Voice of America reporters horrified by decline of VOA journalistic standards

BBG Watch Commentary

A former Voice of America (VOA) correspondent who during his long career with taxpayer-funded VOA had senior reporting assignments both abroad and in the United States wrote the following in a closed VOA online group (the comments were forwarded by others to BBG Watch) about the Voice of America posting online photos of Palestinian conjoined twins:

“There was no accompanying story. It was simple voyeurism, an abuse of those poor babies.” Former VOA journalist’s comments were reported to us by other members of the VOA online group.

The former VOA senior correspondent informed other members of the online group that a search revealed a similar picture from India posted by the Voice of America in February.

“These are not world news. These are the worst kind of exploitative, pandering click bait,” the former VOA reporter wrote.

The journalist called these photos “an affront to the name ‘Voice of America,’ a betrayal of the credibility built over decades and an insult to the American taxpayers who fund the organization.”

“Is there anyone left in the building who knows what the Voice of America is supposed to be?,” the former VOA journalist asked, others reported.

A VOA reporter who still works for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency headed by CEO John F. Lansing whose background is in commercial entertainment TV, observed in response to these comments, as we were told:

“There’s more and more of that stuff,…, unfortunately.”

The VOA journalist is right. Some of the best reports written by experienced VOA reporters get almost no online traction and audience engagement as journalistic standards and adherence to the VOA Charter have declined under Voice of America director Amanda Bennett (featured photo) and her boss, BBG’s John Lansing, many internal and outside critics of the agency’s management have pointed out.

At the same time, the Broadcasting Board of Governors bureaucracy claims “A record for Voice of America’s global audience growth.” Internal and external critics dismiss these claims as both misleading and meaningless.

One outside observer wrote:

“The alleged 278-million weekly audience, divided among 40 language services within VOA alone, gets diluted very, very quickly when it comes to any measure of sustained resonance in light of:
 
1. questionable paid and unpaid placement in countries that have free media;
 
2. self-censorship to achieve such questionable placement; and
 
3. production of embarrassing animal videos, some of which not only make the United States and American taxpayers look ridiculous in the eyes of worldwide audiences but on occasion help to promote Russian propaganda narratives.”

As former Voice of America senior White House correspondent Dan Robinson wrote in an article for the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy CPD Blog BBG “CEO John Lansing and VOA director Amanda Bennett are busy issuing upbeat memos, including one containing this whopper: a claim that the BBG weekly worldwide audience rose across all delivery platforms, from 226 million to 278 million—in one year.”

“As the saying goes,” Dan Robinson noted, “if you believe this then I have a used car, or a bridge, to sell you. Or as one of my former VOA colleagues puts it: ‘It’s incredible, because it’s not credible’.”

All one needs to do is to look at the number of Facebook Likes and Comments for VOA’s, RT’s, and BBC’s Castro posts.

“So we can respond with alacrity to a plane crash in Colombia, but we’re hours late with the Castro death?,” one VOA reporter noted, commenting on the fact that while VOA did have an early news story on Castro’s death on the VOA website, it did not have an obituary and waited hours to post more content on social media.

Both Russia’s RT and BBC had their first Facebook post on Castro’s death about ten (10) hours before VOA posted its first full-content Facebook post (not counting the breaking news headline and a photo gallery, which had been posted earlier).

Another VOA reporter complained to us that regular VOA newsroom reporters, writers and editors do not have permission to post to social media.

After several hours, the RT Castro Facebook post had: RT – 11,000 Likes; RT – 11,000 Shares; RT – 1,100 Comments.

The BBC post had: BBC – 56,000 Likes; BBC – 37,168 Shares; BBC – 3,683 Comments.

The VOA Castro Facebook post had: VOA – 379 Likes; VOA – 19 Shares; VOA – 13 Comments.

It’s hard to imagine a greater humiliation for the Voice of America.

“This exposes the newsroom and its management. When the opportunity arose to respond to a major breaking news story they were caught flat footed,” a highly frustrated VOA reporter wrote to us.

“The performance here was just awful,” the VOA reporter added.

Former and current VOA journalists and other international communications experts were also reacting later to a VOA click-bait video showing a Russian toy tank built for a cat.

“Hahaha.. we’ve deteriorated to a cruel joke,” a senior VOA foreign corespondent who is still with the agency commented.

Another experienced multilingual journalist who still works at VOA wrote:

“Ridiculous! Whoever approved this and [similar VOA Facebook posts] has no clue about international affairs and what VOA ought to be and what programs are appropriate for international audiences. Very likely no one takes VOA seriously these days.”

A longtime Broadcasting Board of Governors communications expert, who is also still with the agency, wrote:

“Which part of the charter does this news story follow:

1. News

2. The American Experience

3. Policy

I think my answer is:

None of the above.”

One of VOA’s best video production specialists wrote:

“Scary ain’t it. VOA is circling the drain unless something drastic happens soon.”

A VOA reporter suggested that Broadcasting Board of Governors and Voice of America management is perhaps already posting online content reserved for BBG/VOA “Holiday Follies.”

Holiday Follies
 
Everyone is invited to the annual VOA Newsroom Holiday Follies on Wednesday, December 14 beginning at 2 p.m. in the first floor briefing room. This hour-long program features many of our VOA colleagues singing, dancing and appearing in comedy skits. It’s always a great show. Seating is limited so make sure you get there early.

A multilingual VOA journalist who also still works for the Broadcasting Board of Governors simply said:

What a shame.

A former high-level Voice of America official commented:

“I don’t know what’s worse, knowing a top editor approved devoting resources to this [Russian Tank Cat Video], or didn’t even know about it.”

An observer of BBG programs who lives in Eastern Europe observed:

“God, as if we haven’t seen enough such Russian tanks here in Europe!”

An American author who writes about propaganda and disinformation, including Russian propaganda, said:

“Hahahaha. Some folks have WAYYYY too much time on their hands.”

Commenting on VOA’s babies video, a former senior VOA executive wrote, as reported to us by others,:

“I have seen a number of Voice of America posts, most of them Hilary bashing and crazy things out of the blue.”

The Voice of America has posted also a number of Donald Trump bashing videos and reports, as well as one-sided attacks on Senator Bernie Sanders, and even an unproven accusation against Senate Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid.

 


 

ALSO SEE: No Change of Leadership at Broadcasting Board of Governors, CEO John Lansing assures employees, BBG Watch, November 29, 2016

 
A former Voice of America foreign correspondent wrote:

“So it’s worse than we thought. There’s a weekly report from Worldwide English on the top click-bait they’ve put on Facebook. Among this week’s best….”heartbreaking” video of a baby elephant trying to wake up its dead mother, and a newborn rhino getting its first bath! In terms of hard news…the winner is…Obama pardons a turkey!”

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Voice of America (VOA) Top American stories on Facebook (Reactions, Comments, and Shares):

1. Photo story: President Obama pardoned national thanksgiving turkeys for the final time. – 13.4K reactions, 120 comments, 531 shares
2. Photo story: President Obama presented his final Presidential Medal of Freedom awards– 9.7K reactions, 115 comments, 521 shares
3. Photo story: President Obama and First Lady served Thanksgiving meals to residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home.– 7.1K reactions, 76 comments, 36 shares
4. Quote Poster: President Barack Obama reached out to the Cuban people following the news of the news of the death of Fidel Castro. – 3.7K reactions, 84 comments, 261 shares
5. Photo story: First lady Michelle Obama welcomed this year’s official White House Christmas tree Friday. – 3.6K reactions, 53 comments, 200 shares

Voice of America (VOA) Top Facebook Videos by Views:

1. Warning: Do not try to fry a frozen turkey – 304.2K views
2. Authorities issue flood warnings in northern Italy – 141.2K views
3. Nigerian footballer attempts to make a record by cycling with a football on his head.– 131.6K views
4. Heartbreaking scene as baby elephant tries to ‘wake up’ dying mother in India.– 121K views
5. A newborn baby rhino in Iowa got her first bath. – 87.1K views

Voice of America (VOA) Top Tweets (Retweets, Likes):

1. Video: Warning: Do not try to fry a frozen turkey. Happy Thanksgiving! – 1332 retweets, 595 likes
2. Link: Amnesty: Military Killed 150 Pro-Biafra Separatists in Nigeria – 137 retweets, 21 likes
3. Video clip: .@POTUS and @FLOTUS serving dinner at the Armed Forces Retirement Home #thanksgiving – 135 retweets, 176 likes
4. Link: Report: Fidel Castro Dies at Age 90 – 133 retweets, 56 likes
5. Video clip: President elect @realDonaldTrump celebrates victory with family #Election2016 #ElectionNight – 180 retweets, 135 likes
6. President-elect @realDonaldTrump on Castro’s passing: “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator.” – 111 retweets, 126 likes
7. Photo story: #Argentine soccer legend #Maradona mourns long-time friend #Castro’s death: “I’m terribly sad as he was like a second father.”– 95 retweets, 110 likes
8. Video: Fires burning across #Israel, residents evacuated in country’s third largest city of Haifa.– 82 retweets, 76 likes
9. Link: 150 Biafra Separatists Killed in Crackdown: Report – 78 retweets, 21 likes
10. Video clip: .@POTUS Obama on Bill and Melinda Gates: These two have donated more money to charitable causes than anyone ever – 78 retweets, 201 likes

 
 
 

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2 Comments

  1. VOA Journalist

    On what basis does Mr. Lansing really believe he is working with a “fabulous management team,” as Ms. Bennett branded the agency’s failed leadership?

  2. VOAWatcher

    Amanda Bennett started a Facebook page that was meant to provide a forum for VOA employees to discuss issues of concern, or post interesting, morale-boosting news. Early on in this experiment, the page devolved from a forum to share concerns and discuss issues related to journalism to an electronic photo album of Bennett posing awkwardly with language services. Posts to do with questions of ethics or concern about content were killed by the moderator. Then Bennett started posting trivia about employees, like alerting the building about a security guard training for a long distance race. Now the page is an embarrassing display of brown nosers hitting “like” and posting comments meant to impress the bosses. IF this isn’t a great example of an agency-wide problem I don’t know what is. A Facebook page is free. She can’t claim that a problem can’t be addressed because of lack of resources. Instead, her people … squelch uncomfortable topics and instead focus on happy clappy, while the cheerleaders rush to give a thumbs up.

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