BBG Watch Commentary

Social MediaThis commentary describes how Voice of America was “Digital Last” in its handing of an interview with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The author of “Digital Last at Voice of America with John Kerry – Good Enough for Government Work” is a former Voice of America correspondent who wants to remain anonymous.

Digital Last at Voice of America with John Kerry – Good Enough for Government Work

By A Former VOA Correspondent

There may be more in the way of background to this that we don’t know, but think of it — if CNN, BBC, MSNBC, FOX interview Kerry, the president, or some other high official during a road trip, audiences would never see only a still photo unrelated to the interview, a late posted transcript and a SKYPE interview only with the correspondent.

(There was no video, no photo, no Facebook post, no YouTube, no correspondent report in on-demand online radio newscasts about VOA interview with Kerry, no social media engagement of any significance compared to what BBC, CNN, or RT regularly get. Read our report. Editor’s note.)

Most assuredly, there is video. That is what these fully-resourced media organizations do for a living. The State Department knows this, and would never think of arranging a no-camera interview with major networks, unless conditions absolutely ruled it out.

This latest episode reflects what appears to be an ongoing reality. VOA’s main correspondents do not work for an organization capable of rapidly mobilizing resources to respond to opportunities that may arise, or ensuring that when they leave on a trip accompanying the Secretary of State or other official, that VOA has a two-person video-capable team on the plane, or locally as a paid contractor.

There is no way on a trip like this with its minute to minute timing imposed by U.S. officials that a correspondent (even one fully video-capable) could, or should, be messing around with setting up cameras or lighting. And this is not the first time VOA missed a major opportunity for a video interview with a high-ranking U.S. official because VOA wasn’t fully capable from the point of departure through the course of a foreign trip.

In recent remarks in Washington (to the American Foreign Service Association) Ensor said this: “Let me just tell you that being a state broadcaster has its advantages…frankly the prestige of being a state broadcaster opens doors for us.”

Hmmmm . . . so let’s see — here was a case in which no special door had to be opened for VOA, because the State Department had already opened the door for. . . . EVERYONE. And VOA for whatever reason as yet unexplained, showed up empty-handed when it came to being fully video-capable (and social media-capable. Editor’s note)

Also — VOA managers including director David Ensor and Executive Editor Steve Redisch, both of whom worked for CNN and other network television, and those in Voice of America’s newsroom have been touting their so-called “Digital First” strategy, of which this interview appears have been a major test.

The BBG Watch analysis of what appeared and when, and comparison to VOA’s major competitor the BBC, paints yet another picture of the roadrunner versus the tortoise. And repeatedly as we have seen, it’s not a pretty picture. It shows a well-oiled BBC aggressively-focused on ensuring that it dominates breaking news and social media flow on the Internet. (But Kerry is U.S. Secretary of State and Voice of America is, well, a taxpayer-funded U.S. news outlet with its Charter calling for exactly this kind of news coverage of U.S. officials. Editor’s note.)

One wonders how many examples and embarrassments have to emerge from the Cohen Building before true accountability (not just shuffling the deck chairs) occurs for the numerous foul-ups.” Until that happens, chalk this one up as just another example of “good enough for government work” at the VOA.”

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