BBG Watch Commentary
It is bad enough that under the leadership of Voice of America Director David Ensor and his deputy Steve Redisch, VOA news operation has become so unfocused that major breaking news is often posted late on the VOA English website and some important news stories such as the letter of U.S. Ambassador to an Egyptian newspaper protesting against anti-American reporting are not covered at all.
It is already bad enough that quite a few top U.S. and international news stories on the VOA website are not from Voice of America but from Reuters. They at best get between one and ten Facebook “Likes,” while similar stories on BBC, Al Jazeera, and Russia Today websites get hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of Facebook “Likes” and hundreds of comments from readers.
Indeed. Why would Internet users abroad go to the VOA website to read short news items from Reuters?
Web audiences abroad are also ignoring many of the video reports being produced on orders from Ensor and Redisch, both former CNN staffers. Some recently produced videos have gotten 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” and very few views on YouTube, while VOA’s online news reporting plunged further into disarray.
The VOA management has now gone one step further. In addition to using Reuters news reports, the VOA English news website is now posting long-format news analyses from Reuters.
Two recent examples:
US Congress Fight Over Syria Pits Establishment Versus Upstarts, Reuters on Voice of America, September 4, 2013.
Several hours after the Reuters analysis was posted by Voice of America, it had only 1 (one) Facebook “Like,” 2 (two) Tweets, 0 (zero) Google+, and 0 (zero) comments. Even the next day, it had only 5 (five) Facebook “Likes,” 4 (four) Tweets, and still 0 (zero) Google+ and 0 (zero) comments.
VOA website apparently does not open the comments feature for Reuters news items and analyses. Rightly so. What does Reuters have to do with the Voice of America?
Analysis: US Strike on Syria Could Derail Iranian President’s Master Plan, Reuters on Voice of America, September 4, 2013.
Several hours after the Reuters analysis was posted by Voice of America, it had only 6 (six) Facebook “Likes,” 8 (eight) Tweets, 0 (zero) Google+, and 0 (zero) comments. the next day, it had only 9 (nice) Facebook “Likes,” 12 (twelve) Tweets, and still 0 (zero) Google+ and 0 (zero) comments.
One Voice of America correspondent observed:
“Our leaders, such as the BBG Governors, talk the talk on the future of VOA being online but we don’t walk the walk. Our web site is unattractive, hard to use, hard to Google and our content only gets posted many hours after it’s produced.“
Original news reports from Voice of America correspondents on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and at the State Department are often underplayed on the web site, posted late, or not posted at all.
Under VOA web posting policies, international audiences can no longer be absolutely sure whether they are reading outside material or VOA news reports or analyses, especially since some contributors are only identified by name without mentioning their possible VOA affiliation. Some original reports by VOA correspondents are drastically shortened before being posted on the website. They are sometimes attributed to a VOA correspondent even though they have been altered. At other times, there is no attribution.
Compared to Reuters news analyses on Syria posted by VOA, which failed to get more than ten Facebook “Likes,” Russia Today report, Congress may vote ‘No’ on Syria attack, had as of Thursday afternoon EST 2,800 Facebook “Likes,” 173 Tweets, 94 Google+, and 72 comments.
In slightly more than an hour, Russia Today report increased its Facebook “Likes” by 700, while Reuters reports on the VOA website gained less than five “Likes” in more than 12 hours.
BBC, Fox News and other international media reported that President Putin claimed Secretary of State John Kerry lied about the presence of Al Qaeda in Syria. The VOA English website mentioned Putin’s attack on Kerry but did not report on any U.S. reaction to his accusation against the Secretary of State.
In, Divided G20 discusses Syria crisis in St Petersburg, BBC reported that “In the run-up to the summit, the US and Russia have engaged in tit-for-tat insults. US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of ‘obstructionism’, and Mr Putin responded by calling Mr Kerry a ‘liar’.”
In, State Department fires back over Putin claims Kerry ‘lied’ about Syria, Fox News reported State Department officials fired back at Putin Wednesday night.
“’This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen a visceral response from President Putin’,” they told Fox News. ‘Needless to say, the Secretary of State testified truthfully and accurately to the Congress’.”
VOA correspondent James Brooke reported from St. Petersburg on Putin’s accusation, but the VOA website had nothing on any reaction from the State Department.
Voice of America’s main report today on G20 Summit and Syria, Obama Presses Syria Strike at G20 Summit, was not a report from a VOA correspondent but apparently a compilation of news and reports prepared by the VOA web desk. As of Thursday afternoon, it showed 10 (ten) Facebook “Likes,” 18 (eighteen) Tweets and 1 (one) comment.
A BBC report, Divided G20 discusses Syria crisis in St Petersburg, had 1,412 Facebook “Likes,” and 1,648 Tweets.
Russia Today’s running news story, Syria ‘chemical weapons’ crisis: LIVE UPDATES, shows 9,200 Facebook “Likes,” and 9,259 Tweets since it first appeared on August 27.
Voice of America insiders warn that the VOA English website no longer appears “to be a useful place to land and check out the latest news and maybe browse through some other interesting material.”
“People will not visit,” a VOA reporter said, “. . .if someone coming to our web site cannot find a story and does not have the option of calling the web desk, they are just going to move on to some other site and not bother with us.”
Another VOA insider said:
“[I believe] the web desk is indeed “dismissive” of significant U.S. news events and major U.S. political developments and that we need to have a substantive discussion on what our mission is and how it is reflected on our web site.”
More comments from VOA reporters:
“ . . .periods of up to 10 hours when most of our target audience is awake (Asia) can pass without a single item being posted on the web site.”
“BBC routinely leaves VOA in the dust when it comes to web page updating . . . I’ve seen it time and time again.”
“This has nothing to with ego. It has to do with having our website deal with stories in a coherent way and a journalistically sound manner. What’s the use of trying to do real reporting if our primary mass platform is simply going treat it as so much digital waste paper?”
“ . . .correspondents and writers are forced to undertake personal interventions to ensure that their material appears correctly without errors, or that reports appear at all.”
A former U.S. international broadcasting executive told BBG Watch that a major management failure and failure of leadership is responsible for VOA’s dismal news reporting and social media audience engagement performance. The expert said that instead to attacking journalists like Gary Thomas and Matthew Russell Lee who criticize them, VOA executives should do something about VOA news management and the VOA website.
“But it is more likely that the new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) will have to do it for them,” the expert added.
“Someone like Kevin Klose (RFE/RL President hired by the BBG and credited with restoring high journalistic standards and good management) needs to be brought in to change the entire management culture at IBB and VOA,” the expert suggested.
“Current Voice of America and International Broadcasting Bureau executives are no more respected and liked by VOA journalists and IBB employees then news analyses from Reuters posted on the VOA website are ‘Liked’ by Facebook users,” a former U.S. international broadcasting manager said.