31 March 2008

Who’s Visiting the News Blog Update

The News Blog is now nearly three months old and we thought it appropriate to bring our readers up to date on who’s been visiting the site. We’re now up to some 10,500 “absolute unique visitors” and they have come from 98 countries or territories. (We had a sudden burst of visitors at the beginning of March and the number of our average daily visits soared from around 100 to nearly 500.)

The top international visitors hail from South Korea, followed by Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan --- a compelling bloc of visitors from Asia. Welcome! The next five countries, in order, are Russia, Canada, Iran, United Kingdom and Turkey --- three of these (Russia, Iran and Turkey) represent major audiences for VOA.

(For the record, the newest visitors come from Qatar, Sri Lanka, Chile and Sudan.)

While most visitors just come to the News Blog and read the latest, some have sought out or been directed to individual postings. Not surprisingly, given our Asian audience, the top posting has been the recent one on developments in Tibet. It has also been the one drawing the most comments.

Given the controversial nature of the topic, the next two individual postings with the most visitors have been the two on how journalists decide who to call a terrorist and who to call a rebel. Our posting looking at coverage of the speech on race relations by US Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, was the fourth most sought out posting.

Interestingly, our colleagues at VOANews.com tell us that the individual story visited most on their site last week was a report on experts analyzing the impact of Senator Obama’s speech on race. It received over 22,000 visits!

The next most highly visited story was another stemming from the US Presidential campaign: one on Democratic contender, Senator Hillary Clinton, saying she misspoke when she described landing under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia in 1996.

Third was a story on large demonstrations sympathetic to Tibet.

28 March 2008

The News May Be Good or Bad: You Decide

Whenever the news get particularly heated, whether because of events like those in recent days in places like Iraq or Tibet, passions are invariably inflamed. And inevitably, VOA, like other news organizations, gets an assortment of audience communications, some of which are, how shall we put it, less-than-complimentary?

Here are excerpts from three e-mails:

1. “Excuse me... but at some point the VOA has got to stop being the propaganda pawn it has become. For example, who amongst us do you actually speak for? Who amongst we voters gave you your agenda? Who designated you the 'voice' that represents America abroad?”

2. “News reporting on par with any state-sponsored organ in the world.”

3. “The VOA has been a reliable source of news since 1942? Is this a comedy show that you people at the VOA put on every day? The news that the VOA has put out since 1942… has been nothing but stuff that your staff make up… The news that the VOA broadcasts to the world daily is something that is dreamed up by…the White House…”

All of these messages perpetuate the misconception that VOA is just some sort of US government mouthpiece.

Yes it is true that VOA is financed by the US government. But look at VOA’s Journalistic Code. The Code says specifically: “VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government.”

Similarly, the notion that the White House (or any government agency) tells VOA what to say is false. As the VOA Charter says, “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society…”

Yes, VOA offers news about the United States and US government policies. But so do other international broadcasters. Why? The answer is obvious: the United States is a global power with global interests that no responsible news organization, American or non-American, can ignore. Our research also shows many of our audiences want to hear about American culture, life, history, youth and more.

Of course, our audiences don’t need to read the Charter or the Code to know that VOA offers reliable and authoritative news --- that is, credible news. Independent research shows that VOA audiences around the world consistently rate what they hear and see from us as "trustworthy" or "very trustworthy." And when a crisis erupts in their country or region, they often turn to us first to find out what's really going on. Meeting such high expectations is a huge responsibility, and one we take seriously.

One more point: we at VOA are advocates of the free exchange of ideas and opinions. That is in fact very much the reason we exist and why we welcome calls, e-mails and letters from our audiences, whether favorable or unfavorable. It is also why we routinely seek out multiple and opposing points of view and include them in programs and reports on important issues.

Bizarrely, we do from time to time come under fire for being inclusive – usually from those who would have VOA adopt an advocacy position on a particular issue.

But we believe strongly that our responsibility is to inform audiences about all significant points of view and let them make up their own minds.

It is not our job to tell the people in our audiences what position to take or what to believe. When we say, “we report and you decide,” we mean it.

25 March 2008

VOA and Iraq: Five Years of Coverage

In terms of US policy and world interest, there have been few stories of more importance to VOA audiences over the past five years than the war in Iraq. It is why, despite the inherent risks and the extraordinary expense, VOA, like other major news organizations, has maintained a presence in Iraq throughout virtually all of the war.

This week, with the US death toll reaching 4,000, the war remained a top story on VOANews.com --- not just the milestone in American casualties, but also the news of fresh fighting in Baghdad, Basra and northern Iraq --- as well as new US allegations of Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents.

Nevertheless, for other American news organizations, the war has in recent weeks slipped off the frontpage. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has a “News Coverage Index” which examines close to 50 news outlets to determine what is being covered and what is not in the US. The findings are released weekly.

The latest PEJ report covers March 17-23. It shows the 2008 US Presidential campaign was the top story overall among US newspapers, online outlets, network and cable TV and radio, receiving an average of 39% of the available time/space for news.

Coming in second, with 16% of what is called the “news hole”, was the US economy.

News from China, presumably about Tibet, was in third place with five percent.

Events in Iraq were fourth in overall news coverage, with just three percent of the available time/space for news.

Richard Perez-Pena, writing in the New York Times, says the drop in coverage “parallels – and may be explained by – a decline in public interest.” He says experts offer additional explanations including “the danger and expense for covering Iraq and shrinking newsroom budgets.” In addition, he says, “in the last year, a flagging economy and the most competitive presidential campaign in memory have diverted attention and resources.”

VOA is of course covering the US election campaign extensively as it is the US economy.

But the war in Iraq remains a major interest among VOA audiences and not just in English. Our Persian News Network, broadcasting to Iran, for example, does extensive reporting on Iraq-related developments. In recent days, they have interviewed the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker; General David Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq; and they have reported on Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Baghdad and Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq.

Of course, PNN’s big coup was interviewing President Bush himself. The interview focused on the President’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program but also noted the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.

For other VOA language services reaching the Middle East, Iraq also remains the top story. In Iraq, the Kurdish service has half a dozen stringers who report on the daily news and interview newsmakers. The Turkish service has two stringers in Iraq.

In addition to reports directly from these stringers, those services do nearly daily interviews via phone with newsmakers in Iraq, from high-ranking officials to leaders of different parties, parliamentarians and persons-in-the-street.
For the record, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 127 journalists have been killed in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003. In addition, 50 media support workers have been killed.

The fatalities, as noted by CPJ, include:

Mohammad Siddik, Freelance/Voice of America, February 17, 2006, Baghdad

"Siddik, a driver and security guard who worked part time with the Voice of America, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant near his home in the Doura section of Baghdad. The attack took place shortly after Siddik dropped a VOA correspondent at Baghdad airport. The assailant approached Siddik and shot him in the head and torso while Siddik waited in line to buy cooking oil at a shop near his home."

Selwan Abdelghani Medhi al-Niemi, Voice of America, March 5, 2004, Baghdad

"Al-Niemi, a freelance translator working for VOA, was fatally shot while driving home from a relative's house. His mother and 4-year-old daughter were also killed. VOA said a motive had not been established.

"Al-Niemi's wife, Ban Adil Serhan, a former translator for the U.S.-based media company Knight-Ridder, told CPJ that she believes she was also an intended target and that the assailants mistook al-Niemi's mother for her.

"On the day of her husband's funeral, she said, her brother discovered a handwritten note outside the family's front door. Citing Quranic verses, the note said people who work with 'infidels' should be killed and warned that Adil Serhan's 'turn will come soon, God willing.'"

21 March 2008

The Obama Speech on Race: It’s A Tough, Demanding, High-Pressure Business But…

The news business is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation with tight deadlines and lots of demands on the reporters and editors involved in producing stories to get them out to audiences quickly. The pressure can indeed be enormous.

But is this ever an acceptable reason for journalism that skirts deeper issues?

Media critics have been raising that question after reviewing the coverage of this week’s speech on racial matters by Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic party Presidential candidate.

Political analysts said the speech was a necessity in order for Obama to defuse a controversy over inflammatory statements made by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago. Video excerpts of Reverend Wright’s remarks were played repeatedly on US media outlets and appeared in VOA stories.

In his speech, Senator Obama condemned the Reverend’s remarks.

But overall, his speech attempted to go beyond what he characterized as these mere “distractions” and delve more deeply into the roots of racial tension in the United States.

Despite this, most stories, including VOA’s, focused principally on the Reverend Wright dimension, and not the broader issue of race relations.

Why? Was it deadline pressure? Was it that the Reverend Wright sound bites and video were just too compelling to set aside? Was the racial aspect of the story deemed less significant than the political campaign aspects? Shouldn’t there still be a closer, more penetrating look at the status of race relations in America by VOA and other news outlets?

Howard Kurtz, media critic at the Washington Post newspaper, wrote this week: “News organizations are skittish about racial subjects, preferring to wrap them around the flap of the day rather than deal with underlying anger and grievances.”

Megan Garber, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, said the press portrayals of Obama’s speech “don’t just miss Obama’s point; they largely defeat it.” She went on to write: “Obama’s words aren’t just a challenge for the way we in the media should treat race in the future; they’re an indictment of the way we’ve treated race in the past.”

Keith Woods, Dean at the Poynter Institute for journalists, acknowledged “there is an almost irresistible pull in journalism toward the simple.” He says editors should demand depth and breadth in their organization’s coverage of race. He adds: “You may not be able to close the chasm Obama conjures in his speech, but you can stop making it wider.”

(The Poynter Institute is, by the way, suggesting news organizations consider writing about “the black church experience” in the US and “the anger issue” among blacks and whites as ways of probing more deeply into the issues raised by Senator Obama. As an institution charged with telling America’s story to the world, these would be valuable topics for VOA to pursue.)
Since we are on the matter of campaign coverage, when another Presidential candidate, Republican Senator John McCain, made a foreign policy faux pas this week, many news organizations, including VOA, overlooked it --- at least initially.

The gaffe occurred as McCain was speaking to reporters in Amman while on a Mideast tour. He voiced concern about cooperation between al-Qaida and Iran. He said it was, quoting now, “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaida is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.”

A short time later, after another Senator tipped him to his error, McCain said: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.” As more than one political analyst noted, the error could undermine McCain’s argument that his foreign policy experience make him a better choice to become President.

The question here is why was there so much coverage of the Obama-Reverend Wright flap and so little of the McCain flub, which, for example, received but one mention in VOA stories?

What do you think? Send your comments to the VOA News Blog.

20 March 2008

Tibet: A Story That Can’t Be Censored, No Matter How Hard The Authorities Might Try

VOA reporters have been trying unsuccessfully to get into Tibet to report on the latest disturbances --- even after authorities in Beijing notified foreign journalists in the Chinese capital that they would not approve any applications to go there.

Journalists who were in Tibet when the protests erupted have been expelled. Those who have tried to get close to Tibet are running into major interference.

A VOA Mandarin Service correspondent was stopped by armed security forces when he attempted to enter Tibet to report on developments there. This VOA reporter was actually on a bus heading into the restive area when police boarded the vehicle and checked the identification documents of all those on board. When they saw the VOA reporter’s US passport they told him to get off the bus and turn back. They also deleted the photographs in his digital camera showing checkpoints and security forces.

Chinese authorities are hinting at a trip to Tibet for foreign reporters once the situation has stabilized. VOA has put in its name to go along if the trip ever happens, even though we suspect such a trip, organized by the Chinese government, will likely be a tightly-controlled, stage-managed event.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on the Chinese government to halt its efforts to block both domestic and foreign coverage of protests in Tibet. CPJ says actions taken so far contravene media regulations enacted last year that were designed to allow greater freedom to foreign journalists in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games.

CPJ says, “As part of its successful 2001 bid to host the Olympics, the government pledged to the International Olympic Committee that it would respect media freedom, but Beijing has failed to live up to that promise.”

The Voice of America has responded to the crisis in Tibet by increasing its broadcasts to the region to six hours daily via shortwave and by doubling its weekly Tibetan-language television programming from one to two hours via the AsiaSat 3 satellite.

19 March 2008

Your Comments

While we recently noted that your comments are always welcome here at the News Blog, our colleagues at VOANews.com continue to receive messages and we’ve asked them to pass many of them along to us. We want to make a regular feature of “Your Comments.”

Let’s begin.

First up, this angry message from Kenneth:

“Every time I read the news coming out of the VOA on the internet, I know immediately that it is going to be the same type of propaganda as Radio Moscow or Radio Peking put out. Don't you people ever get tired of the drivel that you air? It's sickening to have to hear your daily garbage news thrown at the world, knowing that everything in it is a fabrication, without an iota of truth to be found in it.

“Your recent news on the Colombian incursion into Ecuador is totally backwards. It is not Chavez to blame for defending his country from an aggressor, but Colombia which is a U.S. ally. But I guess you have to take the same viewpoint as that moron in the White House George W. Bush your boss, or face the consequences. Never you mind, next January you will be rid of the idiot once and for all time. Perhaps then you can thank God for it. It must be very trying to know that you work for an idiot and be forced to comply with his inane policy.

"So carry on chaps!”

We dispute any suggestion that our news items are fabricated or that they are propaganda. As for the allegation that our news is somehow required to fit the political views of the White House or the current administration, we can vehemently deny that and note that our Charter requires VOA, by law, to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” and that the news must be “accurate, objective and comprehensive.”
Now, a comment on the ever-controversial situation in the Mideast --- this one from Professor Lubinsky. He refers to items like this one which reported on violence in which “at least 120 Palestinians were killed. Israel launched the offensive in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel that killed one civilian.”

He says: “This type of selectivity greatly distorts the events. Israel did not launch the operation into Gaza solely as a response from the death of one civilian. Hundreds of rockets have been fired into the southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon in recent weeks and several thousand since Hamas took over the Gaza strip. They have made life impossible, injured many children and damaged schools and houses.” He also says the reference to 120 Palestinians killed, in his words, “hides the fact that well over half of the Palestinians killed were militants. In reporting on Iraq, you talk of militants killed, not Iraqis. Why do you use terminology to suggest that the Palestinians killed were civilians?”

He concludes by appealing to VOA to stop what he charges is the bias of other international news organizations.

I referred this comment to Central News Division Managing Editor Jack Payton, who replied:

“The Israeli/Palestinian confrontation is one of the most dynamic stories VOA, or any other news organization, covers on a day-to-day basis. On the day in question, there were three updating Central News file stories that followed the one he cited, which moved in the early morning hours here. One later CN story that moved in mid-afternoon, described Israel's decision to carry out the raids on Gaza this way: ‘A recent Israeli offensive against Gaza militants killed more than 120 Palestinians. The fighting also killed five Israelis, four of them soldiers. Israel carried out the offensive in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.’

"It's also worth noting the Robert Berger Correspondent Report on the VOA website that day. It included extensive remarks by Israeli officials and their reasoning for going after the rocket attackers inside Gaza as well as a remark by an Islamic Jihad official. Like any other news organization that reports on the issue, VOA gets criticism from both pro-Arab and pro-Israeli listeners about its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Each day, we work to put the facts and reporting in a fair and objective context as the story changes hour by hour. Assessing VOA's success in this effort is best done by looking at the body of work on a given day or week rather than picking out one story in a dynamically changing situation.”
Then, a complaint from Ken about a report on VOANews.com which began by saying:

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a Democrat-crafted foreign intelligence surveillance law that contains provisions strongly opposed by President Bush.

Ken writes he is unhappy with the use of the phrase, “Democrat-crafted.” He says, “intentionally or not, this is consistent with the Republican party pejorative, Democrat party. It shows bias not consistent with the mission of VOA.”

We passed this complaint to Central News Division senior editor Michael Collins who says the usage is “correct, Democrat-crafted as in crafted by Democrats (noun) not crafted by Democratics. It’s a language thing, not a political thing.”

Michael notes the VOA stylebook says “’The principal American political parties are Democratic (not Democrat) and Republican...’ Our style calls for Democratic as an adjective and Democrat as a noun. In other words, the senator is a Democrat, the bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, or the senator is a member of the Democratic Party. Any other usage is inadvertant and in error.”

And Central News Managing Editor Jack Payton says, “Would have been better to say ‘crafted by House Democrats...’”
Our colleagues at VOANews.com receive comments on the current Presidential election campaign in the US. These are passed on to the VOAElectionBlog and our colleague Neal Lavon has started addressing them there.
Finally, we had a nice compliment from Mehrshad about the news headlines VOANews.com sends out by email everyday to subscribers:

“Thanks a million for everyday news update. To me this is the most priceless blessing in the world since we are filtered here in Iran. I do make use of your pieces of news to improve both my English and knowledge of the world.”

And there you have it until our next collection of your comments.

14 March 2008

Terrorists, Rebels and Thugs: What’s In A Word?

Our colleagues at VOANews.com received an email from Mark on a subject we’ve visited before: the labeling of groups and individuals as “terrorists” or “rebels.” Here is what Mark wrote:

“Why do you continue to call FARC terrorists 'rebels'? They are murdering, drug-peddling thugs. Your PC-ness is beyond reason to the point that you sound ignorant of current events and the danger such groups represent to civilized people across the world. Just report the news and stop editorializing.”

First of all, Mark, let me refer you to our previous posting on this topic:

We’re sticking to that. (And it has nothing to do with “political correctness” as you call it. It has to do with our Charter, which says “VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive.”) But let me make a few additional points.

While some may not approve of our decision to refer to the FARC as rebels in news stories, please note our stories routinely report that they are regarded as a terrorist organization by the US Government. (See this item or this one.)

As for Mark’s demand that we “stop editorializing, let me note our actual editorials, which reflect the official views of the US Government, do refer to the FARC as terrorists. (See this editorial.)

VOA does not provide a platform for terrorists or those who support them. As our Journalistic Code states, we are alert to and will reject efforts by anyone, foreign or domestic, to use our websites or programs as a platform for their own views.

But we do and will report the news, as they say, without fear or favor.

11 March 2008

I Want To Comment!

Our colleagues at VOANews.com received an email this month from Shomeir who said:

“I notice that your website (voanews.com) does not allow reader feedback. Are you afraid of having your propaganda challenged?”

Well, setting aside the use of the word “propaganda" which we reject, we want Shomeir to know that readers can email in all the comments they want. And they can send them to the News Blog as well.

But here’s the thing (and what we suspect Shomeir is really complaining about): while anyone can send in comments, they won't appear automatically on VOANews.com.

We know some news sites have a “Comment on this story” feature. Others don’t. Among those that do, some may moderate or preview comments before they appear; others allowed un-moderated comments. Still others may use systems that have certain “screen-out” words to block certain comments and there are those sites that include a “Flag this comment as inappropriate” tag so other users can alert the moderator if there's a problem with the comment.

It can get quite complicated.

VOANews.com is in the midst of an overhaul and upgrade that may provide new comment opportunities. Stay tuned.

But in the meantime, we here at the News Blog welcome all comments (though we, too, will review them before posting. That’s not because we fear anything or want to weed out certain types of comments but to make sure there is no spam, hate or other inappropriate language, personal attacks or things like that.)

07 March 2008

Prince Harry and Media Secrecy Agreements

The VOA News Blog normally answers questions or addresses journalistic issues that are drawn to our attention by readers. This time, we have a question for you about a recent story:

Did British news organizations do the right thing in agreeing to keep secret the fact that Britain’s Prince Harry was deployed with troops in combat in Afghanistan?

Not surprisingly, the news organizations involved have defended their decision, citing safety concerns for troops deployed with the Prince as well as similar agreements in the past in cases involving national security issues as well as kidnappings.

But there have been opposing points of view from some media critics in recent days.

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, for example, has noted that while news media have kept secrets where national security has been concerned, the Prince Harry secret was different: “For one thing, news organizations generally decide individually not to publish or broadcast; they don't get together and make a joint decision. The British media's decision to keep silent seems to be popular, but I can't see how the public's interest is best served by editors getting together and deciding what the people don't need to know.”

CJR.org, the media criticism web site of the Columbia Journalism Review (at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism), reported the agreement came at a time when public trust in the news media was not particularly high. It suggests the secrecy agreement was motivated by self-interest. “While many in the British public may accept their press outlets’ decision to agree to the embargo, news of the blackout erodes that trust—slightly, perhaps, but still significantly. The media may love a good redemption story, but it’s a problem when they become not only the narrators, but also the facilitators, of that redemption. And it’s an even bigger problem if the salvation they’re seeking is, finally, their own.”

Finally, media critic Jon Friedman of Dow Jones Marketwatch argues the blackout agreement set a bad precedent: “It's never a good idea for the media to play ball with the rich, famous and powerful, regardless of whether they're royal family members, government officials, corporate executives or celebrities. The practice establishes a potentially dangerous precedent. How can the public believe what we say and write if they suspect we're willing to suppress news?”

So, what do you think? Comment here or drop us an email: VOANewsBlog@voanews.com

05 March 2008

The Audiences Targeted by VOA And The Smith-Mundt Act

It's time to clear up a recurring misunderstanding about the audiences VOA tries to reach. And we’ll refer to two recent emails to help.

The first was from someone who thought VOA’s reporting was, in this person’s view, “ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC.” (Yes, the writer used all capital letters.)

His displeasure originated with a story last month that previewed a campaign debate between US Democratic Party Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The complaint had nothing to do with alleged political bias or an error.

Instead, as the writer put it, “the story leaves out what I think are the most important details and the reason why I searched for this story: on which channel will it appear and when?”

We have to make an assumption here based on the way the email was written. That assumption is that the writer was located in the United States and looking for a TV schedule listing for when the debate would be broadcast and on what channel, something common in most American newspapers.

We don’t carry that type of information because VOA does not broadcast TO the United States and does not intentionally target American audiences (even though our websites are accessible and, web statistics show, highly popular in the US). In fact there is a law (Smith-Mundt Act) which prohibits us from targeting broadcasts within the United States.

Now, if the writer was a non-American living outside the United States, then it is a different matter altogether. In this case, though, we’d still have to disappoint him because, to our knowledge, none of VOA’s various language services has carried any of the candidate’s debates live and in full. That is likely to change once the Democrats and Republicans have made their formal candidate selections and the two finalists stage debates prior to the November election. We’re almost certain you will be able to hear those debates and we will be sure to include programming information so any one in our audience will know what time the debate will take place and how to watch or hear it. In general, when we do know a major event will be carried live, we note that at the top of news reports appearing on VOANews.com.

The second email was somewhat similar. It complained about a recent VOA story involving the recall of suspect American beef. The writer wanted to know why, if it was a story about American beef, our story stated weight measurements in kilograms instead of pounds.

Again the answer has to do with where our main audiences are located. Since we are not directing our news materials towards the United States, we have to use the measurement system our non-American audiences are most familiar with --- and that means kilograms instead of pounds, kilometers instead of miles, hectares instead of acres and so on.

All clear now?

For the record, here is what the Smith-Mundt Act says (and we’ve taken this right off our own website):

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 bars the domestic dissemination of official American information aimed at foreign audiences. Section 501(a) of the Act provides that “information produced by VOA for audiences outside the United States shall not be disseminated within the United States ... but, on request, shall be available in the English language at VOA, at all reasonable times following its release as information abroad, for examination only by representatives of United States press associations, newspapers, magazines, radio systems, and stations, and by research students and scholars, and, on, request, shall be made available for examination only to Members of Congress.”

03 March 2008

How America Elects: A multi-segment VOA series

Every four years, the United States undertakes choosing a president. The structures of the electoral process go back, in large part, to the founding of the country. In many respects, it is a unique process and one that is often complex. Because of that, every four years the Voice of America makes special efforts to explain it to the world.

How America Elects provides that explanation, by going in-depth on topics that collectively make up the US electoral system. Each segment provides not only information on a particular aspect, but also, analysis to put things in context.

The series began in August, 2007, with coverage of the first significant political event of the election season, the Iowa Republican Straw Poll --- a non-binding vote considered by most political analysts as a kind of beauty contest for candidates.

From that start, How America Elects has explored the structures and processes that comprise the electoral system. Segment #2 was on Voter Registration, followed by other reports on third parties, campaign financing laws, electronic voting, and public opinion polling, as well as caucuses and primaries, outside interest groups, debates, and other topics.

Producer-reporter Jeffrey Young says the series will continue to follow the political process as it progresses through the party nominating conventions later this year, the November presidential election, the meeting of the Electoral College, and the formal transition that takes place between outgoing and incoming presidential administrations.

You can also get a sense of the day-to-day politicking by visiting our main Race for the White House page and also the VOA Election Blog.