BBG Watch Commentary
On such an important news story as President Obama’s speech Thursday evening on immigration reform, executives in charge of U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America should have made sure that there was a good editor on duty in the VOA newsroom after regular business hours. The Voice of America report had embarrassing typos, was shorter than Russia’s RT report, and had fewer excerpts from President Obama’s speech than what RT included in its longer report.
President Obama’s immigration reform speech not only got more attention from Russia’s RT than from Voice of America. VOA failed to post even a single speech-related Tweet on VOA English News Twitter page and had no posts on the speech on the VOA English Facebook page as of 1:30 AM, Friday, November 21, 2014.
Russia’s RT had 5 (five) Tweets on President Obama’s speech, including this one:
— RT America (@RT_America) November 21, 2014
Nothing on President Obama’s speech on VOA English News Twitter page.
Nothing on President Obama’s speech on VOA English News Facebook page.
Needless to say, Russia’s RT had a Facebook post on President Obama’s speech, as did BBC and countless other major international and U.S. media outlets. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members, who oversee VOA operations, should ask David Ensor and Steve Redisch what happened to their “Digital First” initiative. There are certainly enough reporters at VOA who would want to and could have taken care of social media postings on Obama’s speech, but as usual, there was no leadership, no direction, and no management from the very top.
A secondary VOA English News Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/VOA-News/145869735428186, also had no post on President Obama’s speech as of 1:50 AM ET, Friday, November 21, 2014. As of 1:50 AM ET Friday, the VOA English Facebook post announcing President Obama’s speech on immigration reform was 14 hours old.
But at least this time, VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch had someone on duty to write the presidential speech story for the main VOA English news website as he spoke, which many times in past months and years under their leadership, would not have been the case.
The VOA website also streamed President Obama’s immigration reform speech live, which Ensor and Redisch were forced to do after numerous complaints from BBG Watch and others that reporting on other important presidential addresses was being delayed by VOA and sometimes ignored.
But VOA executives still failed to assign a good editor and enough reporters to offer comprehensive coverage for foreign audiences of one of the most important of President Obama’s speeches, with both domestic and foreign policy implications. They did absolutely nothing about social media. VOA once again got beaten on this story, not only by BBC, but also — in terms of reporting on the content of the speech itself, even by Russia’s RT.
In the past, VOA director, or at least VOA program director, would be in the building after regular business hours to oversee coverage of an important live presidential address. We could not confirm whether either David Ensor or Steve Redisch were in the building during Obama’s immigration reform speech, but if they were, it would make the lapses in VOA’s online and social media coverage look even worse. In our view, BBG Board should ask both of them to resign.
Even coverage on the VOA English news website was nothing to write home about. Unlike BBC and other professional news organizations, VOA was still not updating its homepage with live excerpts of key points from President Obama’s speech, but at least this time the news story itself was partially updated while the president was still speaking.
The main problem was that no one was editing the VOA story on President Obama’s speech as it was being posted.
The initial VOA news report on the presidential speech not only had a typo in the first sentence, but further in the text VOA could not decide whether Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was a Republican or a Democrat. It was probably again a typo, but after correctly identifying McConnell as a Republican, the same report then referred to him as “McConnell (D-Ken.).” Also, the most commonly used state abbreviation for Kentucky is “KY” rather than “Ken.” This was not the worst mistake, but the other embarrassing typos stayed on the VOA website for some time.
Senator McConnell’s party affiliation was still being misidentified in the VOA report while President Obama was speaking.
The VOA homepage was showing only one VOA report on President Obama’s immigration reform speech. The BBC homepage was showing links to 17 different reports, many of them with images. Inside the Voice of America English news website — but not on its homepage — VOA was showing only three new reports related to the main Obama immigration reform story. BBC was showing many related reports, both completely new and those written before the speech.
AS of 2:15 AM ET Friday, November 21, the VOA report, “Obama Unveils Sweeping Immigration Reform,” was showing 163 Facebook “Shares,” 15 Tweets and 7 comments from readers.
Russia’s RT report, “Obama extends deportation reprieve to 5 million undocumented immigrants,” was showing over 3,300 Facebook “Shares,” 320 Tweets and 133 comments from readers.
So much for Voice of America’s impact on social media or VOA English news being the primary international media outlet to seek important U.S. news abroad. Web traffic estimates from Alexa, an Amazon company, which are based on data from global traffic panel comprising of a sample of millions of Internet users using one of over 25,000 different browser extensions, show Voice of America’s English news website, voanews.com, as having 3,226 global rank. RT’s global rank is 289 while BBC’s global rank is 67. The rank of 1 is best and belongs to Google.com. Facebook.com is second followed by YouTube.com, Yahoo.com, and Baidu.com, the leading Chinese language search engine.
RT report on President Obama’s speech was also longer than the VOA report.
RT report had 1,194 words and included a video and three re-Tweets, including one from the White House.
The VOA report was shorter (1,069 words) than the RT report. RT also included much more extensive excerpts from President Obama’s speech than what Voice of America included in its typos-marred news report. We did not find any embarrassing typos in the RT report.
A White House Tweet included in the RT report.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 21, 2014
BBC Facebook post on Obama’s speech.