The following commentary has been posted on the website of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812, a union representing federal employees of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).


The Age of Wearable Devices

by American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812

AFGE Local 1812The Agency, which evidently believes it’s keeping up with the new media world by trying to engage young people worldwide through Facebook, Twitter, SMS, TV, Radio, Internet – on a radio budget – recently invited staffers to a presentation. As the announcement stated: this is a focus on Google Glass and “other ‘wearable’ devices which are about to dramatically transform the way people get news.”

The presentation aimed at teaching the audience the following:

• What are wearables and what types of devices are on the horizon?

• How these new types of devices work and how people use them?

• How journalists can use wearable devices for news gathering

• What new types of news products you will need to build for these devices?

At the risk of being accused by the Agency, yet again, of standing in the way of progress, we ask a simple question: Could we take care of the basics before trying to reinvent journalism?

By that we mean that there are no longer enough good seasoned journalists in the English-language newsroom to put out stories that would accurately reflect what’s happening in the U.S. and the world. There are not enough staffers to prepare and post stories on the VOA English-language website, which, instead of VOA-originated reports, is generously padded with Reuters stories.

Language services don’t even try to keep up with all the technologies flung at them. Some don’t update their web sites for days. Some don’t even try to cover many stories that in the past would have been covered by the main newsroom, and then translated by the language services. They have been tasked with writing the news the English newsroom used to do, while at the same time trying their hands at TV, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, all on a radio budget, using the same number of staffers they used to have when the Agency only did radio.

The Agency’s middle management has made it clear that “if only” older workers would leave and let tech-savvy younger ones take over, all problems would magically be resolved. Dream on. What is ailing the Voice of America is not a culture clash between web-adept staffers and old timers. Rather, it is the disappearance of experienced journalists who knew how to report a story, and were given the time to do it.

It all comes down to the fact that the Agency has prioritized medium over message. Some of the IBB leaders long ago dismissed the VOA’s mission statement enshrined in the VOA Charter as irrelevant and unimportant. We are left with a jumble of technologies, amateur presentations and, worst of all, a fast-fading audience.

For further details on the news, why wouldn’t listeners go straight to the Reuters web site? It would be faster. The news would be better. They may even have already adopted Google Glass news…..