BBG Watch Commentary
America is calling, but is anyone looking at Voice of America news content on social media and on VOA English and foreign language websites? VOA was not only hours late in posting to Facebook on the debate; its post is showing only 200 Likes compared to BBC’s post which is showing over 16,000 Likes. VOA English News “Live” Tweets from the debate show almost no re-Tweets. VOA Russian Service was late in reporting on the debate of Democratic presidential hopefuls in Las Vegas, NV, and did just as poorly in audience engagement.
U.S. taxpayers may assume that when Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and other Democratic presidential hopefuls spoke about Syria, Vladimir Putin and Edward Snowden during their debate earlier this week in Las Vegas, the Voice of America (VOA), which costs about $200 million per year in federal money, would have a natural advantage in keeping the world informed about these comments with social media posts and online reports in English, Russian and other languages. Unfortunately, that is not the case. After years of mismanagement and diversion of resources from journalism to its federal agency’s (Broadcasting Board of Governors – BBG) bureaucracy, VOA is no longer the choice for international audiences for U.S. news. The BBG’s entire annual budget from the U.S. Treasury is about $740 million.
BBC English News as of early Friday afternoon shows over 16,000 Likes for its Facebook post on the debate which was loaded while the debate was still taking place. VOA English News did not load its Facebook post on the debate until 8 AM the next morning.
The VOA Facebook video post reveals nothing about what was said during the debate on foreign policy issues and as of early Friday afternoon is showing only 200 Likes.
Even Germany’s Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Facebook post on the debate is showing slightly more Likes (240) than the VOA English News post and about the same number of comments.
VOA Russian Service Facebook post on the debate was not loaded until slightly before 11 AM EDT the next morning (Wednesday). As of early Friday afternoon, the VOA Russian Facebook post is showing only 12 Likes and 2 Comments. According to one statistic, there are 13.1 million Facebook users in Russia.
BBC Russian Service loaded its Facebook post at 12:35 AM EDT. As of early Friday afternoon, the BBC Russian post shows 86 Likes and 46 Comments.
BBC, and in the United States The Washington Post and nearly every major U.S. news organization were posting on Facebook during the debate; the Voice of America was not. The U.S. State Department did not post anything on Facebook on the Democratic hopefuls’ debate, but when it does post on various U.S. foreign policy issues, it usually gets far greater number of Likes than VOA English News posts.
VOA did not do much better on Twitter even though it had “Live” Tweets on the debate. With the new Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John F. Lansing at the helm for the last few weeks, VOA had not one but three of its English news correspondents Tweeting during the event in Las Vegas. Such “Live” Twitter coverage most likely would not have happened before John Lansing came on board in September. The impact of these VOA News Tweets with any English-speaking international audiences, however, was practically non-existent judging by their minimal number of re-Tweets and Favorites.
Having lost much os its news reporting reputation in past years, VOA English News Tweets on the debate had almost zero traction. Most of them showed zero re-Tweets and no Favorites. A few had one or two re-Tweets.
VOA Russian Service had no Tweets during the debate. Even worse, all VOA news reports filed much later had minimal context and analysis of foreign policy issues raised during the debate. VOA’s Twitter presence is minimal. Fugitive American spy Edward Snowden who was given refuge in Russia, @Snowden, has more Twitter followers (1.51 million) than VOA English News, @VOANews, (306K).
Compare this dismal VOA social media performance to BBC English senior North America reporter Anthony Zurcher’s @awzurcher Tweets during the Las Vegas debate. Not all of his Tweets produce an overwhelming response, but one of Zurcher’s Tweets during the debate shows 107 re-Tweets and 152 Favorites; some of the others show dozens.
The most re-Tweets one of the three VOA English correspondents got for one of his Tweets during the debate was six; most Tweets show zero. With some of most senior VOA reporters making over $150,000 per year in salary alone, these were some of the most expensive Tweets and re-Tweets in the world.
With three VOA English Newsroom reporters tweeting during the debate without any evidence of audience engagement, VOA Newsroom’s first online report on the debate mentioned neither Vladimir Putin nor Edward Snowden. One former VOA English Newsroom reporter observed:
“The Washington Post, for example, posted online meaty, detailed items with their own headlines, and images, while VOA had only these anemic Tweets from three reporters. You have to ask yourself why someone would specifically seek out VOA for “LIVE” Tweet coverage of the debate in English, over going to Washington Post, BBC or almost any other organization.”
But the story does not end with VOA’s English news poor online performance. With Clinton and Sanders making strong statements about Vladimir Putin, Edward Snowden and other U.S. foreign policy issues, U.S. taxpayers may assume that foreign audiences would at least turn to VOA for online news coverage and social media in Russian and in other foreign languages. It would be an entirely wrong assumption.
First of all, at least the mobile version of the VOA Russian website was either not being updated for a few days or malfunctioned on the night of the debate. The lead story, the bomb blast in Ankara, Turkey, was two days old, from October 10, while some of the other stories were from October 13.
Note the interesting Playboy magazine images at the top of the VOA Russian mobile website screenshot.
VOA’s troubled Russian Service (all of VOA has been troubled for years) did not post its first online report on the debate until 2:47 AM EDT, Wednesday, October 14. It covered briefly remarks about Vladimir Putin and Syria, but not about Edward Snowden who is living in Russia. Three days later, the short VOA Russian online report on the debate is showing only 13 Tweets and 27 Facebook “Shares.”
Ironically, after the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate in Las Vegas had ended, VOA Russian Service first posted a translation of a Reuters’ report on Republican candidate Jeb Bush and made no mention of the Democrats debate. The Jeb Bush Reuters report, which did deal with his views on U.S. policy toward Russia, was posted at 12:59 AM, Wednesday, October 14.
As they were looking at the photo of Jeb Bush, visitors to VOA’s Russian website would have no idea at that time that the debate of Democratic presidential candidates had already taken place, that it had ended, and that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had made similar comments about Vladimir Putin and also spoke about Edward Snowden.
The Russian Service does deserve credit for reporting on what was Reuters’ exclusive interview with Jeb Bush covering Russian and other foreign policy issues, but as a news organization it had a duty to cover the Democratic candidates’ debate promptly and comprehensively, especially since they also made significant comments about Russia. Little wonder that the service has minimal social media traction in Russia compared to BBC and Radio Svoboda (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – RFE/RL, which is also overseen by the BBG). We found no evidence of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service reporting on the debate in Las Vegas. One also wonders why VOA Russian Service did not conduct its own exclusive interviews with Jeff Bush or Hillary Clinton. In 2013, while still serving as U.S. Secretary of State and ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Mrs. Clinton stated that the BBG is practically defunct in its ability to tell America’s story abroad.
Keeping in mind that this was primarily a U.S. news story, the BBC Russian Service was much more timely in reporting on the debate, both on its news website and on social media, and showed greater audience engagement.
BBC Russian Service loaded its Facebook post on the debate at 12:35 AM EDT; VOA Russian Service loaded its Facebook post on the debate at 10:59 AM EDT, ten hours later.
Back to VOA English
VOA English News loaded a Facebook post with a video on the debate the next morning at 8:07 AM which had nothing on what was said during the debate–not a word about Syria, Vladimir Putin or Edward Snowden even though VOA is supposed to target audiences abroad. The video was mostly about domestic support for various candidates. The VOA English News Facebook post had slightly better audience engagement stats, but minuscule compared to various BBC Facebook posts on the debate.
VOA Facebook post was loaded at 8:07 AM EDT October 14 and on Friday shows 218 Likes.
BBC Facebook post was loaded at 10:47 PM EDT October 14 and on Friday shows 16,024 Likes. Quite a difference in timeliness and audience engagement performance on social media. The first BBC Facebook post on the ongoing debate was even earlier at 9:01 PM EDT October 13. It shows now 3,711 Facebook Likes.