Wednesday, April 13, 2005

VOA on Hong Kong

Here is what a far-flung correspondent tells me is Voice of America's official word on the outsourcing of VOA overnight operations to the People's Republic of China. (I am unable to confirm its officiality via Voice of America's Web site "press room.")

The text below addresses several of the complaints I made yesterday in Beacon No. 30 without necessarily answering them—and says nothing of the viability of a VOA operation based in the PRC. I'm still not convinced—but please read this as a companion to yesterday's Beacon entry:

Simply put, VOA is taking steps to expand its presence in East Asia, an increasingly important part of the world for us. In the months ahead, VOA will hire a half dozen or so new writers in Hong Kong and move writers currently on Washington's overnight newsroom shift to other shifts in Washington.

We believe that the move will position VOA to offer better and faster-reacting coverage of news from Hong Kong, and the rest of East Asia. The move will also include adding internet staff in Hong Kong who will enable VOA to update its web presence 24 hours a day, something that is sorely needed.

No jobs will be eliminated. Members of the current overnight shift will be moved to day and evening shifts in Washington. Three editors and five writers will be hired as contractors in Hong Kong to handle the news operation in our bureau there.

Stories produced in Hong Kong will be edited by full-time VOA staff editors currently based there and also overseen and vetted by their counterparts who will remain on the midnight shift in Washington. So the news room here is not exactly going dark. Final editorial responsibility will remain in those overnight editors in Washington.

The overnight shift in Washington has long been the least popular among employees, and vacancies have been difficult to fill. The unpopular hours also have been a recruitment obstacle. People are reluctant to come here once told about the prospect of having to put in overnight hours.

Hong Kong's day of course coincides with Washington's overnight hours, and the city has a skilled local English-speaking workforce of journalists who can be hired to write and edit the same news stories now produced in the Washington newsroom, following the same high journalistic standards that have long distinguished VOA broadcasts around the world.

VOA has had foreign stringers throughout the world for many years, just as have most other major international news organizations. So there is nothing new there. Also, as you know, VOA has had a bureau in Hong Kong for many years, as have many other international news organizations.

There is already in place total communications and computer connectivity between VOA's Washington headquarters and its Hong Kong bureau. Since we already have a bureau in Hong Kong, no new office space will have to be acquired.

The Hong Kong move and resulting savings will allow VOA to add two people to the Hong Kong staff to edit the English-language Web site during U.S. overnight hours. This will be an effective and efficient way to keep our Web site up to date seven days a week.

At current Hong Kong rates for local hires (no benefits or other perks required), the staff would cost about $380,000 per year. Although this shift will result in a small savings, that is not the main point of the move. It is rather to extend and enhance our presence in Asia, assure quality coverage during Washington's overnight hours, and achieve true 24-hour web coverage. We think the move makes sense, and we also think that now is a good time to make it.

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