Innovation @ BBG » RFE/RL Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Alhurra and VOA Java apps prove wildly successful growing audience quickly in emerging markets Thu, 07 May 2015 18:10:32 +0000 Will Sullivan While the mobile and media industry loves to over-hype fleeting technologies like Google Glass and Meerkat, serving the BBG audiences in emerging markets requires that we focus on user experience and building for not just the elite — and that often means building for very old or low-tech devices like Java phones.

Over the past few years, the ODDI Mobile team has launched and evolved the award-winning flagship fleet of mobile and tablet applications available for the most high-end devices on Android and Apple IOS (as well as supporting old versions of the operating systems back to Android OS 2.3 and IOS 5), and this Winter we launched an improved lineup of low-end device products on Symbian and Java phones to round out our technology offering. One thing we didn’t count on when launching the Java apps was the swift adoption and audience growth — in some markets faster than more modern smartphone products.

In Middle East and African markets we’ve seen ‘hockey-stick’ growth surpassing the weekly installation rate of our larger, flagship smartphone apps. For instance, Alhurra for Java phones already more than more than 50,000 downloads across all the app store markets in less than 3 months since we publicly launched them.

VOA’s Java app has also done exceptionally well in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria — and we recently received a shout out from the BiNu store for the app’s surge and top rankings in African and Middle East markets. RFE similarly does well in Iran.

Not bad for a very low-tech, text-and-image experience, but that’s the reality of these media environments, mobile networks and what these audiences need.

Try out all the Java mobile apps for the 6 BBG brands for yourself:

Learn more about the awesome ODDI Mobile team’s products at



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Website Showcasing News From Around the World Debuts Today Mon, 18 Mar 2013 21:06:42 +0000 April Deibert —————-

[Source: Cross-posted from's Press Releases, 18 March 2013]

Washington, DC – Breaking international news gathered by one of the world’s most extensive networks of journalists can now be found in one place thanks to a new online initiative by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Today marks the launch of the BBG’s Global News Dashboard, which pulls together the English-language news from the more than 50 bureaus, production centers and offices supported by the agency’s staff journalists and more than 1500 stringers around the globe.

“This site showcases the depth and reach of the high-quality journalism that the BBG produces,” said Richard M. Lobo, director of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau.  “There are millions of English-speakers worldwide who get their news from the individual websites of our broadcasters.  It makes sense to pool our resources and put them to work to serve our audiences even better.”

The new site’s English-language content will come from Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia. Users who access stories will be directed to the original content on the sites of the three broadcasters. The Global News Dashboard also will include links to original content in Spanish of Radio/TV Martí and the Arabic-language online offerings of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Before development of the Dashboard, people interested in the work of the BBG would have to visit the websites of five separate broadcasters. This tool, built on the Pangea content management system developed by RFE/RL and used by the majority of BBG’s broadcasters to power their websites, makes that search easier.

“It’s such a simple tool, but it will have a resounding effect,” said Robert Bole, director of BBG’s Office of Digital and Design Innovation. “Bringing all these sources of information together makes a powerful statement about this agency and the way we do business.  We’re so much greater than just the sum of our parts.”

The Global News Dashboard can be found at

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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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Interview: Glenn Kates, Manager of Digital Initiatives at RFERL Wed, 21 Nov 2012 16:48:04 +0000 April Deibert 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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Follow all the BBG on Twitter Tue, 13 Nov 2012 20:21:55 +0000 Will Sullivan Have you ever wanted to know what everyone else in the BBG is working on, thinking about and writing on Twitter? Subscribe to this massive Twitter list and you can easily find out:

(Warning, it’s 200+ accounts, so it’s a lot to read.)

Are any BBG entity or staff accounts missing?
Tweet them @Journerdism and he’ll add them.

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Facebook & USIM Journalism: RFERL (Azeri Service) Fri, 28 Sep 2012 13:30:56 +0000 April Deibert Azerbaijan’s media environment suffered a significant blow in 2009 when the BBC, Voice Of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) were banned from using the country’s airwaves.  RFERL’s Azeri Service has had some great successes in the past few years since implementing a proactive online, digital media strategy to replace the use of traditional broadcast radio and television.  For example, since the launch of Radi Azadliq’s Facebook Radio (2011), the audience is able to participate in a live, late-night and audience driven program streamed through Facebook.  This can be done because access to the Internet is still relatively free in Azerbiajn.  To better understand how Azeri Service pulled it off, I spoke with Kenan Aliyev (Director, Azeri Service) and Ayaz Ahmedov (Producer, Azeri Service).

According to Aliyev, “Facebook is exploding in Azerbaijan; there is a huge demand for information and government, so far, is not blocking it.”  This concern comes from the fact that on January 1, 2009, the Azeri Service was faced with the usual task of managing people and producing radio programming, but they had no ability deliver content over the radio.  Why?  Well, because near the end of 2008, Azerbaijan’s National Television and Radio Council ruled that it would ban international radio stations from broadcasting on national frequencies.  This is still in effect today.  Azeri Service staff put their heads together and realized that they could use enhanced Facebook tools to produce an interactive Internet radio station (with in-studio video capabilities).

Even the Azeri Service team is amazed at how many people have been not only attracted to the Azeri Service website and Facebook page, but how many are actively engaging with the content.  “Instead of waiting for the audience to come to you, we thought why don’t we take our shows to Facebook?,” explained Aliyev about the weekly Facebook Radio show.


How Users Access Facebook Radio
On the Azadliq Radio Facebook page, there is a tab labeled “Live” that takes users to the streaming radio page (screenshot above) within Facebook.  Throughout the day, users can listen to everything from Radio Azadliq’s live broadcasts to recorded VOA Special English programs on the same stream.  “This (application) supports audio and video so people can listen/watch and comment while they’re on Facebook,” further explains Aliyev.


How Producers and IT Staff Setup & Strategize Facebook Radio
Ahmedov recommends several steps to successfully implement a Facebook Radio strategy:
1.        Go to Facebook developers and see what they suggest and see how you can use it.
2.        The developers may suggest social plugins.  These plugins can help you live stream content on the website and on Facebook.
3.        Be sure that the social plugins that are recommended actually work.  Facebook was still allowing the use of a particular plugin that Radio Azadliq wanted 2-3 months ago, but they no longer supported it. So Radio Azadliq switched to a social plugin that allows for three-dimensional radio (allowing users to watch radio talent live on air, in studio) through Facebook.  This is technically what Radio Azadliq calls Facebook Radio.
4.        Choose your broadcast topics from trending topics on Facebook.  This can include what is most discussed or commented on.  Use social media to gather AND produce content.


How Producers Identify Guests
Aliyev noted that they book a lot of their guests based off their engagement or popularity on Facebook.  Recently, for example, Radio Azadliq asked a famous Azerbaijani singer to launch his Facebook page on the radio show.  “While on live, he started receiving a lot of friend requests.  He took questions from the audience by phone and by Facebook,” said Aliyev, “He came to our show and drew a huge audience”.

“About 25 percent of our web traffic comes from Facebook; it’s a great tactic that works to get interactivity,” Aliyev stressed to explain how and why news programs must now work harder to push content to audiences—it’s not enough to just have a Facebook Page.  “On another show we invited a prominent figure who got about 70,000 likes on his Facebook Fan Page, so we asked him to announce his participation (on our program) on his Facebook page and tell his fans that he’ll be taking questions through the Azadliq Radio Facebook Fan Page,” detailed Aliyev, “It worked.”

Facebook Radio in-studio camera


How Producers Are Responding to Technical Difficulties
Aliyev noted that there is some difficulty explaining technical issues and needs across different languages, but the team also found difficulty in incorporating Facebook Radio into the Pangea CMS system.  Ahmedov added that “Facebook is extremely unstable and there are cookies problems.”  For example, if a user does not clear his or her cache, they may be seeing an old view of the page when, in reality, photos and information was updated.

While the general idea of the show is to have it available on all platforms—Facebook radio, satellite TV, and on the website–according to Ahmedov, “streaming video and audio through Pangea is extremely (difficult) to handle.” So his team is still forced to use third-party platforms, like Ustream.  “We have over one million clicks on Ustream, but we really would like have it on our site,” explained Ahmedov.  “But soon we are going to switch to a system called TriCaster, which is like a mini TV studio,” continued Ahmedov, “with this we can make all the programs our own” with the facilitation of one producer at a computer in the studio.

For producers, Ahmedov also expressed how important it is for his team to keep learning—even for things as simple as HTML—and to keep innovating with internal capacities.  For users, Ahmedov said that it is important to have a technical help phone line and website forum where people can send feedback about specific technical problems.


How the Facebook Radio Strategy is Changing USIM
By providing alternative digital ways to access information, the Facebook Radio model is helping to fill a gap (lack of traditional radio and TV broadcasts) previously encountered by USIM.  “This is a valuable commodity,” expresses Aliyev.  However, since using more mobile applications, podcasts, and other multimedia formats (such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter), listenership and viewership have increased.  Twitter, for example, will soon used by Radio Azadliq to do live blogging and Bambuser is currently used to gather and post live broadcasts filmed by users in hot zones or event areas.  Users can record video in HD and post videos using their mobile phones.  Producers can embed these videos on the website or drop it onto the server to broadcast it live across all platforms.  “We had a (video) report about some riots; a journalist was in the right place at the right time to broadcast live from his phone,” explained Aliyev, “We had a huge following and thousands of clicks on that event because it was exclusive.”  Aliyev advised that USIM “cannot sit and wait; we must always advance our technical abilities and journalistic skills—the nature of media is changing.”

For more info:


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(Thank you to Kenan Aliyev ( and Ayaz Ahmedov ( 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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Denise Hassanzade Ajiri: RFE/RL, MJ Bear Fellow Fri, 07 Sep 2012 18:05:24 +0000 April Deibert Denise Hassanzade Ajiri, 29, was one of three journalists under-30 selected for the prestigious 2012 MJ Bear Fellowship that is sponsored by the Online News Association (ONA).  Originally from Tehran and born to an open-minded family with an Azeri Muslim father and Assyrian Christian mother, Ajiri felt drawn to the art of journalism and free press.  She now resides in Prague where she works as a Web Writer for Radio Farda, a Persian-language news service operated by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).  With the 2012 MJ Bear Fellowship opportunity, Ajiri hopes to find new ways to encourage other Iranian journalists, in particular, to cover international styles of art, music, film, and performance to encourage a new generation of open-minded, global-thinkers—or, people who will be open to observe events around the world without being judgmental.


Ajiri received her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at Tehran University in Iran and received her graduate degree in Professional Communication and Public Relations at La Salle University in the Czech Republic.  She first fell in love with writing fiction and satire, but then likely realized that the journalism of our generation did not fall far from the fiction and satire tree in some respects.  With that notion, she found a passion for pursuing a career of reporting facts and supporting the notion free press—things not readily supported in Iran.


She’s Setting the Bar High

Last week, I called Ajiri for an interview while she was on her way home from work.  After a few brief minutes of speaking, I could completely picture why she was selected for the 2012 MJ Bear Fellowship: her voice was happy and full of excitement when talking about the goals she was preparing to achieve with her fellowship mentor, Asli Yerdekalmazlar (Executive Producer for MEA (Middle East and Africa) as part of the MSN CEEMEA team in Turkey).  Ajiri was hoping for a digital online news mentor who specializes in cultural issues.  “Iran can be an insular environment, and the society can be close-minded on topics such as art and lifestyles,” explained Ajiri in her application for the fellowship, “In my own journalism, I hope to contribute to making Iran’s cultural life more fertile.”

“Since the Iranian government is an Islamic one,” Ajiri explained, “(art) that uses the female body in a sexual form (is) totally banned in Iran. …  I believe a country’s culture will not be fertile if it is not in contact with other cultures’ (way of doing things).”  Using this type of alternative art as an example, Ajiri points out the necessity of at least exposing people to things that may make them uncomfortable, even if they do not partake in it, so that ignorance cannot be an excuse for judgment.

A particular example she provided is Documenta–an exhibition of modern and contemporary art that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany.  Ajiri noted that Iranian people are not generally aware of these types of cultural events, nor why they are so important to our generation, due to censorship or disinterest in non-Persian art.


She’s All About Media For the People, By the People

Ajiri said, in particular, she would like to work with her MJ Bear Fellowship mentor to explore new ways of creating more engaging online content for specific audiences (Iranian and international), develop a closer relationship with her readers, and how to develop synergies with other news providers to boost Web traffic.

“(Media’s) whole existence depends on the audience.  Therefore, I think keeping (a) connection with (the) audience is necessary,” Ajiri explained about her desire to work with the MJ Bear Fellow mentor on new forms of audience engagement.  However, she noted that Radio Farda is a banned news organization within Iran, so “keeping the connection with our audience within Iran is more difficult.”

Many Iranians still try to access information on non-Iranian government-approved websites, however.  “Iranian media is a very protected media which filters most of the news,” continued Ajiri, but the anti-censorship filters become outdated “almost daily”, so “it is an exhausting process for the audience within Iran.”


She’s Up Against Challenges That Few Truly Understand

By accepting her position at Radio Farda and the MJ Bear Fellowship, Ajiri is bravely taking on a massive challenge that is both career-oriented and very personal.  Iran has been known to harass or threaten Iranian journalists (and their families in Iran) who accept positions within US International Media (USIM).

Looking ahead, Ajiri sees a bright future in journalism—especially as it relates to expanding coverage of lesser-understood topics.  “We have an expression in Persian: ‘you have to gather all the drops to finally have a sea,’” wrote Ajiri in her application for the MJ Bear Fellowship, “this captures what we have journalistically accomplished and what we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.”  She also hopes to be an example to other Iranian journalists.  “News is inseparable part of an Iranian daily life…therefore, I think the need for preparing the news professionally is indeed essential,” Ajiri points out, “This, I think comes from not only following other journalists’ works, but by being in contact with other non-Iranian journalists.”


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Examples of Ajiri’s work (in Farsi):

Iran Intelligence Minister Says They Have Diffused a Cyber Attack (a June 22 piece written about Iranian Intelligence Minister claiming that Iran has defused a cyber attack against Iranian nuclear sites) and Panetta Says No Time To Arm Syrians (another June 22 piece written about Panetta saying that the US is not going to arm the Syrian opposition).  She also produces a cultural podcast, called Podhang, when time at work allows.

More about the MJ Bear Fellowship:

According to ONA, “the MJ Bear Fellowships identify and celebrate young digital journalists, working independently or for a company or organization, who have demonstrated — through professional experimentation, research or other projects — that they deserve support for their efforts and/or vision.”  Ajiri will be provided with a mentor to help her develop her goals into reality, an all-expense-paid trip to the 2012 Online News Association Conference & Awards Banquet (ONA12) in San Francisco (Sept. 20-22), recognition at the conference, and a three year ONA membership.
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(Thank you Denise Hassanzade Ajiri for her contributions to this post.  To contact her:

(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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Luke Allnutt (RFE/RL): Digital Activism Blogging Wed, 22 Aug 2012 09:56:40 +0000 April Deibert Luke Allnutt is not only the Editor-in-Chief of the English language service for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), but he is also a technology blogger who focuses on digital repression and digital activism.  As a freelancer, his work has appeared in  “The Wall Street Journal,”  “International Herald Tribune,” “The Globe and Mail,” “Foreign Policy,” and, amongst others.

The Major Role of Bloggers

One of the major roles of bloggers, according to Luke Allnutt, is to “take a high level of technical understanding and distil down the information to make it accessible for a wider audience.”  Allnutt also thinks that blogging is a fantastic way to educate your amateur-self on any topic that deeply interests you.  To connect with others who have similar interests, but who generally have more expertise, he suggests following people on Twitter, Facebook, and—especially—email listservs.  “Tap into what people write and then add your own ideas,” explains Allnutt.  Even better, slowly curate other blogger’s content as it relates to your specific topic of interest so that others in the field see your link trackbacks and find you in searches.

Finding the Pulse of Evolving Trends

Back in 2009, Allnutt began to (more closely) pay attention to where and how Twitter was used in Moldova, Iran, and other countries going through political movements or revolutions.  All the case studies really got him thinking about the role of such technology.  “(This technology is) fundamentally changing the dynamics of what’s going on,” Allnutt added.  An example of a major change in dynamics lies in Africa.  Since the expansion of broadband sea cables off the coast, web-based and mobile-based communications are more powerful, faster, and affordable to access than ever before.  “That access is for everyone,” continues Allnutt, “for example, farmers in Africa are using it to get weather reports and this can bring change to the way that people go about their daily lives.”

Targeting Readership

Allnutt agreed that he prefers that his readership consist of others that are interested in digital activism, but that he especially wants those readers to feel inclined to link or re-tweet his information so that a general audience has access to the spread of ideas.  Some of his ‘quick hit’ blog items (summaries of news items) are great to create traffic to his blog, but it’s best to create original content in a digestive format.  “The more you put into it, meaning the more reporting or deeper analysis that you do, the better it will be accepted by the (digital activist) community,” Allnutt says, “choose something counterintuitive or something that goes against the grain—controversial topics.”

Using Tech Blogging to Predict the Future

Of course, with a huge amount of Internet users comes a huge amount of data.  The data generated by apps on phones, to web searches, to social media databases that all this data will become available to the highest bidder to be eventually mined for profit.  “The vast quantities of data (being added) is the major revolution that we’re going through right now,” pointed out Allnutt.

Comments Don’t Always Happen in the ‘Comments’ Section

The old school belief is that the more people that comment on your blog, the more popular your content is.  However, today that is just not the case.  “Discussion happens on several platforms: other blogs and across social media,” stated Allnutt.  He suggests joining conversations by responding to other people’s blogs, replying to Tweets or Facebook posts, or replying to videos on YouTube.  While conversation cannot be forced, asking thought provoking questions or providing thoughtful insight can stimulate further conversation.  Everyone’s comfort level is different as well—especially when it comes to as controversial a topic as digital activism and freedom of the press.  “The community is, often rightfully so, overly cautious about the details that they receive or share,” Allnutt noted.

Allnutt’s Advice

“Just do it,” Allnutt proclaimed, “tap into the community (that you’re interested in) … engage with people on social networks and through your own blog, but be humble when trying to get in on the conversation.”




To contact Luke Allnutt: / @lukeallnutt

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(Thank you to Luke Allnutt for his 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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PopTech!DC @BBG Talk: Golnaz Esfandiari “A Brave New World of Digital Journalism” Wed, 14 Dec 2011 18:35:36 +0000 admin

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BBG & PopTech: Communicating in Closed Societies Mon, 21 Nov 2011 20:01:11 +0000 admin Poptech has had a long tradition of breaking new innovative talent and we wanted to showcase the innovative talent we have been breaking here at our networks. This year’s PopTech theme is “The World Rebalancing” and it fits well with the work our journalists do every day -rebalance the world with unbiased news and information – and connect people to one another -this is how the world rebalances – when people have enough information to make the decisions that can improve lives. These presentations center around our work with communicating in closed societies – this is what sets us apart from most media organizations.

Watch the videos below to see how BBG broadcasters harness innovations in their own networks and enjoy the talks from other innovators around Washington, DC such as Rob Bluey from the Heritage Foundation, and Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs. Parazit kicked off the day with a live talk from the Poptech stage in Maine: Watch Parazit at PopTech: Arbabi and Hosseini “The Daily Show” of Iran.

Jessica Beinecke “OMG! Meiyu”

Guillermo Santa Cruz “Breaking Paradigms: Bringing New Media to Closed Societies”

Golnaz Esfandiari “A Brave New World of Digital Journalism”

Matthew Baise “Data Visualization in the News”

Ken Berman “Dealing with Repressive, Authoritarian, Totalitarian States”

Ahmad AbouAmmo “Broadcasting vs. Engaging: communicating the news via social media”

Rob Bluey “How to Influence the Influencers”

Bill Bell “11 Things You Didn’t Know Before”

Catherine Antoine “Citizen Reporters Save the Day”

Peter Corbett “Architecting for Social Mass Collaboration”

What is Poptech!
PopTech is a unique innovation network – a global community of cutting-edge leaders, thinkers, and doers from many different disciplines, who come together to explore the social impact of new technologies, the forces of change shaping our future, and new approaches to solving the world’s most significant challenges. PopTech’s mission is to accelerate the positive impact of world changing people, projects and ideas. PopTech fosters breakthrough, multidisciplinary collaborations that help individuals, companies and organizations work together to change the world.

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