BBG Watch Commentary
Despite spending multiple millions of taxpayers’ dollars on the Voice of America (VOA) central newsroom, its London News Bureau (focusing on Europe news and nearby regions), and other foreign and domestic news bureaus, VOA is still unable to post and update timely and comprehensive news reports, especially when night falls in Washington, DC, on weekends, and often even during business hours on weekdays. Over the last few weekends, there were several major news reporting failures at VOA, with many other noted earlier.
These failures, which happen not only on weekends or at night, affect not only VOA English news, but also most VOA foreign language news websites and their social media platforms.
The BBC website had numerous, timely posted reports on the Copenhagen shootings from the very beginning, as did Russia’s RT. Both quickly provided rich multi-media content. Both received thousands of Facebook “Likes” and Tweets for their news reports compared to barely a few for VOA. At one point during the weekend, VOA did not even bother to post a new news report or even to change the headline when the second Copenhagen shooting took place.
The question to ask is: Does the Voice of America lack money, staff and other resources or is it badly managed and operates without any leadership from senior executives?
How is it possible that two or four writers and editors work at the Voice of America central newsroom on a weekend night when VOA has more than 1,100 regular employees, hundreds of contractors and numerous foreign news bureaus?
Why do these news failures happen at the Voice of America again and again despite VOA’s $200 million annual budget, $16 million budget for VOA Central News, $8 million budget for VOA foreign news bureaus, and $1.2 million budget for VOA domestic bureaus.
One source said that during a recent weekend, only one editor and one writer were on duty at night (Washington, D.C. time) in the VOA central English newsroom. Another source said that there may have been one or two other web writers working. That’s two or four people out of more than 1,100 regular full-time Voice of America employees and hundreds of contractors, many of them also full time employees, but paid much less and receiving no benefits.
We do not have the exact number of VOA Central News current filled positions, but the English News Division’s budget is about $16 million.
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 Voice of America London News Bureau’s budget is now about $1.8 million, the costliest VOA foreign news bureau by far. A foreign bureau chief’s annual salary can be over $150,000, not counting numerous other job benefits.
The budget for all VOA foreign news bureaus is now close to $8 million.
The budget for all VOA domestic news bureaus is about $1.2 million.
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.”
There are also many experienced VOA correspondents working in Washington, DC, in addition to dozens of executives, directors, program advisors, program directors, program coordinators and other managers, many of them making over $100,000 in annual salaries and receiving other generous federal employment benefits. Most of them, according to sources, work 9 to 5, Mon.-Fri. schedules.
The VOA central newsroom is generally deserted on weekends and at night.
It appears that none of many VOA executives, senior managers or senior VOA correspondents was available to pitch in during the last two weekends on the Brian Williams story and the Copenhagen shootings story. (A VOA correspondent in Jerusalem filed a Copenhagen shootings-related news report on Sunday.)
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 main news website silent on Brian Williams story, BBG Watch, February 7, 2015
Voice of America misremembered to cover Brian Williams story, BBG Watch, February 8, 2015
Here is what a struggling agency is spending its time on, BBG Watch, February 9, 2015
Voice of America should not report on Jon Stewart retiring, Brian Williams’ 6 month suspension, BBG Watch, February 10, 2015
Former Voice of America Director critical of delay in VOA coverage of Brian Williams story, BBG Watch, February 12, 2015
KEITH PERRON Voice of America is ‘a terminally ill patient’, BBG Watch, February 13, 2015
Copenhagen shooting: still nothing on Voice of America one hour after BBC reports, BBG Watch, February 14, 2015
Second Copenhagen shooting, still no headline or new report on Voice of America one hour after BBC posts, BBG Watch, February 14, 2015
Finally a fuller Voice of America report on Copenhagen – Where was VOA London Bureau?, BBG Watch, February 15, 2015