BBG Watch Commentary

Huffington Post-Pope Francis-Syria

The Huffington Post reported that “Pope Francis urged the Group of 20 leaders on Thursday to abandon the ‘futile pursuit’ of a military solution in Syria as the Vatican laid out its case for a negotiated settlement that guarantees rights for all Syrians, including minority Christians.” The Huffington Post used a story written by Nicole Winfield, Associated Press correspondent based in Rome, covering Vatican.

As with many important international news stories in recent years, the papal statement was ignored Thursday by the Voice of America English website.

VOA failed to post even a short news item on this story from Reuters, a practice that has become common for the Voice of America English website as badly managed VOA news operation seems less and less able to offer original reporting.

As of Thursday evening, the Huffington Post report on Pope Francis’s statement had 2,233 Facebook “Likes” and 2,605 comments.

The most popular top VOA Syria-related story Thursday had only 25 Facebook “Likes” and 1 (one) comment from the entire worldwide audience.

Unlike The Huffington Post, which is mostly read in the United States, the VOA English website is not only available in the U.S. but targets the whole world. Yet, Voice of America shows embarrassingly minimal audience engagement for its English news reports through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

VOA Russian-Pope-SyriaThe VOA Russian Service is doing a better job of reporting. They are providing constant updates on the meeting in St. Petersburg. The Russian Service covered the Pope’s statement while VOA English did not. While the Russian Service post was not an original VOA report (text was from Reuters), it received 25 Facebook “Likes,” more than any Syria-related story posted today on the English website.

Under the current management, which has been in place for several years, the VOA website is often late in posting major news stories, sometimes ignores them completely, and instead of providing original news reports by VOA correspondents frequently uses news items and news analyses from Reuters, which makes the website unattractive for international audiences.

Top VOA management has ignored numerous complaints about the website from VOA journalists who also complain about the anti-employee management culture at the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

Both VOA and IBB are part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent federal agency. The BBG board has new chairman, Jeff Shell, and two new members, Matt Armstrong and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They and two other BBG members who already have spent some time on the board, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, are expected to look into management practices at VOA and IBB.

The VOA website failed to post reports on at least two important State Department-related news stories that were covered by mainstream U.S. media. Both Armstrong and Crocker are believed to be interested in making sure that VOA covers such stories just like any other serious media institution.

Susan McCue and Michael Meehan have been reported by sources to be strongly dissatisfied with the performance of some of the agency’s top managers. It remains to be seen how the whole BBG board, which until recently lacked a quorum and could not make binding decisions, will respond the the management crisis at the top levels of the agency.

Read: Pope Francis On Syria: Abandon ‘Futile Pursuit’ Of Military Solution, by Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, in The Huffington Post, September 5, 2013.

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