BBG Watch Commentary

Meme reportedly created by a former VOA News correspondent.
Meme reportedly created by a former VOA News correspondent.

Two former Voice of America (VOA) foreign correspondents posted articles on what to do with VOA to save it from its current management crisis and growing irrelevance on social media.

Just how irrelevant VOA English news service has become in terms of audience engagement was painfully obvious after the voting in New Hampshire on Tuesday, with the VOA New Hampshire report showing 2 comments, and a Washington Post New Hampshire report showing 131 comments.

Three days later, on February 12, VOA report shows only 9 comments. The Washington Post report shows 1,433 comments.

How more irrelevant can VOA News be in terms of audience engagement?

The VOA report was quite good. It is generally not the fault of VOA reporters but a result of years of mismanagement, lack of leadership, and lack of vision for offering timely news in multiple digital media formats.
VOA NH Primary Report Screen Shot
WP NH Primary Report

WP NH Primary Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 12.59 AM EST

Today, the world first learned about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying that major powers meeting in Munich have agreed to a nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria not from the Voice of America but from Russia’s SPUTNIK and RT, Germany’s Deutsche Welle and BBC.
Outdated VOA News on Syria
This was U.S. news, an official statement by the U.S. Secretary of State, not a news story where many controversial and vague claims have to be carefully checked to avoid mistakes, and yet audiences in Syria, in the rest of the Middle East and elsewhere got their first version of this important news not from the Voice of America, but from Russia.

VOA was about an hour behind the rest. Disappointed again and again by VOA, why would international audiences bother to go to the VOA news site for news?

VOA reporters blame the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), and VOA senior management for depriving VOA of its English-language news reporting capabilities and placing VOA in a position where it has almost no engagement with the audience.

This is how one current VOA broadcaster put it:


VOA BROADCASTER: As far as I can tell, our readership and listenership is low, sometimes nonexistent. We get one or two comments, and The Washington Post gets hundreds or thousands. Its really puzzling.


Dan Robinson and Alex Belida offered their ideas as to what should be done about VOA.


DAN ROBINSON: VOA has been on an accelerating slide into irrelevancy, having long ago failed to gain enough traction in the digital realm. Regarding troubled online operations, one official noted that VOA “long ago lost the opportunity to become a destination of choice [for global audiences].”


DAN ROBINSON: Strong arguments can be made that a slimmed-down agency would be just as, if not more, effective in achieving whatever goals still exist to inform foreign audiences, and which are deemed to be still worth public expenditures.


READ MORE: Shut Down the Voice of America?, Dan Robinson, CPD Blog, February 11, 2016.


ALEX BELIDA: Over time, bureaucratic interests have begun to reign supreme. Since the creation of the BBG, a group of part-time political appointees, the senior permanent staff has taken control. And that control has lacked conviction. Why? Because these senior staffers spend most of their time trying to appease Congress and interest groups with irreconcilable differences – an impossible task. Thus the main priority of executives has been preserving their own positions, even increasing their numbers at the expense of journalistic and programming staff. And those workers, lacking proper guidance, have been left rudderless, often producing inferior material while their immediate managers fight for dollars and survival.


ALEX BELIDA: I support the idea of a new, unified non-governmental organization that operates under the same principles as the VOA Charter.


READ MORE: Giving New Life to America’s Voice with Conviction, Alex Belida, CPD Blog, January 25, 2016.


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