Dear Mass Media Fellows,

by mammalfish

Y’all are amazing, and I can’t overstate how useful it is hearing about how news works over at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Sacramento Bee, and Wired. How about after this whole mess is over the fourteen of us start our own newsy business? “The Young Scientist’s Report,” we’ll call it. Or, “Modern Microscope.” Ew.

Today was my first day, and I think it’s the start of a good thang. VOA is ridiculous in a lot of great ways. The main newsroom is a lot like the one we saw at NPR, just without the vaulted grand ceilings: huge space, tons of desks, colorful knickknacks, everyone making jibes at each other over the dividers. But the building is huge, and the rest of it is departments for each of the 43 (!) languages they broadcast in, mostly staffed by folks from those regions (I popped into the East Africa/Swahili newsroom today long enough to say “Shikamoo!” to their head editor, which means literally “I hold your feet” and is a respectful greeting to superiors and is just about the only thing I remember how to say in Swahili). VOA was established with the intent of providing accurate, balanced news internationally during WWII, when citizens of Germany and Japan were receiving a lot of propaganda from their own governments. (Quote from the first VOA radio broadcast: “Here speaks a voice from America. Every day at this time we will bring you the news of the war. The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth.” I can’t get over the histrionic period fabulousness of that statement. Can’t you just hear his old-timey radio annunciation?) Today, they don’t broadcast to Germany anymore because, as they see it, they have free access to balanced news; they focus on areas that don’t—which is a shocking lot of places according to the maps they showed us. VOA sends radio broadcasts towards Pyongyang, for instance, but their signals mostly get blocked. There’s some interesting subversion that happens.

So, we’re mostly dealing with Big Global News, reported and produced by the main newsroom to be picked up and disseminated in various media by the regional departments, mostly radio and TV. Understandably, there’s not too much emphasis on basic research, which is kind of sad but totally to be expected: the science staff is real real small. My favorite quote from today, though sad: “Just so you guys are aware, when Mandiba dies this place is going to go batshit insane.” Africa is the biggest regional consumer of VOA newsing, so they do a lot of Africa-relevant stories (and everybody refers to the African news division as “Africa,” as in, “Africa says they want that spot finished by tomorrow,” hysterical). My first story will be some health research from South Africa, and I’m deciding to be ambitious and make it a radio piece, which everyone around me says should be doable within a few days, which I find totally absurd. Someone should call me next week and see if I’m stuck in radio-announcer voice,”Here speaks a voice from America….” Also, there’s a woman here who does a ton of reporting on NASA’s shenanigans, because they live right down the street, so I’m gonna do whatever I can to be her sidekick. YES. Call me Astrogirl.

I’m sure I’ll have my share of struggles and such but I’m pretty jazzed right now. Keep writing, you people are the best group of writers I’ve corresponded with maybe ever and your stories are all so interesting and helpful.

~ Megan Astrogirl McGrath

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