BBG Watch Commentary

After two days of late and superficial reports on the Copenhagen shootings and badgering by BBG Watch about it, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) finally somewhat more promptly updated its news story Sunday, although the updated VOA report is still not anywhere near BBC or Russia’s RT in terms of comprehensive and multi-angle coverage. The BBC website shows five reports on the Copenhagen shooting posted just today, in addition to the ones posted yesterday. RT also posted multiple news reports with rich multi-media content.

SEE: Police Release Details on Suspected Gunman in Copenhagen Attacks, VOA, February 15, 2015

During that time, the Voice of America simply kept updating a single report, sometimes without changing its headline or the leading paragraph. The latest update included a change of the headline and actually had new information at the top of the story. At the bottom it says that “Lisa Bryant contributed to this report from Paris.”

We believe that Lisa Bryant is an independent journalist (not full time staff correspondent) who works as a stringer for VOA.

Why did it take VOA two days to get something online resembling a full news report on this major news story?

The other big questions are:

What was the Voice of America London News Bureau doing while VOA was late and superficial in reporting on the Copenhagen shootings?

What were full-time Europe and Middle East-based VOA foreign correspondents doing during that time?

How many VOA writers and editors were actually working in the central VOA newsroom in Washington on the holiday weekend?

We do not have all the latest information, but according to the July 2009 Office of Inspector General (OIG) inspection report for the Voice of America London News Bureau, bureau’s budget totaled $781,231 in FY 2008. The 2009 OIG report said that the VOA London News Bureau staff included at that time “one U.S. direct-hire (the correspondent, who is also the bureau chief), three broad- cast technicians, and a program assistant.” “Other than the correspondent, all are locally employed (LE) staff,” the OIG report said.$781,231 in FY 2008 covered local salaries, rents, utilities, taxes, and service charges. The VOA bureau chief/ correspondent’s salary is believed to be over $150,000 in addition to other benefits.

According to the FY2014 proposed budget, the the Voice of America London News Bureau would cost U.S. taxpayers $1,877,000, nearly $2 million out of VOA’s total cost (proposed) of $211,920,000 (over $211 million).

FY2015 VOA Budget

According to the 2009 OIG report, the VOA London News Bureau correspondent “still covers a wide area of operations for VOA,” including Europe.

The Copenhagen story broke during a holiday weekend in the U.S. A U.S. holiday is normally a day off, not only for VOA correspondents based abroad, but also for any local staffers, even if that holiday is not observed locally.

However, if nothing has changed, VOA foreign correspondents hold “Foreign Service Limited Non Career Appointment,” which among other things means that they are available for duty 24/7 anywhere in the world. According to a 2012 VOA job announcement, “Long and unpredictable hours, including nights, weekends and holidays are frequently required, as is travel, wherever needed and at any time, often with little or no advance notice.”

It takes good executives and senior managers to make sure that breaking news stories are properly covered by the Voice of America. If not VOA director David Ensor, then VOA executive editor Steve Redisch should have been monitoring the VOA website over the weekend. Prior to the holiday weekend, they should have made sure that the VOA central newsroom in Washington, the VOA London News Bureau and/or other VOA news bureaus in the region are properly staffed to deal with any kind of emergency and a major breaking news story. With over a thousand employees and about $200 million a year in operating funds, they have considerable resources at their disposal to make sure that the Voice of America covers the news.

At any one time, some of VOA correspondents may be covering a story in a country outside of their base, while others may be on vacations, prolonged paid home leave, or they may be sick. We do not know what happened in this case, but in addition to the VOA London News Bureau, VOA also has in the larger region foreign correspondents in Moscow, Cairo and Jerusalem (set for closing), as well as senior VOA correspondents in Washington, DC. It is the job of senior VOA executives to make sure that news reporting does not stop on a holiday weekend and at night.

It almost did, last weekend, this weekend and many weekends and night before that.

In one bright spot, VOA did post a related report from Jerusalem: “Israel Calls for Mass Jewish Immigration after Denmark Attack.” However, it took two days to produce one somewhat fuller news story on the Copenhagen shootings.

If none of of the other senior VOA correspondents was available to pitch in on the Copenhagen story itself, how many writers and editors were actually working in the VOA central newsroom on the holiday weekend, especially at night when some of the key developments in Copenhagen took place?

Our guess is not too many.

One former VOA reporter observed:

“Two weekends of failures with breaking news — one hardly could ask for more before the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meeting next week.”

Voice of America misremembered to cover Brian Williams story, BBG Watch, February 8, 2015
KEITH PERRON Voice of America is ‘a terminally ill patient’, BBG Watch, February 13, 2015
Second Copenhagen shooting, still no headline or new report on Voice of America one hour after BBC posts, BBG Watch, February 14, 2015


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