Friday, March 13, 2009

VOA increasing Internet presence

The Voice of America, which now broadcasts 1,500 hours of radio and television news and feature programmes each week for a foreign audience of 134 million people, is increasingly using the Internet to interact with its audience.

In addition to transmitting news and information, it operates social networking programs on its website and uses blogs and webchats to encourage audience participation.

It also uses the Internet for English language learning programmes. In 2008, VoA awarded a contract to Alelo Inc to develop an interactive Web-based learning portal to teach English as a second language. The portal is extremely popular with college-age students in China and Iran.

VoA Director Dan Austin said in a recent interview to that it had been told the new Obama administration feels that “what we do, dollar for dollar, is one of the better investments the American taxpayer can make.”

Austin said the VoA will continue to provide timely news and information to more than 130 million people worldwide while pursing innovative ways to engage this audience.

The former Wall Street Journal reporter and executive, who now oversees VoA’s $190 million budget, said, “Our fundamental mission has basically remained the same” since VoA began broadcasting in 1942 during World War II.

“Our task is still to provide accurate, balanced and comprehensive news and information programs for foreign audiences. We are just expanding our technical ability to do that while at the same time using state-of-the-art information technology to have a dialogue with people.”

Its 1,100 journalists and technicians broadcast in 45 languages (25 through its television arm), using a growing network of 1,200 local radio and television stations, as well as cable systems.

“Our strategy for reaching audiences is market- and research - driven,” Austin explained.“We are investing a fair amount of money into our technological infrastructure,” Austin said. “Right now, we have one foot in the analog world and one foot in the digital world.”

“But, bit by bit, we’re putting together a [digital] system,” he said, that eliminates tapes and similar recording and playing equipment, relying instead on computerization to get better quality quickly and cost-effectively.