Voice of America works to understand extremism abroad

Voice of America has been gathering information about extremism in many formats. Its year-old Extremism Watch Desk prepares this information, no matter what language it originated in, so it's usable for the general audiences overseas served by VOA. Ernie Torriero, a former newspaperman, is the desk's managing editor. He explains how the Extremism Watch Desk works.

Ernie Torriero, managing editor, Extremism Watch Desk, Voice of America

Broadcasting or publishing is only the second half of the news process; information gathering is the first half, and that’s what Voice of America’s year-old Extremism Watch Desk focuses on. It employs journalists with expertise in regions prone to extremism, gathers information and news from those areas, and repackages it for broadcast to those cultures in their own language.

“We concentrate on areas where there’s heavy involvement right now of ISIS, any groups tied to ISIS’ terrorist activities, mostly Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all those areas surrounding that including Central Asia where extremism is running rampant,” Ernie Torriero, managing editor of the Extremism Watch Desk, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Torriero detailed the Extremism Watch Desk’s three-pronged approach to dealing with these areas.

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“One is to get content from the language services into shape for the general audience via worldwide dissemination for VOA,” he said.

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To do this, VOA’s staffers receive the information, vet it, translate it and produce the content that VOA will put out to various regions of the world.

“Our second mission is to monitor media in language for biased, single-sourced reports about ISIS and terrorism that we get because we speak several languages,” Torriero said. “Our job is to find out what media is saying in language, and then we put out a round-up to all the VOA services so they can see and hear directly what these sources are saying about ISIS and terrorism.”

In this way, VOA is able to call out and combat propaganda put out by ISIS and other extremist organizations.

“Our third thing is to combine all the things we do to produce our own stories,” Torriero said. “For example, we were noticing about eight, nine months ago that there was a huge use of drones in the region by all kinds of people: rebels, Syrian forces, Iraqi forces, Kurdish forces, ISIS, other terrorism groups, everybody was using drones. We gathered that information along with video and produced a very compelling story on English web.”

The Extremism Watch Desk was created directly in response to terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. ISIS began impacting the Middle East region in a significant way, so VOA set out to enhance its services — “give them more people in language, the ability to do more television, more web, more timely things,” Torriero said.

But then they needed to get that information out to both the Middle East and the rest of the world.

“We came up with what we think is a unique journalism recipe: that we found people who speak the languages, but who can write clearly in English, and not only translate what was coming out of the services, but enhance it, so products we produce could get out in a timely manner,” Torriero said.

The Extremism Watch Desk also has a strong presence on social media, which helps it disperse information more quickly and efficiently both in the pertinent regions and worldwide.

“We have the ability to set viral fires in language,” Torriero said.

They also monitor the social media accounts of ISIS and other extremist groups for information and propaganda.

“We are an added value desk,” Torriero said. “We’re not here to produce what is generally produced in Western media. We’re not here to follow the wires or regurgitate the wires. We’re here to enhance the value. We found things about ISIS movements long before other people did by our knowledge of the region. We found out trends and all kinds of things before other people.”