BBG Watch has learned Thursday evening from Voice of America (VOA) journalists that director Amanda Bennett may have intervened to get the VOA Central English Newsroom to advance the U.S. police shootings story and to focus on it after VOA editors relegated it to a relatively low position in the USA News page lineup and delayed updates Thursday afternoon. She was, however, unable to get the VOA English News Facebook page updated with the Dallas story until about 3:30 AM ET Friday. We could not confirm whether she had left any specific instructions with regard to updating the VOA Facebook page.
On Wednesday, the VOA newsroom was nearly four hours late in reporting on the phone call between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday, VOA did not stream live President Obama’s statement on the earlier shootings of African American men by the police, which he made after his arrival in Warsaw Poland for the NATO summit. VOA had a chance to do better than BBC by streaming live President Obama’s statement on its website but failed to do it. BBC also did not stream President Obama’s statement live, but some U.S. media outlets did.
VOA journalists blame late and otherwise inadequate coverage on poor management and staff shortages in the newsroom. VOA is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is both a bipartisan board and a federal agency. Bennett has been VOA director since April of this year. Her immediate boss, BBG CEO John Lansing, has been on the job since September 2015. Bennett has been encouraging VOA employees to communicate with her immediately and directly about any major issues interfering with objective and balanced news reporting and any other serious work-related problems requiring urgent attention. It is not known whether she herself noticed inadequate coverage of the story or was alerted by VOA journalists or outside observers.
After the Voice of America director’s reported intervention due to complaints she may have received, VOA’s coverage of the U.S. police shootings story has improved noticeably on the VOA website, but other media outlets, including BBC, Russia’s RT, Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), and Radio France Internationale (RFI) were still far ahead of the Voice of America throughout the evening on Thursday and into the night on Friday in updating their reports with the latest casualty figures from the apparent revenge shooting of policemen in Dallas, TX, and providing other information. During the evening, BBC and RT started offering live updates on the story curated on their websites by their own reporters while VOA did not.
As incredible as it may seem, the Voice of America was not updating its VOA English News Facebook page with the Dallas story Thursday evening or early Friday morning, as consecutive screenshots of the VOA Facebook page show. It seems that any instructions that may have come from the VOA director were not sufficient to get the VOA Facebook page updated for many hours during the unfolding crisis in Dallas.
[4:00 AM UPDATE: The first VOA Facebook post on the Dallas situation was uploaded at about 3:30 AM ET Friday, many hours after the shooting started and police officers were killed. RT had four Facebook posts on Dallas before 3:30 AM and a fifth one at about 4:00 AM. BBC had four Facebook posts on Dallas during the same time. DW had one. RFI in French had two.]
Unlike the Voice of America which failed to update its VOA News Facebook page for many hours, BBC, DW, and RT have been posting to Facebook photos, videos and updates on the Dallas situation all evening Thursday and Friday night, with RT and BBC being most active.
The only short live updates on the VOA site were in the form of the poorly visible homepage tweet stream. As incredible as it may seem, these tweets came from VOA correspondent Steve Herman who is apparently still based in Bangkok, Thailand. They did not come from any of the VOA reporters in Washington or elsewhere in the United States who it seems do not work after 5 p.m. even when a truly major U.S. news story breaks.
BBG Watch could not determine how exactly VOA director Amanda Bennett got the VOA newsroom to improve its coverage of the police shootings and the Dallas shootings and whether any additional staffers were assigned to work in the newsroom late in the evening and at night. VOA newsroom is usually almost completely deserted after Washington business hours and on weekends even though the Broadcasting Board of Governors has several thousand employees and contractors. The BBG’s budget is $777 million (FY 2017 Budget Request). Critics say that much of the agency’s money is wasted on the bureaucracy with its countless high-paying management and non-programming positions.
Even though after the apparent intervention by the VOA director, the coverage of the shootings became more prominent and slightly faster on the VOA English news website, at 12:06 AM ET, VOA was still reporting “at least two police officers reported shot.” Meanwhile, BBC, DW, and RT were already reporting on the official police announcement that three officers were dead.
Audience engagement on the VOA website for the Dallas shootings story is almost non-existent. At 3:00 AM ET, the VOA story with no live updates is showing only 18 Facebook “Recommends” and zero comments. The RT report with live updates is showing over 1,100 Facebook “Likes” and/or “Recommends” and 225 comments.
Unless VOA correspondent in Bangkok, Thailand, Steve Herman, has already returned to Washington, it seems likely that VOA was relying on its overseas reporter thousands of miles away to tweet about a major news event unfolding in the United States because its reporters in Washington or in any other U.S. city are normally not working in the evenings. That’s how disorganized and poorly managed the Voice of America still is at this time despite having new VOA director and new BBG CEO. Critics of the agency say that only radical reform and restructuring by Congress can make save the BBG from being, in the words of Hillary Clinton, “practically defunct.”
At about 7:30 PM the Voice of America still did not have the police shootings story as the major lead while BBC and most other media did. At that time, the police shootings story was only number four item in USA News on the VOA mobile website. It may have been somewhat higher earlier.
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At 4:18 AM ET Friday there is still not a single comment under the VOA Dallas Shootings report.
The RT Dallas shootings report is showing 286 comments but we can’t determine how many of them are genuine and how many may have been posted by trolls.
At 5:00 AM ET, the Dallas shootings report is showing only 38 Facebook “Recommends” on the VOA website and still zero comments, while the RT report is showing over 1,600 Facebook “Likes” and/or “Recommends” and 293 comments. We can’t determine, however, whether all “Likes” are genuine, a result of troll activity, or obtained through the post being boosted with a Facebook ad.