REIMAGINING THE VOICE OF AMERICA AS A GLOBAL FORUM FOR TRANSNATIONAL DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY
Dwyer, George Patrick Henry
Kerch, Thomas M.
ABSTRACTThis thesis will argue for a reimagining of the journalistic norms and values that have guided the Voice of America (VOA) for the past seven decades. While it will not challenge VOA’s foundational commitment to “tell you the truth,” it will describe an updated organizational mission designed "to move beyond merely telling the news" and instead embrace a bold and broader vision of promoting transnational deliberative democracy as a project of U.S. public diplomacy.For those avowed to a foundationalist view of the profession – news purists as they have been called (and as they often call themselves) – it might be imagined that any project which challenges longstanding traditions must perforce advocate in one way or another on behalf of propaganda or audience manipulation. (Such is the suspicion that exists between public diplomacy and traditional visions of journalism that this objection must be presupposed). But, as will be demonstrated below, the intention here is quite the opposite. The ultimate objective of the approach presented here is to shore up the credibility of both United States international broadcasting (USIB) and the VOA, while setting a more effective course for the future of both. In pursuing this course however, core elements of VOA’s longstanding journalistic norms and practices, along with its present day vision of itself, will indeed be brought into question in the light of changing times and circumstance.In the pages that follow I will also argue against VOA’s current “overarching strategic objective” of becoming “the world’s leading international news agency by 2016,” and will offer what I believe is a more reasonable and effective public diplomacy alternative. I will hope to show that the assets possessed by VOA, including its mass media communications capability, multiple language proficiencies, and legacy as a reliable source of credible factual information, may be put to far better future use than in the fanciful and ultimately self-defeating quest for global news supremacy.Recognizing that globalization and the spread of mobile communications technologies have materially altered geopolitical priorities and revolutionized the ways in which information is now accessed and processed, I will argue for a new approach to U.S. international broadcasting that prizes engagement and community-building over today’s centralized, authority-based, headline-chasing model. Following a brief review of the purposes and practices of U.S. public diplomacy and its constituent project of international broadcasting (which, notably, comprises nearly half of current U.S public diplomacy funding), I will present an argument for what many believe is necessary reform. Building on the principles embodied in the civic philosophy project known as public journalism, I will describe a new and more-participatory approach to serving the information needs of global audiences. This new approach adheres to a new set of global journalism standards perhaps best described by the ethicist and media scholar Steven Ward as “pragmatic news objectivity.”In keeping with the guiding ethos of public journalism, the ultimate purpose of the new approach to journalism proposed here for VOA is to nourish and sustain democracy in the transnational public sphere. Reconfiguring the norms and values that guide so venerable an organization as the Voice of America is a project not lightly undertaken. But if VOA is to survive and remain relevant in a radically altered media ecosystem, it will need to adapt to challenges unforeseen at the time of is founding. This work is intended to help move that project forward.