Interview: Glenn Kates, Manager of Digital Initiatives at RFERL


Glenn Kates is one of BBG’s secret weapons, although he’s not such a secret to all those he’s worked with around Europe and Central Asia.  As the Manager of Digital Initiatives at RFERL in Prague, he is responsible for developing and implementing forward thinking digital strategies for journalists in some of the world’s most remote, censored (and sometimes hostile) locations.


Deibert: What does your new job entail?

Kates: My position is multi-pronged.  I work with journalists both in Prague and at regional bureaus to train and introduce new social and digital media tools that I think will improve our journalism, but I also have to think strategically about what we need but don’t yet have. In other words, I am always preparing for tomorrow–following changes in the social web and trying to adjust for them across the organization. I also work as a bridge between the Internet teams and journalists.  The Internet team is constantly improving the offerings available through Pangea, and when they do, it’s largely based on communication from others (journalists) about what can be improved.


Ukraine liveblog

Before parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Glenn took a quick trip to Kyiv to discuss how to new liveblog platform in the Ukrainian service’s coverage of parliamentary elections. On Election Day and the days that followed, journalists based around the country provided breaking news, which was curated and contextualized in Kyiv.

Deibert: What do you see yourself and your department working on in the future?

Kates: Over the next year, one of my top priorities will be getting our journalists recognized as brands in and of themselves.  Now that our journalists are actively using Twitter and engaging through social networks, I think it’s our job to make sure that a bridge exists between the company and the individuals that make its engine run.  Really making journalists as big a part of the brand as the logo is.  I think that’s something that’s lacking and something that I really want to help change from within. One way we’ve started to do this is to individualize them on the website. Now, when a reporter produces content, a user does not just see that person’s name, but also is provided an immediate one-click prompt to subscribe to that journalist on Twitter or other social networks.

Secondly, I think working on implementing a really robust UGC collection and verification system that can work across services.  We have all of these really marvelous apps and I think for us, their most important function is to provide people an easy way to share their news with us. Throughout our coverage area we have boots on the ground–not just our journalists–but also our audience.  But I think to encourage people to submit content we have to provide a rationale for them to do so.  And I hope that we can work together to provide that rationale, while also providing a really stellar system of verification.

We’re also really excited about working on this tool for our smart phones… creating an app for RFERL journalists so they can use their phones in the field to produce and publish content in real time.  We want to it to livestream directly to Pangea, but also function in other ways that will help reporters produce content on the go.

Belarus service - Hangout

Several services have taken advantage of Google Hangouts On Air, released in May, which allows journalists to interact live on YouTube with audiences and guests around the world.


Deibert: How do you see your role evolving in the future?

Kates: I think it’s too early to tell how my roll will evolve, but developing relationships with journalists across our bureaus and working with them to address the challenges we’re going to continue to face as technology changes has already proved to be crucial.  I think that I’m in sort of a unique position because I’ve had roles as both a journalist and as someone who has developed social media strategy for a newsroom, so I hope that through that combined experience I can show that there is no conflict between making great content and using new technologies–in fact, they should work hand-in-glove.


Deibert: Where should we, as a media organization, be investing in the future?

Kates: I think it has to be journalists in our bureaus.  The greatest asset that we have is our original content.  Part of my job is to see how we can take that original content and combine it with the efforts of our audience, or the crowd in our regions, and create a really quality digital and social product.

It’s a combination of the people, tools, and the training.  And the training is easy to do when you can convince a journalist that what they’re doing is going to have an impact.  They don’t join the profession to make money; they join the profession to have an impact.  When I write stories, I want to see that it is being shared and that people are talking about it.  If we can work to show our journalists that what they’re doing–through use of digital and social media–is creating that impact, then that in itself will bring growth and change.


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(Thank you to Glenn Kates and Rob Bole for their contributions to this post.  To contact Kates: katesg at rferl dot org [or] on Twitter @gkates)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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