Review answers to commonly asked questions about “Impact Through Innovation and Integration” – the BBG’s strategic plan for U.S. international broadcasting…
The following FAQs will be updated as new questions arise.
1. Does the plan cover all the BBG entities?
Yes, in the same way that previous agency plans have covered the entirety of U.S. international broadcasting. At the agency level, the plan is intentionally broad. It works in tandem with planning at the level of the broadcast services (i.e., VOA, RFE/RL, et al) and, more specifically, at the level of individual language services. Language service plans link to the agency plan and, in this way, round out expression of strategy from bottom to top. Development of new language service strategies is starting now and will continue well into 2012.
2. The new strategy advances the concept of “one organization, many brands” and the creation of a new network management operation. What do these mean?
“One organization, many brands” means creating an integrated international media network from the current stove-piped and semi-autonomous BBG entities.
The brands are the BBG broadcast services – VOA, RFE/RL, et al – whose names are well known and respected. The network is the overarching organization that provides support services, distribution, and other management assistance for the brands. Together they will form the new agency, the “one organization”.
The Board has directed that the IBB and BBG offices merge to provide the administrative and operational backbone of the new network.
The current head of IBB will run the day-to-day affairs of the agency. This entails managing the Federal agency components and closely coordinating the work of the non-Federal components so as to ensure overall efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out the agency’s mission, as envisioned in part by the legislatively mandated IBB Coordinating Committee.
The Board has authorized the IBB Director “to identify, evaluate and resolve strategic trade-offs and conflicts among the broadcasting entities, consistent with the broad strategic guidelines established by the Board and subject to the Board’s continuing oversight.”
Network management will work closely with the brands to strategically position and coordinate them by market to maximize audience reach and impact and fulfill BBG’s statutory mandates (for news and information as well as U.S. culture and policy). Where two BBG brands currently operate jointly, the network will ensure the content is complementary and not duplicative.
The network will not direct program content, however. The new BBG strategy embraces the journalistic integrity of the broadcasters, and the editorial decisions that are made at the service or “brand” level, subject to existing program review.
3. Does an integrated network assume that the grantees (RFE/RL, RFA and MBN) will be merged into a single company?
No. Creating an integrated network does not require consolidation of the grantees. The plan includes a study to explore the feasibility of consolidating the three grantee organizations, but a decision about this will be made only after needed due diligence is completed and considered by the Board.
4. What does strategic plan “narrative” mean?
The narrative expresses the BBG’s over-arching strategic rationale for the direction of the agency over the next five years. It is a statement about where the Board believes the agency needs to go over the next five years. It speaks to the “why” and the “what” of agency strategy. The “how” and the “when” will follow in coming months in the form of agency-wide implementation strategies and specific language service performance plans (also known within the BBG as road maps).
5. Does the agency mission statement supplant the VOA Charter and the mission statements of RFE/RL and RFA and the other BBG broadcast services?
No, the agency statement does not replace the individual broadcast service mission statements or statutory mandates. Rather, it encompasses them and conveys the substance and aim of the agency’s work as a whole. All Federal agencies are required to have mission statements as part of their strategic plans.
6. What is new about the mission statement in this plan?
The new statement – To inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy –includes “engage” and “connect” to convey broader audience inclusion, and inverts the order of what the agency does and with what desired effect. In today’s global media environment in which ordinary citizens increasingly enjoy the means of creating and sharing their content and having conversations with one another through social media, it behooves the agency to expand our sense of how we relate to audiences and they to us. This is in the spirit of the BBG’s enlarging freedom of expression while maintaining the traditional role of providing accurate, credible news and information to uphold freedom of the press. Both – freedom of expression and freedom of the press – are critical to supporting freedom and democracy, the BBG’s bedrock statutory mission. Freedom and democracy are the hoped-for consequence of such journalism – they flow from it. Hence, the statement first emphasizes the activity “to inform, engage and connect” – that leads to the desired results “in support of freedom and democracy.” This clarifies the purpose for those who have concerns that government-funded journalism is an oxymoron.
7. What are the BBG’s geo-strategic priorities?
Given the BBG mission, the agency prioritizes countries lacking sustainable independent media to ensure freedom of press and freedom of expression. Agency priorities also reflect conflict or crisis areas where accurate, credible news and information are both in short supply and critical to efforts to produce peace and stability. The Arab Awakening has pointed up the link between information and democratization and the urgency of BBG work across the Middle East. The ongoing struggle against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and active involvement of U.S. military forces compels a strong BBG presence. The potential of nuclear proliferation by North Korea and Iran, along with the repressive nature of both states, calls for robust, ongoing BBG media efforts. The unfolding humanitarian crisis in East Africa, where extremist elements also play a direct role, underscores the life-saving potential of agency service in that region. In other areas not engaged in conflict or crisis but nonetheless important because of the countries’ role on the global stage and their continued denial of free press and free expression such as China and Russia, the BBG needs to maintain a steady stream of news and other programs. Again, as a general proposition, wherever indigenous media remain under-developed and citizens lack access to vital news and information, BBG services will seek to play a role.
8. What do you mean by impact?
Impact is ultimately fulfillment of the BBG mission as set forth by Congress – objective journalism and its inherent contribution to fostering freedom and democracy, peace and stability. The success of U.S. international broadcasting in helping end the Cold War marks such fulfillment in a definitive way. BBG performance indicators track the agency’s mission – that is, they are consistent with the agency’s journalistic role. These measures are, most prominently, audience reach, audience perceptions of the reliability of BBG news and information, and the degree to which agency programs enhance audience understanding.
There are many other measures as well, and increasingly the agency is expanding its assessment of performance to capture the new ways in which impact can be seen in online and social media applications. For example, if a BBG news story fails to reach a given audience due to interference from the target country but manages to go viral online and serves to drive an international news or discussion agenda, it is important to capture that impact in ways that traditional measures would not. The agency will mount a new research program as part of the new strategic plan that will work to broaden understanding of impact and ways to measure it.
9. The strategy poses as its over-arching goal becoming the world’s leading international news agency by 2016, focused on the agency’s mission and impact? Is the BBG trying to compete with BBC and CNN in its goals?
No. The over-arching goal the agency has set is conditioned by our focus on our unique mission to support free, open, democratic societies through fostering free press and free expression in countries lacking the same. It is leadership in this sense that the agency seeks. At the same time, with nearly 4,000 employees worldwide, 1,200 stringer reporters, more than 50 news bureaus, and service in 59 languages for a weekly audience of more than 165 million, the BBG is inarguably already one of the world’s leading news and information agencies. Expanding agency impact as opposed to size of operations will be the focus going forward.
10. The BBG has set a performance goal of reaching 50 million in additional audience by 2016? How realistic is this?
It is very ambitious but realistic. It is significantly higher than the FY 2010 levels of 165 million people each week. The growth strategy we have laid out shows relatively modest audience gains from each of a host of different activities, including securing new and more effective distribution, serving under-served audiences such as women and youth, and starting new language services in selected markets. Indeed, the agency is already showing audience gains through strategies in sync with the outlines of the plan.
11. How did the new strategy come about? Were agency employees consulted?
Shortly after the new Board took the helm of the agency, it set in motion a year-long strategic review to look at all BBG language services and target regions. This comprehensive assessment included a detailed study of the global environment in which the BBG operates, an examination of the agency’s mission statement, and consideration of the agency’s distribution and technology efforts.
Through regional reviews that included in-depth consultations with senior management and language service heads and staffs at each of the BBG broadcast organizations, broadcast personnel were given the opportunity to air their views and provide expertise.
The reviews also involved panels of experts – including former U.S. ambassadors, journalists, policy and regional experts, academics, and respected individuals recently arrived in the U.S. from closed societies – who on pro bono basis offered their assessment of leading strategic and media factors in the BBG’s broadcast areas.
As the narrative was under development, BBG officials conducted numerous briefings with Q&A on the draft for managers at the broadcast services and special sessions for Federal Union members.
As the agency rolls out the strategy narrative in the coming weeks, it will further take into account employee concerns, especially as regards specific implementation steps across the full domain of agency operations. The agency has developed a new web site dedicated expressly to informing and engaging employees and the public alike on BBG strategy issues – bbgstrategy.com. Staff input will be critical to further strategy development, including the implementation strategies and language service plans.
12. What will be the impact on jobs?
Our objective is to structure the most effective and efficient organization possible and to leverage all our resources within existing budget constraints to carry out our mission with maximum impact. Through integration and streamlining efforts, we anticipate that some positions may be eliminated. The number of positions has not yet been estimated, nor has the breakdown between federal and non-federal positions.
Given current budget uncertainties, the BBG has gained “buyout” and “early out” authority for federal employees from the Office of Personnel Management, and expects there will be some personnel reductions through these incentives.