Innovation @ BBG » Broadcast Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Top Writing Tips for Journalists Writing to Video, Multimedia Fri, 14 Feb 2014 17:48:43 +0000 Erica Malouf Have you ever watched a news segment or video and been completely and happily absorbed in the story? Or conversely, have you ever been so distracted by the choppy audio and unnecessary narration that you didn’t enjoy it?

As many a broadcast and multimedia journalists know, achieving “happily absorbed” is a skill and an art. But as with any kind of writing, we can study what the pros do.

I’ve adapted most of these tips from a webinar given by a master: Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty, Broadcast and Online at The Poynter Institute. (With some notes of my own.)


When writing to news videos, whether for broadcast or a digital platform, it’s important to keep your writing tight! As Al Tompkins says, ‘the biggest sin is wasting the time of the audience.’

Understand Storytelling: Engaging stories usually follow a tried-and-true formula because…it works. I like to think that the basics of such formulas were figured out during the campfires of cavemen. Storytelling is a defining characteristic of humanity, and your audience is definitely familiar with common story structure even if they aren’t conscious of it. Generally speaking, the audience will like it when a story starts with conflict and ends with resolution.

Pick a Formula: Tompkins recommends the “Hey! You, See, So” structure for news videos. Meaning, start with “Hey!” (the attention grabber), then “You” (the WIIFM—why this is relevant to the viewer), “See” (show evidence), and “So” (the point—what this is all about).

Start Strong: For a news story, jump into the information—don’t waste time with a fluffy introduction. For a narrative, create tension right away.

Remove Redundancies: When you’re editing the accompanying narrative to a video, Tompkins says to “train yourself to spot redundancies.” And cut sound bites that repeat what was said earlier.


  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I need that word for people to understand?’
  • Read your sentences backward in order to catch superfluous words.

Prioritize Video Over Narration: Use narration only for what cannot be shown in the video or told in sound bites and ambient audio. For example, if the video is a man walking down a dirt road, don’t waste time telling us “a man walks down a dirt road.” Instead, explain what can’t be understood from the visuals or audio but is critical to the story. Let the viewer figure some things out on their own.

Use Sound Selectively: Sound—ambient noise and sound bites of people speaking—should not stop the action or cut into the narration in a choppy or jarring way. Tompkins says that “popcorn audio” (described as sound that comes from no where and stops the story for no good reason) is a fad in editing that should be forgotten because it’s distracting. When woven into the story carefully, sound can add credibility to the action and bring the viewer into the scene.

Write the Facts: Narration should be almost all factual. Let the emotion and drama come through sound bites and visuals. I once had a professor tell me to “write flat to drama,” meaning let the action speak for itself and leave out subjective opinion.

Review Grammar: Be judicious with adverbs—try to remove words that end in “ly” because often they are unnecessary opinion.  For example, in the phrase “she cried happily,” happily can be removed, especially if the video or the story indicates that she was clearly happy. Use more active verbs that clearly tell who and what did what.


  • I suggest reading the book, “Writing Tools,” by Roy Peter Clark, and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, to brush up on grammar.

Write for the Platform: Create the narration and edit each video based on the platform. Keep in mind that TV is still a passive experience (except for the second screen, meaning people using another device while watching TV). The Internet is about interactivity, plus know that people have shorter attention spans online and so are apt to bounce more quickly if a video isn’t interesting right away. (Try this free, journalist-friendly tool for creating interactive videos online called KettleCorn that our team at ODDI created.)


Watch this video about VOA’s use of Google Glass to record concert of a Beatles cover band. Do you hear any narration that could be cut because the visuals tell the story without it? What worked and didn’t work?

See more videos of the concert on the Relay platform.

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Are We in a Golden Age of Journalism? Wed, 06 Nov 2013 16:28:47 +0000 robbole In a recent piece in Business Insider, Henry Blodget proposed that journalism has entered “a golden age.” While he has a number of well-spoken points, there are three that seem the most salient for US international media.

  • Every journalist on earth can now reach nearly every human on earth, directly and instantly.
  • The proliferation of mobile gadgets has made it possible to consume news anywhere 24 hours a day.
  • Today’s journalism now offers reporters a full range of storytelling formats, rather than be trapped in a single format, such as a newspaper article or television broadcast.

Are we in a Golden Age?

We are.


There has been explosion of creativity across all aspects of journalism. Social curation. Mobile broadcasting. Data visualization. Long-form stories. User generated content. Open news hacking. It is a fantastic time to be a part of journalism.

Before I go too far in tech idealism, we need to balance the potential of the digital age with the critical values that distinguish journalism from public relations or propaganda.

Borrowing a phrase from David Ensor, Director of Voice of America, we need to “aggressively utilize new tools, but keep close to old journalistic values”.

For the old values of journalism are the best guides on how to apply the technological advantages we have today. A subtext to all of thoughts on digital journalism is that “digital tools can help you access new markets, but ultimately it is quality content, maintained by strong journalism values that will enable you to build and keep audiences.”

In a series of posts I want to write about some of the profound changes that technology has wrought in how we gather and write the news. Specifically issues of Sources, Speed & Accuracy. Let’s start with the impact of technology now and into the future of Sources.


On May 1st, 2011 a simple tweet of a man woken by helicopters illustrated the potential of the Internet to become a valuable source for journalism. Despite highly compartmentalized knowledge, nape-of-the-earth-flying with radar absorbing helicopters, one of the most important military operations of the US’s War Against Terror was revealed by a guy who couldn’t sleep.

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 10.49.25 AM

The “Osama Raid tweet” was a stark display that with the right tools and knowledge social platforms could be a powerful source for news organizations. In the digital age you have the potential of leveraging every mobile phone, every Tweet, every Facebook post as source.

Sourcing Sources: The Role of Social Forensics 

While the Osama Raid tweet was found by reporters through more luck than anything, there is a growing usage of social media forensics with journalism.

Social mining tools, commercial platforms like SocialFlow, SalesForce Marketing Cloud or Mass Relevance, as well as other competitors and academic tools allow journalists to quickly sort through social content to find nuggets of journalistic information.

Used as a blunt object, newsrooms are using social data analysis to try identify news trends early. In this mode, newsrooms are not always applying their core journalistic values of sourcing or context, but just thinking about being the first to report on a news event.

More sophisticated users use social data analysis to ask more interesting questions: “Why did this event occur?” “Who is associated with it?” “How is the public influenced by it?” “Who is a reliable and authoritative source on what is happening?”

How information moves between people and across the network are essential elements to understanding the news. For example in the recent attack on the Westgate Mall there was a running PR battle between Al-Shabab and the Kenyan government as a real battle was taking place. For a journalist that back-and-forth on Twitter was newsworthy. Using social forensics reporters have a better opportunity to broaden the story, to understand the context of the attack with all of its ethnic, religious and political implications.

For instance, How does the Arabic population in Kenya in the Mombasa region view Al-Shabaab, a Somali based organization? What are the various reactions by the people of Kenya to the attack?  How do these reactions align with key tribal and political organizations? What is the discussion and thoughts of the Somali diaspora in places like the US, Canada and the UK and populations in Africa?

While this information is not a traditional “source” it is the distillation of the comments, feelings and engagement of millions of “sources”…social media data in essence is a ‘meta-source’, a source of sources, that can help truly inform a story.

There is an immensely important role for journalistic values in using social media data as a source. It can be a dangerous proposition to not apply basic journalism skepticism.

Jennifer Carrnig, Direct of Communications for NY ACLU, captured the promise and problems of social data: “When everyone has a video camera with them at all times, the potential is limitless. But there is clearly a downside to that, because when everybody is submitting stuff, it is hard to know in real time what is valid; there is the potential for [false information] to be out there.”

Data: An Emerging Source for Journalists

A second powerful new source–and perhaps one still in its infancy–is data. Journalism is rooted in storytelling; and the tradition is of a reporter talking to enough other people to paint a picture of the news.  It almost goes without saying that when I say “sources” 99% of you in the audience think “people.”

However, we have to start broadening our minds. Computer-aided journalism and data visualizations from NPR, Ushihidi, InfoAmazonia, NYTimes and infographics like Visualizing Palestine are beautiful examples of how data not only enhances storytelling, but IS the story.

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 10.58.16 AM

Infographic on Syria communicates the news in a visually engaging way.

Data is a valid and highly relevant journalism source because powerful data analysis tools have become accessible and affordable for non-technical users. You don’t need a PhD in statistics or have to have the title of “Data Scientist” to be able to mine journalistic insights from data sets. This is information that was not possible to glean from any one person or even groups of people. If your future newsroom is going to start recruiting “data sources” a good place to start is the Data Journalism Handbook and getting your reporters to understand tools like Google Fusion Tables or Tableau.

Social forensics and data are just two emerging sources amongst a number of encouraging technology-based tools, including crowd-sourced platforms (e.g. Open Watch) or social curation/verification services (e.g. Storyful), which I will cover in more depth as they are also great tools for enhancing journalistic accuracy in this networked age of speed.

My next post will discuss the nature of Speed vs. Accuracy and how journalism organizations are balancing the ability to publish quickly with the core journalistic values…

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How To Have a World Class Google Hangout Fri, 02 Aug 2013 20:31:22 +0000 Randy Abramson Google Hangouts, the video conferencing tool that lets you chat with up to nine other pals, is an incredible piece of free technology. For casual gatherings online, hanging out couldn’t be easier. To set up a Hangout, first make sure your guests have laptops, mobile devices or PCs with camera and microphone capabilities. Next, send invites to your friends via email or by tapping them in Google+ and, boom–you’re having a real-time video chat session.

As the Director of Audio/Video at the Office of Digital and Design Innovation, I wanted to explore how our journalists could use Hangouts to cover breaking news and for in depth analysis. Hangouts can allow news organizations to quickly react to breaking news and have their best and brightest join from wherever they are, including from mobile devices (as long as they have adequate bandwidth–more on that below). No need for satellite transmissions or rushing talent to studios. Additionally, Hangouts On Air (a separate product from standard Hangouts) can allow broadcasters to record their Hangouts to YouTube and download those clips for further editing.

However, the requirements of a global news organization like the BBG reach beyond those of a casual video chat. We’d want to create a broadcast with journalists from around the globe, some of whom may be on mobile devices. We’d also want to market the broadcast, take feedback from users in real time and present a professional-looking broadcast with graphics, plus have timed camera changes and high quality audio. With this in mind, we realized the process would be a lot more complicated and require coordinated preparation. But going the extra mile to make sure Hangouts look great and perform well for a global audience is worth the effort.

Here are some tips to turn a Hangout into a broadcast quality production.

Assemble Your Team

You’ll want to come up with a team roster that looks like this:

1. Hangout On Air Producer: The producer hosts the Hangout, controls the Cameraman (allows switching camera view between guests) and the Hang Out Tool Box app (provides lower third graphics that identify your host and guests), plus sends out YouTube links to social editors and more.

2. Host/Moderator: The host/moderator comes up with an agenda, asks the questions and drives the conversation during the Hangout.

3. Social Media Editor: The social media editor promotes the Hangout on social channels, edits and moderates comments on the Google+ page during Hangouts and updates the status/ending of Hangouts on social channels.

4. Guests: The guests participate in the real-time conversation along with the host.

5. Video Editor: The video editor downloads the Hangout On Air from YouTube, edits it, then uploads the polished clip to YouTube, Google+ and other platforms.

A peek at the Google Hangout Toolbox App which allows you to generate lower third graphics and more

Check Your Equipment

1. Bandwidth: Perhaps the most important thing that can ensure a high quality Hangout is bandwidth availability, both for the host and the guests. Although Google has added features to allow participants to lower their bandwidth requirements to help smooth out their broadcast or opt for audio-only transmission, you should shoot for each participant to have a minimum of 1 MB per second transmission speed, for upload and download. There are several speed check applications out there that can help you determine your speed. Have your guests check their bandwidth performance (especially mobile participants) well ahead of the Hangout.

2. Microphones and Cameras: Sure, you can rely on the built in camera and microphone on your laptop, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Pay some extra bucks and greatly improve your broadcast quality by getting stand alone microphones and cameras.

3. Headphones: This one is easy to forget, but it’s imperative to use headphones. Why? Because without headphones, your participants will be listening to the broadcast from your computer’s speakers, and that sound will loop back into the microphone, causing a screeching feedback sound. In short, don’t forget the headphones!

A look at how media organizations are using Google Hangouts

Do a Dry Run: Have An Agenda and a Backup Plan

Nothing can kill the excitement of a live broadcast than an unprepared host and technical problems.  You should definitely have a practice dry run to make sure everyone has equipment correctly configured.  Additionally, be sure that your host has a full agenda and shares it with your guests ahead of time.  Also, if you are planning on including a guest on a mobile device, be sure to have other guests that are on traditional wired connections ready in case the mobile participant’s connection is not up to par and needs to drop out of the conversation.

Promote and Polish Your Hangout

Decide early on if you want your Hangout to be promoted and viewed live by others. Of course, promoting the Hangout and having it watched live is high pressure, but you’ve already gone through the steps above, did a dry run and are ready to conquer the world of real-time broadcast, right?  If you do decide to promote your Hangout, be sure to create an event on Google+ and promote it on Facebook, Twitter and your own Web and mobile properties. Also, a site called Hype My Hangout can help you create some very slick promotional materials. Finally, if you broadcast a Hangout On Air that has been recorded to YouTube, be sure to download the clip, edit and polish it. Add title cards and relevant graphics. And don’t forget to reduce the clip to include just the best moments. Hangouts tend to be visually dry, so be sure to keep your editing tight.

Improve With Every Hangout

With each Hangout, your producer and the entire Hangout team should be getting more comfortable and confident. The team should start using Google Chat to take direction from the producer. Social editors should become more and more independent and hopefully you will have repeat guests who don’t need as much up-front training. The practice sessions and early live broadcasts will help form valuable habits that will especially come in handy for breaking news situations. Follow the tips above and you’ll be broadcasting world class Hangouts in no time.

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SXSW 2013: Africa is exploding with development, mobile only and radio is their ‘killer app’ Sun, 10 Mar 2013 17:30:05 +0000 Will Sullivan At South by Southwest this week there was a session relevant to BBG publishers, “The 1Bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa” lead by Toby Shapshak of Stuff Magazine and Gareth Knight of Tech4Africa.

Knight kicked off the discussion declaring the start importance of mobile in Africa. “More people have a cellphone than have access to electricity,” he said.

The duo cited this plus necessity and utility as the core reasons mobile in Africa is crucial to the continent’s development citing innovative efforts in health (from doctors sharing information to prescription drug authenticity verification), to disaster and conflict reporting tools like Ushahidi, to farmers using SMS to get information on market prices for food and weather.

One of the most innovative uses of mobile in African countries is the development of M-Pesa as a means for exchanging money and banking. They said that 80% of the world’s mobile money currently goes through Africa, far leading the western world which is still trying to figure out a standard for mobile money. They relayed a humorous anecdote about a friend who was asked for a bribe at the airport, who after telling the briber that he didn’t have any cash, he said “you can sent it to me by M-Pesa.”

Throughout the presentation they underscored that utility value is critical to any African mobile ventures.  Speed and critical, timely  information underpin this and are the core values we need to always keep in perspective at the BBG when developing products for these countries. They also pointed out that as many African mobile phones have FM transmitters in them, for mobile, radio is still the ‘killer phone app’ in Africa — another area that the BBG entities have unique value for these audiences.

Their final takeaways were:

  • Africa is a mobile-only continent.
  • Africa has skipped the desktop Internet experience and will dive straight into the mobile web Internet.
  • There’s currently more than 750 million SIM cards in Africa (many people carry more than one) and that rate is growing at 25% annually.
  • Almost all interactions are focused on solving day-to-day problems, which Western nations often take for granted.
  • They encouraged the audience to think about the continent as a ‘Maslow Hierarchy of Needs’ for technology.
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Interview with Andrew Golis, PBS FRONTLINE Tue, 05 Mar 2013 01:11:21 +0000 April Deibert Andrew Golis is the Director of Digital Media/Senior Editor at PBS FRONTLINE.  In September 2012, he and the rest of the FRONTLINE team won the General Excellence Award for Online Journalism from the Online News Association.  In December 2012, Golis was listed by Forbes in their annual “30 under 30” list for media.  He expanded FRONTLINE’s digital-first original reporting and analysis, and grew its digital audience by over 50% while launching a series of experiments in interactive video.  During this interview, Rob Bole (Director of Innovation at ODDI) and I speak with Golis about how he is continuing to help steer FRONTLINE’s traditional broadcast toward their digital future.


Full Video Interview [33min 42sec]


Key Takeaways

– Thinking about and producing content for the ‘Bored at Work’ Network vs. the ‘Lean Back at Home’ Network is equally important. Referring to phrases by BuzzFeed Founder/CEO Jonah Peretti, Golis notes that there tends to be a ‘bored at work’ network of users (those who like to access quick, bite-size pieces of information through video or easy-to-read articles in between other tasks) and a ‘lean back at home’ network of users (those who enjoy kicking back at home to watch a thought-provoking documentary).   The ‘bored at work’ network likely browse places like Buzzfeed, Gawker, Huffington Post, or Yahoo News/Blogs, while the ‘lean back at home’ users are likely to enjoy traditional evening broadcasts.

Within each of these networks are different ‘tribes’, or communities of thought.  Golis notes that FRONTLINE’s tribe is a uniquely difficult ‘tribe’ to organize, because it has to be built around “abstract and high-brow things such as transparency, accountability, fairness and the importance of narrative.”  Whereas most other tribes can be built around simple things like political party or niche interest.

Overlap in viewing and engagement practices between these audience networks is expected.  There are over 150 FRONTLINE shows streaming for free on the website.  Those who tend to be part of the ‘lean back at home’ network can also easily browse through the guilty pleasures of the ‘bored at work’ network. There is a seemingly endless supply of digital content linked to each documentary including full-length interviews, news about ongoing investigations, digitized official documents from archives, transcripts and more.  Golis notes that this strategy has encouraged engagement with a core group of FRONTLINE fans that continues to grow.  People tend to want to know more about issues that intrigue them and are eager to read follow-up threads about what happens with individuals, companies and organizations that FRONTLINE investigated.


– Creative audience engagement is keyTo build up your ‘tribes’, sometimes you must go to other ‘tribes’ and show your goods.  Sometimes there are scheduled live chats where the FRONTLINE producer and a reporter from a major news outlet take questions from the audience about the show (as was done for Cliffhanger).  FRONTLINE’s audience (a tribe) is made privy to the upcoming chat and the major news outlet (the other tribe) is made privy as well.  Thus, there is a pooling of two audiences that may be interested in what the other has to offer.  Golis explains that this is a great time to show your best content to the ‘other tribes’ so their audience will come on over in the future.  This may translate into converted users and a potential uptick in Facebook followers or newsletter signups.

Live-tweeting is another way to engage the filmmakers, reporters, commentators and audience members during broadcast.  This practice encourages all viewers to converse about the program as it’s happening.

Audience engagement can also come in the form of being receptive to groups most directly affected by the documentaries.  For example, Golis points out that after Flying Cheap aired, a lot of airline pilots contacted FRONTLINE to say that the investigative piece was missing a huge issue relating to the subcontracting of maintenance.  With a commitment to expanding on the comments to develop a story worthy of nearly an hour of television, the pilot’s comments facilitated the follow up show, Flying Cheaper.


– The depth of audience engagement means more than measuring the face value of web analytics.  Golis says that it is indeed important for FRONTLINE to know how many people they reach, but it is particularly important to understand the depth of that engagement.  While it may be great to reach a couple million unique users, Golis and his team are interested in keeping people engaged for a proper amount of time—either by watching the full-length documentaries or by getting them to click through all the other videos and documents on the FRONTLINE site.


– Design is important to create a natural stream of ongoing reporting for the audience to follow-up on.  Golis acknowledges the uncommon practice of FRONTLINE reporters publishing reports ahead of and after commissioned broadcasts.  For example, Law & Disorder reporters produced lots of follow up threads due to the huge interest in what happened following the broadcast.  After all, the original documentary resulted in the arrest of eight New Orleans police officers for corrupt conduct and boosted police department oversight policies.  Golis and the editorial staff have learned that the production of interactive reports (artifacts, transcripts, other documents) before and after a broadcast really creates a core demographic of interested followers.  Golis believes that “the more material that surfaces to show transparency, the more credible the reporting and the more interest it drives.”


– Storytelling with interactive artifacts counts for extra.  The process of developing the David Headley piece for A Perfect Terrorist evolved through several stages.  Golis expresses that YouTube is great, but it lacks interactivity to turn it into a real digital artifact.  To figure out how a story would look as an interactive video story, FRONTLINE invited several creative filmmakers to come up with new techniques.

One gentleman, Tom Jennings (FRONTLINE Producer for Law & Disorder, Doctor Hotspot, A Perfect Terrorist, and Money, Power & Wall Street), suggested that the Headley story should be told as a web of relationships.  For those who are not familiar with this story, Headley was the American who masterminded the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.  He was a former heroine smuggler and a DEA informant.  According to Golis, Jennings knew that “Headley’s life was only made possible by this really complex web of relationships that he was able to play.”  Jennings laid out his vision for what this may look like as an interactive.

So a hack day was set up.  Initially, a radio piece was created.  As the audio progressed, the Headley story moved across a timeline. As the timeline moved along, it elaborated on various individual relationships that Headley had (such as law enforcement or terrorist cell connections).  Jennings then drew the Hadley network out on a whiteboard to create a visual.  The hack team felt that it would be ideal to be able to click on each item to watch video–then pause the video to look at other related bits of information.

The team then thought about a viral YouTube video of Picasso painting on glass.  So the team bought a giant piece of glass, set it up and they filmed Jennings talking to the camera while drawing the interactive web of relationships.  To create the interactive portion, FRONTLINE hired an interactive-focused firm to animate it to have nodes to click on.  The interactive team creatively used Popcorn.js to design custom-made interactive graphics.  Golis credits his editorial team’s success with this documentary to the fact that they developed the script first and then sought out the technology to build the visual form.


– Golis feels that collaboration between broadcast teams and digital teams will lead to some of the best reporting that FRONTLINE has ever done.  Reports are beginning to be posted for a broadcast about the NFL and concussions (scheduled to air later this year).  In it’s current form, their website Concussion Watch aims to continuously update digital artifacts to add to the transparency of the interactive publishing and broadcasting format.

With the adaptation of interactive reporting, FRONTLINE has also attracted new talent to the team through their broadcasts who are interested in expanding on the design of interactive materials.

And, to make videos more accessible and user-friendly, the FRONTLINE tag management system has been improved so that things can be easily sorted and found.  As an example, Golis specifically references the way they broke down the oral history site for The Choice 2012 by allowing for keyword/phrase searches like “Obama and Drones” or “Romney and Abortion.”


No time to watch the whole interview?  Here’s a couple snippets.

1. Golis on producing content for different types of audiences [3min 14sec]


2. Golis on the creative, editorial and technical process behind the interactive David Headley piece, A Perfect Terrorist [7min 41sec]:


For more information:


- – - – -

(Thank you to Andrew Golis (@agolis) and Rob Bole (@rbole) for their contributions to this post.)

(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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Innovation Strategy on a Global Scale, 2013 Tue, 26 Feb 2013 06:24:52 +0000 robbole The Office of Digital & Design Innovation launched roughly a year ago with a very straightforward mission: the expansion and usage of digital platforms to grow our global online audience.  We do that by working with our partner media networks to bring best-in-class platforms and services, as well as experimenting and launching innovative new technologies that speed our transition in serving increasingly online audiences.

Over the last twelve months we have been working on the “ground game”, by migrating off of old platforms, adopting new agile software frameworks and generally preparing the ground for faster innovation.  I am very proud to say that with our close partners, especially with Radio Free Europe’s digital team, we have fully turned over all of our core infrastructure on-time and on-budget.  And in an unprecedented event, we will be able to take some operational savings and invest in new areas, such as expanding our mobile presence and improved digital syndication.

In this current year we are going to expand our presence and quicken the pace of introducing new products and services.  We have a mandate for change and now are fully ready to drive innovation that leads to audience growth.

Here is our plan for 2013.


2013 Strategy & Goals

1.  Integrate Digital Platforms: Develop our new core digital services to an effective “run” state in order to provide normal enterprise operating services to all of USIM.  ODDI is working closely with our colleagues in RFERL Digital, as well as with RFA, MBN, VOA and OCB, to ensure that our core services, such as the online video/audio platform (OVAP), mobile web and mobile applications, are effectively established for all of USIM.  In many places we believe that integration into the “Pangea core” and RFA’s system will enable important improvements in our operating efficiencies.

Digital platform highlights include:

  • Full integration of the Kaltura online video/audio platform (OVAP) into Pangea: ensure that video and audio management becomes a ‘back office’ function to a user of the Pangea CMS and enable seamless distribution to all USIM accounts, including external accounts like YouTube and SoundCloud.  We also want to do a complete implementation of mobile-compliant audio/video players for iOS, Android and other mobile devices.
  • Deliver enhanced live streaming capabilities for 24-hr “true” Mp3 audio playout: create capabilities for streaming services on digital channels such as Apple iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher and other radio streams.
  • Expansion of Direct to provide services to all entities and all content types: provide technical connectors to allow all entities to seamlessly publish a wide-range of content types (broadcast-quality to Internet-quality rich media, text, photos, etc) for a range of broadcast and digital affiliates.
  • Launch “measure everything” platforms: launch new platforms and technical services to ensure cross-agency tag management, web analytics, social media analytics and video analytics.  In addition, launch a powerful analytics application programming interface (API) and customizable dashboards of real-time analytical data for all levels of the organization–from the Board down to the editor and reporter levels.


2.  Grow Mobile: Drive future (“road map”) improvements and expansion of our mobile platforms and services to increase our global audiences.  Mobile is the single most important method for USIM to be able to reach audiences.  Statistics often point to the fact that mobile adoption has a lot of room to grow or that there is a clear ceiling on the use of fixed-line broadband in different regions.  Our goal is to deliver the platforms and services that enable all entities and language services to deliver content across all mobile devices–from high-bandwidth IPTV applications down to simple feature phones.  And, just as important, we want to facilitate the use of voice/audio over local phone calls.

Mobile highlights include:

  • Launch of new news “Umbrella” applications for all five entities.  In conjunction with the entities, we will be launching and improving a range of mobile news applications.
  • “Responsive+” on core digital platforms.  Re-development of our core digital sites to utilize both responsive web design and progressive enhancement with server-side detection through a mobile-first strategy.  This change will enable us to provide digital content across a wide range of devices and bandwidths, customizing the content for the user, based on their device’s hardware and software capabilities and network connection.
  • Expansion of IVR and other low-bandwidth mobile publishing.  Improving existing open source frameworks to enable enterprise Interactive Voice Response (IVR) services to enable low-cost local calling for the audience, and low-cost operational costs for BBG.
  • e-Book, magazine publishing improvements.  This year we will be piloting a number of design templates and easy workflows to create interactive books and magazines for the distribution of collections of content both in static (text) and dynamic, rich media formats.


3.  Expand Audience Engagement: Implement an innovative initiative that builds a USIM-wide, audience-centric sourcing, storytelling and distribution service. We are focused on elevating the role of the global audience in our work as journalists, from enhancing simple commenting and discussion tools to supporting direct audience participation while covering events. Audience engagement occurs within a news organization when three critical pieces align: business strategy, technical capabilities and editorial management.  Our office will elevate the notion of audience engagement throughout our language services while simultaneously increasing our digital capabilities.

Audience engagement highlights include:

  • Strengthening core content (text/audio/video) platforms.  Working closely with RFERL and TSI, we will focus on enhancing our current infrastructure, as well as adopting or building enhancements to platforms and services that enable audience members to participate in our journalism.
  • Interactive storytelling expansion.  We are introducing a number of new JavaScript and other frameworks to enable new types of storytelling by our journalists.  Our goal is to identify, seed and then support a core group of video and audio producers to understand and use Popcorn.js, Timeline.js and other frameworks to publish interactive content–especially using audience-generated materials.
  • Audience engagement testing.  In order to engage with audiences, we need to understand their interests, preferences and cultural lense in order to present compelling content and product that encourage their participation.  We will be partnering with BBG Research to identify and test digital products in-country, especially to discover better ways to create and develop content with audiences.


4.  Grow Digital Affiliates: Expand the number of websites and digital services that carry USIM content through new API and other syndication services.  Our goal is to: 1) replace expensive satellite distribution for lower-cost Internet-based distribution wherever possible; 2) increase the ability for ALL entities to share, distribute and create content with local partners; and 3) build a new class of “digital affiliates” in the form of syndication points (i.e. Google Currents), blog networks, emerging all-digital news organizations, etc.  Our goal is to build an expanded “affiliate storefront” using a robust application programming interface (API) strategy.

Digital affiliate highlights include:

  • Increased syndication partnerships.  This includes regional goals whereby we will launch two to four quarterly syndication agreements with global partners, as well as targeted regional syndication deals in Eurasia, Africa and Southeast Asia.
  • Direct API/digital affiliates program.  We have three goals in this area: 1) the integration of Direct with our Kaltura OVAP system for the inclusion of Internet-quality video and audio content in affiliate distribution; 2) integration with OSD’s customer relationship management system to enable affiliate information to flow between the two systems; and 3) a public-facing API to enable existing affiliates, as well as the potential for a new class of “digital affiliates”, to have our content delivered to them dynamically.
  • Strong syndication analytics system.  This includes the expansion of our analytics platforms, as well as offering training and simple dashboard tools, to enable a more robust tracking of digital content usage by existing and new affiliates. We hope to provide business/editorial managers with more information on the use and consumption of their content by third-parties.


In order to accomplish these goals, ODDI is going to continue to evolve its operations and capacities.  We have been replacing remote vendors with an increasing number of “makers” at the staff level, or through full-time, in-office, contractors.  As resources become available we will be adding additional capabilities to the office.  We will be continuing to balance an expanded, full-service, in-house capability to build, maintain and grow a range of new digital platforms with a rational number of high-quality, best-in-class vendors.  In particular, we will focus on expanding our capacity in three critical areas: technical development/programmers, user experience design/storytelling support and increased services for doing digital data analysis in support of product development and strategy.

If you have any questions, comments or thoughts in improving our 2013 strategy please let us know!  [You can leave a comment below or contact us on Twitter (@BBGinnovate).]

- Robert Bole, Director of Innovation, Office of Digital & Design Innovation

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How Federal Agencies Can Enhance Their RSS Feeds For Free Fri, 11 Jan 2013 13:50:28 +0000 April Deibert [Article cross-posted from AOL Government's Judi Hasson showcasing the work that ODDI's Randy Abramson and Addie Nascimento are doing to utilize Google Currents.]

How Federal Agencies Can Enhance Their RSS Feeds For Free

Published: January 10, 2013

The federal agency responsible for thousands of international radio and television broadcasts is using Google Currents, a free tool that potentially could be the blueprint for every federal agency distributing RSS feeds to big audiences.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors — which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks — launched the Google Currents platform last October to disseminate its content easily and swiftly to its weekly audience of 175 million in 59 languages.

“We’re fortunate to be one of the early publishers on the platform,” said Randy Abramson, director of products and operations at BBG’s Office of Digital and Design.

“Our timing was good because just as we were set to launch, Currents became a pre-installed app on most Android Jelly Bean-enabled devices,” he added.

Google Currents is an app that provides a magazine-like experience allowing users to swipe through content on mobile phones and tablets, as if they were flipping through the pages of a magazine. The Currents application comes preinstalled on many Google Android devices and can give government agencies enhanced access to audiences on all mobile platforms. …

[Read the full article here...]

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HTML5 Mapping and Interactive NOL Thu, 10 Jan 2013 00:49:17 +0000 April Deibert A few months ago, I posted about HTML5 video and Randy Abramson (Director of Product and Operations) posted about News On Location (NOL).  In this post, however, we want to take a look at how HTML5 mapping is evolving and how BBG’s NOL may make use of the technology in the near future.

Knowing the location of users (with their permission of course) can be a good thing both for them and for one’s service.  Not only do users often feel that they’re receiving personalized results, but there is potential for them to contribute to live maps and live feeds—making their entire interaction with your site more relevant.  This is great news for you because with an improved UX, your web metrics have the potential to flourish.

Here’s a few examples of some really cool HTML5 mapping uses and how similar techniques could be applied to NOL:


Austin Music Map

Description:  “…Austin is full of amazing musical moments. Lots of them where you least expect them. That’s where you come in. The Austin Music Map is a collaboration between KUT Austin and YOU. Take us into your corner of the city. Show us a musical venue we’ve never heard of before. Surprise us with your favorite undiscovered musician.”

Why it’s cool: Austin Music Map instructs users to snap a pic with their phones, make a video, or record a story about one of their favorite musical moments in the city—then post it to the website.  By tagging the media with the venue and neighborhood where it was captured, plus hashtagged words that describe the event, users are able to add to a growing public playlist so you can “play the city”.

Applied to NOL: NOL wants to bring local news and culture to life through the sites and sounds of the people on the ground.  What better a way to provide users with a way to participate in ‘remixing the news’ by adding photos, videos and sounds? Users could tag items to create interactive, region-specific media playlists.



SoundCloud API

Description: “If you build an app or web service that generates any type of sound, it’s easy to connect it to SoundCloud and enable your users to share their creations across the web. Allowing users to share what they create to their existing social networks and the SoundCloud community brings great value in a variety of use cases. … Letting users share tracks is also a great way of virally-promoting your app. Uploaded tracks will automatically be tagged as uploaded with [your app], so when a user shares a track on Facebook, his friends will see what app the track was created with.”

Why it’s cool: You can share sounds and recordings from your specific location, then share or embed them.

Applied to NOL: Ever wanted to hear an unedited clip from a revolution to see if you can understand what people are really saying on the street?  You could.  Ever want to pump up your speakers for a dance party in your own living room listening to a live stream of your favorite band performing at a music festival in your home country?  You could. News On Location could use the API to allow users to share audio commentary from the ground.  New users that come to that spot could then react to that clip and create their own contributions to the conversation.




Description: “Remake the Internet—Zeega is a community of makers passionate about creating immersive experiences that combine original content with media from across the web.”

Why it’s cool: Zeega was demonstrated at the London Mozilla Festival in 2012 and exposed developers to how it’s more than an interactive storytelling tool.  Zeega’s developers liken the technology to Tumblr or WordPress.  In a nutshell, a blog can be transformed into a rich interactive site—full of audio, video, images and a means of easily sharing everything.

Applied to NOL: Again, users could collect sounds and photos on mobile devices and geo-tag them.  Once uploaded, the photo and audio could be remixed into Zeega presentations that could be consumed on desktop or mobile devices.  The playback of these presentations could allow for users ‘off-location’ to feel like they are ‘there’ with the contributors.  Social integration between the presentation and users on location can further dialogue between the ‘on-and-off-location’ participants.




Description:  “Design maps in the cloud, publish in minutes.”

Why it’s cool: Custom maps can be designed and published in minutes (all powered by OpenStreetMap data).

Applied to NOL: Journalists can create custom, detailed maps of specific events.  Colors and styles can be changed, terrain layers can be integrated to show elevation, and maps can be annotated with pins, symbols, icons and interactive tooltips.  Maps can then be shared or embedded and represented with the NOL application for ‘on-and-off-location’ users.



Additional Examples and Resources:

- KartographKartograph is a simple and lightweight framework for building interactive map applications without Google Maps or any other mapping service. It was created with the needs of designers and data journalists in mind.

- Georelated: A blog full of articles that relate to the art of web mapping. Includes a lot of technical reviews detailing what’s possible now and may be possible in the future.

- GeoCAT [Video]: Perform rapid geospatial analysis of species in a simple and powerful way.

- SVG Open Conference (2011), “Even Faster Web Mapping”, by Michael Neutze.  [Neutze’s video presentation and slideshow can be found here.]

- HTML5 and Esri-based Web Mapping [Video]

- HTML5 Canvas Visualization of Flickr & Picasa API [Credit: Eric Fischer of The Geotaggers’ World Atlas]

- PBS FRONTLINE’s Interactive: David Coleman Headley’s Web of Betrayal
[Read more about the process here]


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(Thank you to Randy Abramson, Eric Pugh and Rob Bole for their link suggestions, quotes and additional contributions to this article.)

(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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A Sampling of Media Predictions for 2013 Wed, 02 Jan 2013 17:11:44 +0000 April Deibert Playing off the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Predictions for Journalism in 2013, I wanted to put together a sampling of media predictions that I came across.  Go grab that first cup of coffee from the office break room and have a browse to gain some inspiration after coming back from your holiday break.


1) Predictions for Journalism in 2013 [Nieman Journalism Lab]


[Read 34 other predictions here…]

[And take a look at Nieman Lab’s predictions for 2012…(pretty acurate!)]


2) 5 Companies That Will Redefine The Future of Radio [ReadWriteWeb]


[See the other 4 here…]


3) Content Marketing Predictions for 2013 [Contently / Business 2 Community]


[Read the full article here…]


4) Four Big Questions (and Predictions) for Social Media in 2013 [Forbes]


[Read the full article here…]


5) 2013 Social Media Predictions for Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and more [Inside Facebook]


[Read full set of predictions here…]


What are your 2013 predictions relating to journalism, social media, broadcast, etc?  Leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to respond.

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(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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Update: Geo-Targeted Mobile News App Wed, 05 Sep 2012 20:30:05 +0000 Randy Abramson Hi, we are Randy Abramson (Director of Product and Operations), Eric Pugh (Senior Developer) and Joe Flowers (Developer) at the Office of Digital and Design Innovation.  We are part of a Skunkworks team that helps develop innovative products for the digital arms of VOA, RFE/RL, RFA, MBN and OCB across the mobile, audio/video, social, syndication and API product lines.

After the announcement of the Google Goggles project, we were inspired to develop a mobile application that would deliver relevant news content to users based on their location–called News On Location (NOL).  We started the project back in July and just delivered a finished demo on August 31, 2012.  We also have another demo planned for this week.  This post tracks some of the challenges we faced while developing this prototype.


Prototype screenshot of NOL

Technical Decisions and Challenges

When starting a mobile project, product and technical groups are faced with a bird’s nest of decisions.  The myriad of options are daunting and can quickly overwhelm the group.  Some of the out-of-the-gate decisions we had to make included:

1. What mobile operating systems would we target? iOS? Android? Symbian? Blackberry?  And what versions of the operating systems would be supported?

2. Should we create a native app (one that can be downloaded from a branded store, such as Android’s Google Play store) or should we create a Web app that would be able to play in most modern mobile browsers?

3. What out-of-the-box mapping tools are available?  Should we use Google Maps?  The new Apple map product?  Mapbox?  Something else?

4. What open source tools are available for use to help power the mapping experience?

Since our inspiration came from the Google Goggles project, our first inclination was to move toward an Android app, but the other mobile platforms are extremely competitive and we didn’t want to limit usage based on OS or app store preference.  In the end, we decided to create a Web app using common Web technologies like Javascript and HTML5, so the experience would be compatible with most browsers, including iOS and Android. Our mindset was that a functioning Web app could later be extended in a native web browser, using a platform like PhoneGap, if it ever became necessary to distribute the app as a native application. We looked at several open source tools and ultimately opted to use the Mapbox platform with Leaflet.js to power the on-the-fly mapping experience for it’s cross browser compatibility, as well as, aesthetic reasons.


Playing With the Big Boys

Another daunting task of this project was that we needed to nail down the fluid mobile mapping experience that has already been put forward by Google and Apple.  Since users already fire up maps on their mobile devices regularly, anything but an equal experience would be seen as a sub par interaction.  We were intimidated by the thought of trying to replicate something that ‘the big boys’ created with infinitely more resources, but the development team did it.  During early testing, we were relieved to know that the experience felt familiar and, in some ways, was more aesthetically pleasing than widely used mapping apps.

Editorial Agility

We went through three different editorial shifts on this project.  The first idea involved using the app to launch relevant content at the Olympic Village, but we nixed that idea after realizing that testing would be a challenge.  We then thought locally and rallied around a ‘Secret Smithsonian’ concept that would ‘unlock’ informative media about specific Smithsonian museums in DC when the user approached targeted locations.  After some internal debate, we decided to answer the ‘where’s the journalism?’ question and move to rebrand the experience as ‘NEWS ON LOCATION’ (NOL).  We hope that the BBG entities (VOA, RFA, RFE, MBN and OCB) will embrace the flexibility that this branding provides: an entity digital producer could just as easily target breaking news video clips to a remote location in Nigeria as they could compile an ‘evergreen’ photo package that could be embedded in a walking tour of New York City.


Next Steps

Our demo will allow ODDI management to play ‘digital producer’ and geo-target video, text, and photo content to DC locations via an off-the-shelf content management system.  If this Skunkworks project graduates to the next step, we will hopefully modify this CMS to provide quicker access to target location longitude and latitude points and tie in to our existing CMS for quick content access.  Down the road, we’d love to explore user content upload, badging/check-ins and social publishing integration.

There is a lot of talk about how mobile device content consumption should deliver ‘personalized’ content.  The word personalization often refers to the type of content that would be displayed to a user.  In the case of our prototype, we opted to explore how personalization relates to a user’s exact location.  We know that geo-targeting will be part of the future of news consumption and the NOL prototype puts USIM on the fast track to creating a robust, next generation news delivery experience.


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(Thank you to Randy Abramson, Eric Pugh, and Joe Flowers for their contributions to this post.  Questions & comments can be sent to Abramson at:

(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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