BBG Watch Commentary
Members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) should hold top Voice of America (VOA) executives accountable for disastrous VOA social media engagement stats on one of the biggest news days so far this year with the announcement of the nuclear agreement framework with Iran in Switzerland and President Obama’s statement from the White House.
VOA was late, sometimes hours, in posting and updating news reports on the developing Iran nuclear deal story. VOA was especially late in uploading social media posts. VOA failed to stream live online on its main English news website the joint EU-Iran statement. Most significantly, the Voice of America received dismally small numbers of Facebook “Likes” and Comments on this important news story, not only in English but also in foreign languages, including Persian. Compared to its main international competitors, VOA was “digital last” in every category.
BBC, Russia’s RT, Iran’s Press TV, Deutsche Welle (DW), and even the U.S. State Department were much faster in posting on Facebook. These foreign media outlets and even the U.S. State Department are showing “Likes” and Comments that are many multiples of what VOA Facebook posts are showing in English, Persian, Russian and in other languages on this very important news story — the kind of U.S. and international news story where most would expect the Voice of America to shine in digital media. It did not happen.
In fact, VOA’s extremely and embarrassingly low Facebook stats on the Iran nuclear deal are nothing short of astounding. A VOA Russian post after five hours on Facebook was showing only 14 “Likes” and three Comments on the VOA Russian Service Facebook page.
Even more astounding were low VOA Persian Service Facebook page stats. After five hours on Facebook, a VOA Persian post on President Obama’s statement was showing only 150 “Likes” and 20 Comments.
A similar BBC Persian Service post on Facebook was showing 6,900 “Likes” and 781 Comments after five hours. A Deutsche Welle Facebook post was showing 2,800 “Likes” and 79 Comments after six hours.
RFE/RL Radio Farda Persian Facebook post was showing 1,300 Facebook “Likes” and 103 Comments after three hours.
VOA Facebook “Likes” and comments stats are disastrously low not just on this story, but on most other VOA news stories — not just in English, but also in Persian, Russian and in other languages, with only a few rare exceptions.
BBG Watch has been told by many VOA journalists, that this dismal VOA audience engagement through social media on a big news day like Thursday, and in fact most of the time, is not the fault of VOA Newsroom reporters who have been working under incredibly bad leaders. The VOA Newsroom and web staff has been decimated, while the bureaucracy kept growing.
This is not a new development. This disaster has been in the making for several years under the leadership of VOA Director David Ensor, VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, and some former members of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) management team. David Ensor and Steve Redisch are still firmly in charge of VOA. Some of IBB executives are still with the BBG.
One VOA Newsroom journalist told us that VOA’s extremely poor social media performance is also not the fault of interim VOA Newsroom manager David Jones. This is a leadership and structural problem affecting the entire Voice of America and most of the federal part of the BBG. The new VOA managing news editor, Clara Dominguez, VOA Latin America Division Director, who is expected to start in her new post on Monday, will inherit problems that are structural and caused by top leaders who are not departing.
A common excuse from VOA top executives for poor social media stats has been that while VOA English performance may be inadequate, most of VOA audiences get their VOA news in languages other then English. Thursday’s Facebook stats show that VOA’s performance on social media is dismal for many VOA language services, including Persian and Russian. Another excuse often advanced by VOA executives is that local broadcasting and the Internet are blocked in some countries. In this case, however, BBC, DW, and RFE/RL face the same restrictions in Iran and in Russia.
VOA English Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11:11 PM ET
As of 11:11 PM ET Thursday, VOA’s main nuclear deal report in English, “‘Framework’ Deal Reached at Iran Nuclear Talks | VOA News” is showing on the VOA English website 206 Facebook “Shares,” 85 Tweets and 16 comments.
It should be noted that VOA English news never posted a separate news report on President Obama’s statement, as RT did. It is still possible to see the video of President Obama’s statement within the RT news report, but not within the VOA English news report. Also keep in mind that this VOA English news report has been online almost all day and was sporadically updated.
VOA Persian Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11:55 PM ET
VOA Persian report on President Obama’s statement, “اوباما: امروز به «درک تاریخی» با ایران رسیدیم | VOA Persian” is showing on the VOA Persian Service website only 364 Facebook “Likes/Shares,” 23 Tweets and no comments as of 11:35 PM ET Thursday.
RT Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11:12 PM ET
As of 11:12 PM ET Thursday, RT’s news report, “Obama: Historic deal reached on Iran nuclear program | RT,” is showing over 3,700 Facebook “Likes/Shares,” 653 Tweets, and 692 comments.
VOA Russian Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11:42 PM ET
As of 11:42 PM ET, VOA Russian Service report, “Обама: достигнута историческая договоренность с Ираном | VOA Russian,” is showing on the VOA Russian Service website only 26 Facebook “Likes/Recommend,” 35 Tweets and zero comments.
Ultimate Disaster for VOA on Facebook
VOA social media stats on VOA English, Persian, and Russian websites were dismal on the Iran nuclear deal story, but they were even more disastrous on the Facebook pages of these respective services when compared with Facebook pages of BBC, Russia’s RT, RFE/RL Radio Farda, Deutsche Welle, Iran’s Press TV, and even the U.S. State Department.
It is apparent that VOA English, Persian and Iranian Services were uploading their Facebook posts on the Iran nuclear deal story later than other international media outlets. VOA had fewer Facebook post than most other major international media organizations, and compared to them, VOA services had dismally small numbers of Facebook “Likes” and Comments on their Facebook pages.
VOA English Facebook Apr. 02, 2015 8:33 PM ET
RT English Facebook Apr. 02, 2015 8:43 PM ET
BBC English Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:34 PM ET
Iran’s Press TV Facebook Apr. 02 2015 9:48 PM ET
U.S. Department of State Facebook Apr. 02 2015 9:45 PM ET
VOA Russian Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:47 PM ET
VOA Persian Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:30 PM ET
DW Persian Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:29 PM ET
BBC Persian Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:28 PM ET
RFE/RL Radio Farda Persian Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:14 PM ET
RFE/RL Radio Farda Persian Facebook Apr. 02 2015 8:14 PM ET