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Lansing’s BBG Goal: Reaching a Digital World

WASHINGTON — John Lansing, new CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. government-backed international news services including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, is out to bring those services into the Internet age by making the content more digital, more mobile, and “richer” in the sense of providing more perspective and context and doing less chasing of the daily news.

If that sounds like a media vet facing reality, it is. Lansing recently joined BBG from the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, where he had been president since succeeding Char Beales in 2013. Before that he was the president of Scripps Networks Interactive.

That message of transformational change was delivered at Middle East Broadcasting’s headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., last week, where Lansing was meeting with the BBG board as he settled into his new post.

Lansing suggested that rather than be the 51st camera at a live news event, it may be better for BBG to reposition some of its increasingly scarce resources to provide more perspective or explain complicated issues.

Lansing talked with board member Richard Stengel, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department and former Time managing editor, about his vision for BBG, which is all about “mission.”

Lansing’s media background started with lighting studios and pushing around cameras and grew to include TV-station news director posts in big cities like Minneapolis and Chicago. That experience fostered a passion for what journalism means for communities and a respect for how to decide what to cover and how to cover it.

Part of Lansing’s new mission at BBG is that digital transformation, he said, starting with the audience and working backward. The audience is mobile and needs content wherever they are and whenever they want it, he said. While TV is still dominant, and radio still important in some parts of the world, social media is becoming the distribution channel of choice.

Stengel pointed out BBG’s dual mission of independent journalism that also clearly and effectively illustrates American foreign policy. Lansing made clear that BBG’s mission was not advancing that policy, but understanding and articulating it through independent journalism.

As an example, when Stengel asked him about the need to counter violent extremism, Lansing suggested that “counter” was a State Department verb, while the journalist’s verb was “cover.”

New Cable Center Chief Wants to Write Chapter on Broadband

The Cable Center directors looked inward in selecting a new president to succeed the retiring Larry Satkowiak. Jana Henthorn, the center’s senior vice president of academic and industry outreach, in January will become the Denver-based educational organization’s first woman at the helm.

She told The Wire she was “really honored” to be chosen and her excitement level was 10 of 10.

“We’ll continue to do the things that already resonate with our constituents, like oral histories, the Cable Hall of Fame,” she said. “Continuing to add content and expand our website and our work in customer experience. I also understand that the industry is changing, and we’re going to change to reflect those directions.”

For example, she said, the center recently completed an oral history panel on DOCSIS and the genesis of the broadband industry. “There’s a lot out there on cable’s contribution to the video business, but I don’t think we are getting the credit we deserve on the broadband side.”

Henthorn already oversees the center’s work on helping cable companies improve the customer experience, and she said that effort will continue and expand to more providers in Europe and other international locations.

The center’s admired Barco Library will continue to improve and make its resources — including a reinvigorated oral-history program — more accessible, Henthorn said. And she said she’ll be reaching out and listening to ideas from key supporters and constituencies about things the center should be doing.

— Kent Gibbons