BBG Watch Commentary

Facebook “Likes” for Seven Top News Stories on English Websites, July 11, PM, Washington, DC Time

VOA 42 – Al Jazeera 15,823 – Russia Today 9,431 – BBC 2,517

Voice of America (VOA) English news website is consistently getting disastrously low social media engagement results for its top news, many of which are no longer originated by VOA but consist of short news items from Reuters.

A check in the late afternoon on July 11, Washington, DC time, showed that three out of top seven news on the Voice of America English website were from Reuters. The shortest Reuters news item had 245 words.

But the real social media engagement disaster can be seen in the extremely low Facebook “Recommend” or “Like” numbers.

Two of VOA’s top seven news stories had 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” on the VOA English-language main news website. Both were news items from Reuters, one on an international meeting on Iran’s nuclear power and the other on re-burying in Bosnia of Srebrenica massacre dead.

The other top stories on the VOA English website also did not do well in social media engagement numbers. The top VOA news story had 6, the second 7, the third 4, (forth and fifth from Reuters had 0), sixth had 2 and the seventh — the only one with original VOA video — had 23 Facebook “Likes.” It was a report on Ethiopia continuing construction of a controversial dam.

Numbers of Tweets for top VOA news stories were equally low. All top seven VOA news stories had 0 (zero) Google+ recommendations.

The total number of Facebook “Likes” for top seven Voice of America news stories on the VOA English website in the afternoon of July 11 was 42.

By comparison, seven top news stories on the Al Jazeera English website collected 15,823 Facebook “Likes.”

42 Facebook “Likes” for VOA English to 15,823 Facebook “Likes” for Al Jazeera.

One of the top seven Al Jazeera stories was an exclusive report that U.S. gave financial support to anti-Morsi activists. That report alone received 13,490 Facebook “Likes.”

The other Al Jazeera news stories received 1,768 Facebook “Likes” for a story on Srebrenica dead, 134, 204, 61, 139,and 27.

Russia Today English website’s seven top news stories had 9,431 Facebook “Likes.” All of Russia Today stories except one had over 1,000 “Likes” each.

42 Facebook “Likes” for VOA English to 9,431 Facebook “Likes” for Russia Today.

BBC English website collected 2,517 Facebook “Likes” for its seven top news stories.

42 Facebook “Likes” for VOA English to 2,517 Facebook “Likes” for BBC.

Another indication of VOA English news website’s extremely poor audience engagement performance was the number of readers’ comments. Only one of the seven top VOA news stories had single comment. Al Jazeera and Russia Today news stories collected hundreds of readers’ comments.

This is an absolute disaster for VOA. Many of Al Jazeera, Russia Today and BBC top stories included original video. VOA’s top seven stories had only one original video and even that report received only 23 Facebook “Likes.” This check was done in the afternoon DC time. A check of news stories done in the morning a few days ago showed equally disastrous results for VOA. This pattern is repeated day after day.

But top agency executives have been painting a rosy picture of social media engagement. They have been bragging to members of their oversight board, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), members of Congress, Congressional staffers and media about the agency’s investments in social media outreach. They have also tried to intimidate and discredit their critics.

Article by former Voice of America (VOA) journalist Gary Thomas in Columbia Journalism Review on journalistic practices at VOA and management of U.S. international broadcasting within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).In attacking journalistic skills of a former Voice of America senior correspondent Gary Thomas who had published an article in Columbia Journalism Review outlining serious inadequacies in VOA news coverage, management and employee morale, Kyle King,  a spokesman for Voice of America director David Ensor responded that “A simple look at the Voice of America’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization. ”

In a manner typical for VOA management, executives dismissed and refused to answer Gary Thomas’ questions for the article and later accused him through their spokesman of unspecified errors while bragging about their non-esistent online prowess.

The claim of successful online audience outreach and digital strength was repeated by International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo who said at a recent Digital Innovation Expo hosted by IBB on Capitol Hill that “today we are reaching and engaging audiences like never before.”

Director Lobo has been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in digital and social media technology, which critics charge was wasted on IBB bureaucracy and contractors as the money was being taken from news and programs.

In a pattern that has been obvious for the last several years, original news coverage by VOA English correspondents has greatly diminished. In the last few days, VOA English website was late repeatedly, between three and 48 hours, in posting original reports on violence in Egypt, the plane crash in San Francisco and other important international and domestic developments. A few days ago, VOA was late by several hours in generating its own report on the White House press conference statements on the future of U.S. assistance to the Egyptian military.

VOA Director David Ensor is believed to be on an extended summer vacation. We have to wonder whether he even checks the VOA website. He and his top deputy, Executive Editor Steve Redisch, could have at the very least “Liked” some of the VOA reports that received zero or very few Facebook “Likes.” On the other hand, some of these reports were not even VOA’s but from Reuters. These executives have put Voice of America where it is today.