BBG Watch Commentary

Most reporters who regularly tweet news on the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) main English-language homepage have a few hundred Twitter Followers each, and one has only 10, an analysis by BBG Watch has revealed. Some of the most senior and most highly paid VOA English news correspondents with annual salaries of well over $100,000 have less than a hundred Twitter Followers. Most VOA foreign language reporters also have a minuscule following on Twitter. VOA Director David Ensor has 13 Twitter Followers; his deputy less than 800.

Among VOA reporters whose news tweets appeared January 16, 2015 on the VOA English homepage Twitter stream, only one — VOA Asia correspondent Steve Herman — has a significant number of Twitter Followers (over 35,800). Out of 10 VOA English News correspondents who tweeted Friday, January 16 on the VOA English news homepage, five have fewer than 500 Twitter Followers, and only three have more than a thousand each.

Several individual senior BBC journalists (English) have well over 200,000 Twitter Followers each, more than the entire VOA English News Twitter page. Economics Editor for the BBC, Robert Peston, alone has 455,000 Twitter Followers.

Paula Slier, Middle East bureau chief for RT (Russia Today) who reports with a strong anti-U.S., anti-Israel and anti-Ukraine bias from the Middle East and Ukraine, has over 17,000 Twitter Followers. Liz Wahl, who in March 2014 resigned her job while denouncing RT for its distorted coverage of Russia’s intervention in the Crimea, has over 10,000 Twitter Followers.

One senior VOA correspondent based in Europe who sometimes reports about Ukraine has only 35 Twitter Followers while a senior VOA correspondent based in Washington, DC has only 75 Twitter Followers. His Twitter page has not been updated since November 2014. Another Washington-based senior VOA English correspondent does not seem to have a Twitter page. These senior VOA correspondents, with base annual salaries between $130,000 and $150,000 each, can be compared in terms of employment stature within VOA to some of the most popular BBC or RT reporters. Their reports are often highlighted and promoted on the VOA English news homepage but show very little audience engagement through social media.

Even much less senior VOA journalists, some of whom specialize almost exclusively in reporting on new media technology issues, have astoundingly small numbers of followers on social media and practically no audience engagement in terms of readers’ comments for their online reports.

One of VOA’s new media and technology reporters has 500 Twitter Followers worldwide. Another VOA new media and technology reporter, who often writes on Internet censorship circumvention and web privacy issues, has slightly over 600 Twitter Followers worldwide. Their recent reports have shown between zero and six comments from online readers and few retweets and Facebook “Likes.”

By contrast, the BBC’s Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, has over 121,000 Twitter Followers. Dave Lee, another technology reporter for the BBC, has 13,000 Twitter Followers.

Most Voice of America foreign language reporters also have small numbers of Twitter Followers. One notable exception is the Twitter page of Myroslava Gongadze, a journalist and popular TV news anchor at the Voice of America Ukrainian Service. She has 46,000 Twitter Followers. The best known Voice of America Russian Service reporter has less than 1,800 Twitter Followers. Another well known VOA Russian reporter has less than 225 Twitter Followers.

VOA Ukrainian Service has 53,000 Twitter Followers. Ukrainian Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has 248,000 Twitter Followers.

The entire VOA Russian Service Twitter page has 188,000 Twitter Followers, BBC Russian Service has 359,000 Twitter Followers, Russian Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, which is also overseen by the BBG, has 101,000 Twitter Followers.

VOA Russian Service Facebook has 39,219 “Likes.” BBC Russian Service Facebook has 313,875 Facebook “Likes.” RFE/RL Radio Liberty Russian Service Facebook has 285,123 Facebook “Likes.” Despite internal media censorship, especially TV and radio, the Russian government does not block VOA, RFE/RL, and BBC news websites and social media pages, at least not yet.

Alhurra TV Twitter page has over 764,000 Twitter Followers. Alhurra TV is also funded by U.S. taxpayers through the BBG. BBC Arabic has 1.22 million Twitter Followers. RT Arabic has only 6,900 Twitter Followers. VOA no longer has its own Arabic news service.

VOA Cantonese Service has only 796 Twitter Followers despite recent major unrest in Hong Kong. Radio Free Asia (RFA) Cantonese Service has 3,400 Twitter Followers. RFA and VOA Mandarin services have about the same number of Twitter Followers (33,000 – 35,000). The Chinese government blocks VOA and RFA news and social media sites, but some users manage to overcome Internet censorship and access these sites.

The entire Voice of America’s main English news website Twitter page has 129,000 Twitter Followers, which is less than the UN Peacekeeping Force Twitter page with 174,000 Twitter Followers.

Bloomberg Business News Twitter page has 1.95 million Followers. We found six Bloomberg – Businessweek reporters with more than 10,000 Twitter Followers each. Bloomberg Businessweek senior writer Brad Stone has over 65,000 Twitter followers.

Twitter page of VOA Director David Ensor
Twitter page of VOA Director David Ensor

Distinguished journalist and until recently Bloomberg executive Andy Lack is expected to be sworn in next week as the new director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Several sources told BBG Watch that one of his first tasks will be to try to reform and reorganize Voice of America.

David Ensor, director of U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America multi-media outlet for foreign audiences, which is overseen by the BBG, has only 13 Followers on his Twitter page with no tweets and no recent activity. David Ensor, former CNN’s National Security Correspondent, has been VOA director since June 2011.

Rick Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, who represents Secretary of State John Kerry at BBG meetings, has over 16,000 Twitter Followers. Compared to VOA English website’s 129,000 Twitter Followers, the U.S. State Department’s English-language Twitter page has 1.18 million Twitter Followers.

BBC Director General Tony Hall has 2,495 Twitter Followers. He has a small number of tweets and does not post regularly. Recently retired Peter Horrocks, former Director of the BBC World Service, who was posting more regularly, has over 10,000 Twitter Followers. David Ensor’s Facebook page shows 82 “Likes” and has not been updated since February 2013. An executive in charge of VOA worldwide programs who posts more regularly has less than 800 Twitter Followers.

BBG member Matt Armstrong, who has been highly critical of news handling at the Voice of America, has over 3,400 Twitter Followers.

Russia's RT Twitter Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.03PM
Russia’s RT Twitter Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.03PM

Russia’s RT (English) Twitter page has 851,000 Twitter Followers, BBC News World (English) has 8.54 million, Radio France Internationale ( RFI French) 386,000 Twitter Followers. VOA French Service has slightly over 2,000 Twitter Followers. BBC French Service has over 81,000 Twitter Followers.

Voice of America Persian Service, including TV has 175,000 Twitter Followers. BBC Persian Service, including TV has 281,000 Twitter Followers. RFE/RL Radio Farda to Iran has 113,000 Twitter Followers. Deutsche Welle (DW) Persian Service has 123,000 Twitter Followers.

Numbers of Twitter Followers for Voice of America Correspondents
(Correspondents with tweets on VOA English News Homepage Twitter stream, Jan. 16, 2015)

VOA English Correspondent 1 – 10 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 2 – 455 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 3 – 185 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 4 – 2,148 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 5 – 893 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 6 – 819 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 7 – 1,982 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 8 – 105 Twitter Followers

VOA English Correspondent 9 – 302 Twitter Followers

VOA Correspondent 10 – Asia Correspondent Steve Herman – 35,800 Twitter Followers