Journalism over Tech: Why We Are Here

Jun 04, 2013
VOA Journalist reporting from the Congo

The Office of Digital & Design Innovation (ODDI) was created with a simple proposition:  We work with technology to improve US international media news and information.

We look for the best solutions to the biggest problems in creating, distributing and improving news and information.  Our job is to find those journalists most able to apply innovation in digital media and get them what they need to implement.

I have the strong belief that our future growth and competitiveness in crowded global media markets depends on our capacity to innovate.  However, there are important reminders of why technology is secondary in the pursuit of our mission.  It is often that the technology outshines what is truly valued; the importance of having a compelling story that moves people.  I have the privilege of working alongside an amazing diversity of journalistic talent and was reminded of that fact when I received an email of a departing colleague, Robert Sivak who retired from VOA at the end of May.  I am reprinting his letter – lightly edited – with his permission because it is an important document to ensure that those in the nexus of journalism and technology stay connected to the values of this place.

 

To all my dear VOA colleagues, in the News and English Divisions, at the bureaus, in Language Services throughout the House, in IT and Facilities, across IBB and in the Director’s office:

After more than 36 years as a member of this remarkable institution, it’s time for me to move on to other pursuits and challenges, and I want to bid you all a very fond and grateful farewell.   I will miss VOA — and the hard-working journalists who make it tick — more than I can say.  My extended career here, working alongside so many of you, has been deeply rewarding.

From the day I arrived in 1976 as a fledgling Worldwide English intern, I’ve found purpose and passion in so many different corners of this enterprise: as a writer and newscaster with News Programs’ English regional news desks; a co-producer in WWE of several radio news magazines; a producer and feature reporter at VOA’s United Nations bureau and the New York “program center” (when it was nestled in the theater district at West 57th); a general assignment reporter at the West Coast bureau in LA in the early 80s; back in DC to co-produce a live 2-hour morning news magazine to Asia; a long and fascinating stint (1984-1998) as NEB’s food & ag reporter and host of a weekly half-hour radio ag show; the creator and original host/producer in 2000 of the half-hour science mag still running today as ‘Science World;’ an enriching 8-year tour on the 3rd floor leading a remarkable team of multi-media feature journalists, and for the past two+ years, as Central News’ science editor, urging on the Newsroom’s team of science and health reporters.

During my time here, VOA reporters chronicled historic events, from the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate to the US Bicentennial, the dawn of the Green Revolution, the Iran hostage crisis, the Reagan years, the space shuttle, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fall of communism, the birth of the Internet, the advent of social media and mobile communications, and since 9/11, the battle against terrorism. During my time here, we’ve gone from manual typewriters to networked computers that (most of the time) let us edit text, audio and video and communicate with each other instantly around the globe. We’ve gone from a global network of shortwave radio transmitters to a complex of satellite-fed TV and radio affiliates, catering to audiences that find VOA on their smartphones.

Amazing.  And I’m sure even more remarkable changes are in store.

I know we all share a passion for what VOA has always been: a beacon of honest, balanced world news and illuminating stories about the American people and their ideas.  Even though I’m leaving, and despite the great challenges VOA is facing, I’m going to continue to believe in that mission. And I’m glad so many of you remain here, committed to support it.

I thank those of you with whom I’ve collaborated over the years for the professional respect, trust, pride and joy you’ve all shared with me.

Love and best wishes to everyone at VOA.  And good luck to each of you. 

Ciao!

Rob

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Rob Bole is the Director of Innovation for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @rbole.

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