressive review of Central News and news bureau infrastructure problems, created a review process to examine technical and support issues, including PC interoperability and communication, edit systems, servers, and address well-known crippling problems involving the Dalet system?

. . . in the Central newsroom, examined tensions between TV Production and correspondents to end what one correspondent called “casual disregard for the realities of getting video reports filed” amid increased demands from services for more TV reports with multiple elements?

. . . assessed VOA English website performance, ended the highly questionable practice of merging wire service reports with VOA staff material, placing a correspondent’s byline on the final product, crediting to a VOA reporter material that he or she has not originally reported, structured, and written, raising serious issues involving integrity of journalistic output?

Do any of these ring a bell? They should. If not, there is a good chance that legitimate concerns of hundreds of employees. . . were simply disappeared. . .or watered down to the point of being invisible.

Amid the Valentine’s Day networking events, ice cream socials, and mustache competitions hosted by management, in what is still and always likely to be considered, the worst federal agency in government. . .

. . .ask yourself these questions. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, walk right up to those microphones during the next Town Hall meeting . . . and fire away. If you don’t, no one else will. Encourage your colleagues to do the same.

READ: PART I: Looking Back: Lack of Accountability, Continuing Maximum Hubris, and Facing Realities



READ: PART IV: Out of the Breaking News Business?  And…some questions