BBG Watch Commentary

BBG WatchOne of our UK-based international media experts who prefers to remain anonymous has sent us his analysis of Tuesday’s meeting between Voice of America Director David Ensor and VOA Newsroom and English Programs staffers who sharply challenged Ensor on a number of key issues, particularly his leadership and management style.

SEE: VOA Editor to Director Ensor: “Nobody Believes Anything Management Has to Say Anymore” BBG Watch, June 5, 2014.

Using examples of VOA’s past extensive high-quality news reporting and digital innovation, our expert concludes that the current leadership of the Voice of America has squandered in recent years the organization’s former high potential in both news and digital outreach.

The first link provided by our expert to a list of VOA news in 1998 is especially impressive when compared to VOA’s current news output and frequent failures to report news.

Contrary to constant assertions by VOA executives that their budget has shrunk since then, it has in fact seen increases during this period. VOA executives have not only squandered the organization’s former high potential, they have also squandered its resources.

A View from a UK-based Expert

Regarding the comments made by a VOA Newscaster at the recent meeting (as reported by Dan Robinson) that sometimes they have no reports to put on the air:

Is this why VOA ‘s radio show “International Edition” has started carrying the audio of reports made specifically for VOA TV? Earlier this week the programme carried a report by a correspondent for VOA TV in Cairo. The anchor introduced it as “a report produced by VOA TV”. In a previous week, the same thing happened with a VOA TV report about Syria.

The reports are not re-voiced for radio, they are literally a TV report being played on air with sound only. But there is a problem – the background noises during “scene – setting” shots, for example car horns beeping over a street scene, or cameras clicking as a politician enters the room. On TV, these noises make sense – you see an image of a busy street, so you understand why you are hearing car noises underneath the correspondent’s voice.

But on the radio, it doesn’t work at all well. You are listening to what the correspondent is saying when suddenly for no apparent reason you hear unexplained background noises that don’t relate to the audio you’re hearing, and so don’t make sense. They sound like something has gone wrong with a radio report.

It’s sad to think that the new “digital first” VOA sometimes struggles to find enough reports to fill the newscast at the top of the hour, while the “old” VOA never had a problem filling 50 minutes of “Asia Report”, “World Report” and “Report to the Americas” 5 nights a week, as well as 14 live editions of the shorter “Newsline” programmes. Or later, no problem filling 24 hours a day of “VOA News Now”.

Hidden away in corners of the internet are reminders of what a great news-gathering organisation VOA once was, and what a great generator of original content. I hope the link below works for you – it is a summary of the reports on the VOA newswire for just 26 hours across parts of February 9th and 10th 1998. The links to the actual reports won’t work now, but it gives a good sense of how widespread VOA’s correspondent network was 16 years ago, and how many fresh reports came in throughout the broadcast day.

Compare how many original reports were generated back then – against how few nowadays.

And regarding “Digital First” – there is an ironic and sad aspect to this phrase. Now, it is fairly clear to anyone who sees it, that the VOA website is far behind its rivals and competitors, and far behind the high standards that people who remember the VOA of the 1980s and the 1990s might expect.

And yet, the Voice of America was actually (back in the early 1990s) an innovator in terms of putting news on the internet, in fact in the words of one of VOA staff most responsible, Chris Kern: “The Voice of America, as far as I am aware, was the first broadcast news organization in the world to offer continuously updated program product on the public Internet.” Within minutes of a report being made available within VOA by Central News, the text of the report was put onto the internet – as seen in the newswire link above.

For the story of VOA’s internet trailblazing in Chris Kern’s own words, see this link:

Just think how good the VOA website could be now if this history of innovation had been built upon, instead of being squandered, and if VOA was still generating as many original correspondents’ reports now as it did in 1998, and getting them all straight onto the VOA website.

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