BBG Watch Commentary
As Voice of America (VOA) and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) directors preach at an event in Washington about the importance of audience engagement through social media, VOA posts today a Reuters report on a major U.S. and international news story which only gets 1 Facebook “Like” even after hours of being online, while Al Jazeera, BBC, and Russia Today get thousands of Facebook “Likes” for their original news reports on the same topic.
Also Read a More Recent BBG Watch Report: “Voice of America English News fails to report on Obama meeting with Cuban dissidents.”
It was interesting to see Voice of America (VOA) Director David Ensor and soon to retire International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo to preach about social media while VOA news reporting and VOA social media outreach have essentially disintegrated under their management, or to put it more accurately mismanagement by them and their top deputies.
We are wondering how Director Ensor would explain to an American and international audience in Washington that the VOA English news website posted recently not one but five reports on the royal christening in Great Britain, for which it got not more than a few dozen Facebook “Likes”?
How would he and Director Lobo explain that the Voice of America completely misses major news stories, under-reports about others or posts Reuters news items — none of which also results in more than a few Facebook “Likes,” very few Tweets and almost zero comments from readers.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, BBC and Russia Today, reporting on these news stories, gather hundreds, thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of Facebook “Likes,” Tweets, and comments from readers.
Ensor and Lobo should be at work addressing these serious management and news reporting problems at the Voice of America — not talking to audiences about their non-existent achievements in social media outreach, wasting U.S. taxpayers’ money and contributing to lowering even further already record poor employee morale.
Voice of America senior correspondents and broadcasters have been complaining for years to the top management that the news reporting system at VOA has been completely broken and that senior managers have made it impossible for them to have a say in how the VOA news website is run or even to be able to get their news reports posted online in a timely and professional manner.
The additional irony in the bragging about social media is that Director Ensor has not updated his official and public Facebook page in months. But his Facebook page shows that on October 21 he had checked on the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates being held in Warsaw, which the VOA English news website failed to report on while posting stories on the British royal christening and finishing schools in Switzerland.
Even today, VOA was only able post a short news report from Reuters on Edward Snowden getting a website job in Russia, which showed only 1 Facebook “Like” this morning, and still had 1 in late afternoon. At the same time, Al Jazeera, BBC, and Russia Today news stories on the same topic showed hundreds of Facebook “Likes” and their social media outreach and audience engagement numbers kept growing all the time — Russia Today’s story reached over 2,000 Facebook “Likes” to 1 (one) for VOA. As of late afternoon, this Reuters-VOA story still also had only 5 Tweets, 0 Google+ and no comments from online readers.
News stories that the VOA English website failed to report on recently included the death of Poland’s first post-communist PM and the White House statement about it, the appeal of Nobel Peace Prize laureates for the release from prison of Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, American actress Sharon Stone receiving the Nobel Peace Award for her activism on behalf of AIDS victims, the Anna Politkovskaya Human Rights Award for Pakistani girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai, Malala’s visit to the U.S. and her numerous media interviews, the Lech Walesa Human Rights Award for Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The list goes on and on.
The Voice of America English website also ignored a recent news about Chen Guangcheng receiving an academic fellowship from the Catholic University of America and the whole controversy over pressure from Beijing being applied against American institutions helping Chinese dissidents.
On the meeting of President Obama with Malala at the White House, China’s CCTV posted quickly a Xinhua news report that put late and inadequate VOA English news report to shame. The CCTV-Xinhua report was both comprehensive and balanced, the VOA report was not.
We could not overlook the irony in these sentences in the BBG press release on international travels of IBB and VOA executives:
“Following the two panel discussions, participants took part in a reception at the residence of German Ambassador Peter Ammon. RIAS chairman Erik Bettermann, IBB Director Dick Lobo, a member of the RIAS Commission Board, and former Ambassador Robert Kimmitt were also spotted mingling with the crowd of German and American journalists.”
We were told that in the past, RIAS paid Director Lobo’s travel costs to attend RIAS meetings in Berlin, Germany, but let’s not kid ourselves, these trips still cost U.S. taxpayers a lot of money when top executives are traveling or even going to events in Washington and not attending to urgent business back at “dysfunctional” and “defunct” agency, to use the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Director Lobo has already announced that he is retiring at the end of November. There has been no such announcement yet from Director Ensor or from their top deputies.
Sources told BBG Watch that the new chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Jeff Shell, reportedly had put a stop to a planned trip to Paris in December by a large group of IBB and VOA executives to attend an international broadcasting conference and ordered that a much smaller number be allowed to attend. He, with the support of the renewed BBG board, is reportedly planning major management reforms, which may explain why IBB and VOA executives are trying to get as much international travel done now before these reforms kick in.
BBG Press Release
OCTOBER 31, 2013
Is social media changing the way journalists do their work and communicate with their audience?
That was the subject of a panel discussion, moderated by VOA Director David Ensor, at an event hosted on October 25th by the Goethe Institut, the RIAS Berlin Commission and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Joining Ensor were two of VOA’s social media mavens: Yulia Savchenko, co-host of the Russian Service show Podelis, and Sophat Soeung, the VOA Khmer Service’s new media coordinator.
“A lot of people still think of us as being just on radio, when in fact we are multimedia, which includes television, and the web and especially social media and mobile platforms,” Ensor said. “As VOA Director, I oversee 45 languages services and I like to say we have 45 different marketing strategies.”
Sociologist Theodore Gerber of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who has studied the impact of social media on the political landscape in Russia, joined the discussion via Skype.
Earlier in the day, award-winning VOA Persian journalist Arash Sigarchi participated in a separate panel “New Media – New Freedom?” which explored the impact social media is having in the democratic developments of a state.
Following the two panel discussions, participants took part in a reception at the residence of German Ambassador Peter Ammon. RIAS chairman Erik Bettermann, IBB Director Dick Lobo, a member of the RIAS Commission Board, and former Ambassador Robert Kimmitt were also spotted mingling with the crowd of German and American journalists.
Since 1992, the RIAS Berlin Commission has been working to increase German-American understanding in the field of broadcasting and has hosted many VOA reporters on its fellowship program. Panelist Sophat Soeung recently returned from a two-week exchange in Germany.