BBG Watch Commentary
According to BuzzFeed article, “Exclusive: New York Times Internal Report Painted Dire Digital Picture” by Myles Tanzer, BuzzFeed, May 15, 2014, “a 96-page internal New York Times report, sent to top executives last month by a committee led by the publisher’s son and obtained by BuzzFeed, paints a dark picture of a newsroom struggling more dramatically than is immediately visible to adjust to the digital world, a newsroom that is hampered primarily by its own storied culture.”
If The New York Times with 11.8M Twitter followers is worried about its digital future, what have Voice of America (VOA) and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives been doing in the last few years?
Voice of America English News with only 103K Twitter Followers worldwide (with many in the US, which VOA is not supposed to target) is even behind such organizations, which are not even news organizations, as UN Peacekeeping. UN Peacekeeping has 119K Twitter followers, a few thousand more than VOA English News. Apparently UN Peacekeeping knows better than VOA what it does and what it puts online. The main UN Twitter account has 2.6 million Followers.
The U.S. State Department Twitter has vastly more Followers (906K) than VOA English News (103K). It appears that U.S. public diplomacy English language outreach run by the State Department beats current VOA English News journalism in a big way.
The State Department is not known for quick responses, but its public diplomacy response to the crisis in Ukraine was far faster, more comprehensive, and much more effective than VOA’s journalistic response.
For many weeks, VOA executives were not giving VOA Ukrainian and Russian services resources to quickly update their news sites and social media pages with new reports. VOA Ukrainian Service did, however, do an amazing job of reporting U.S. reactions from Washington, especially with its TV program, despite its shortage of staff and lack of help.
RFE/RL’s response at the senior executive level, on the other hand, was well organized and quick, even though RFE/RL’s budget is much smaller than VOA’s. RFE/RL is better managed and knows its mission.
What is then VOA English News niche? It appears not have one, or more precisely, it was given one by the U.S. Congress, but VOA executives apparently don’t want some parts of it, particularly Part 3.
No wonder that organizations such as UN Peacekeeping, which know what their mission is and stick to it, can attract more Twitter Followers than VOA English News, which is even far more behind Al Jazzeera English (1.95M), BBC English (6.28M), and Russia’s RT English (658K).
Ironically, VOA English News recently retweeted a tweet from an RT photographer who was the first one or one of the first ones to post the tweet mocking Michelle Obama and President Obama over the call for the release of kidnapped Nigerian girls and making a propaganda point.
The tweet from RT photographer used by VOA was a different one, not the one mocking Michelle Obama, but questionable in terms of accuracy and objectivity. VOA News, however, presented several RT tweets as perfectly legitimate contributions to international news reporting without any comment or disclaimer.
But when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement on the 70th anniversary of Crimean Tatars deportation by Joseph Stalin, VOA English News failed to report it. Recently, VOA English News ignored another news story involving Secretary Kerry while posting a report about Justin Bieber.
I think this BBG Watch presentation clearly shows why VOA English News, specifically VOA executives, are confused about their mission, do not know what their niche is or should be, and why VOA News social media outreach is so dismally poor, even compared to UN Peacekeeping.
The VOA Charter clearly states what Voice of America’s niche should be. VOA executives are in fact obligated by U.S. law to adhere to the VOA Charter. They do not, especially Part 3, but also Part 1 when they fail to arrange for reporting of significant news. They also are not doing very well on Part 2.
1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)
Voice of America Director David Ensor says that “VOA is not be a mouthpiece for the White House.” It is one thing, however, to be a mouthpiece (repeat everything in full without any questioning, debate and criticism) and another to report legitimate news generated by the U.S. government or about the U.S. government, including reactions from its supporters and its many critics in the United States and abroad. The truth, if reported, will eventually prevail. It might even generate some interest abroad in Voice of America’s news stories on Twitter — more so than for countless VOA reports on the British royal family and Canadian pop star Justin Bieber.