BBG Watch Commentary
This commentary was sent to BBG Watch by a Voice of America (VOA) listener and VOA website user in the UK. The commentator bemoans the lowering of reporting standards, increasing repeating of already aired broadcasts, use of vulgarities on Twitter by editors of one of VOA programs, dismal audience engagement through social media, and minimal number of views for VOA news videos on YouTube.
“BBG Watch’s recent coverage of how the VOA website is failing to cover important news stories promptly or generate social media responses chimes with my experience as a VOA listener and user of the VOA website, and I would agree with your contributors’ perception that things are getting worse not better,” the commentator wrote.
Comment: “Hi – I’m a longtime Voice of America (VOA) listener in the UK, and have previously posted a comment under one of your articles. I share your sadness at the notable decline VOA has suffered in recent years and admire your efforts to bring about reforms at the BBG/IBB and the other elements of US international broadcasting, particularly your support for restoring VOA news to its former great heights.
BBG Watch’s recent coverage of how the VOA website is failing to cover important news stories promptly or generate social media responses chimes with my experience as a VOA listener and user of the VOA website, and I would agree with your contributors’ perception that things are getting worse not better.
I wanted to draw your attention to three other issues, which I think collectively back BBG Watch’s view that VOA is suffering from some real management and strategy problems at the moment.
1) On tuning in partway through a recent edition of the weekend interview programme “Press Conference USA”, I had a feeling I’d heard the edition before. The Press Conference USA page on the VOA website, showed it was an “encore edition”, that is, a repeat. What concerns me is that the August 31st, August 24th and August 10th editions were all “encore presentations”, according to the VOA website. Perhaps it’s a one-off August issue caused by summer holidays, but I find it worrying that, shortly after attempts were made to kill off VOA’s other veteran weekend public affairs show “Issues in the News”, “Press Conference USA” has had three out of five editions in a single month being repeats. Has the show’s budget been cut despite it being surely one of VOA English’s most recognised brands?
2) Whilst on the VOA radio programmes page of the website (from VOA home page, select ‘Programs’ from options near top of screen, then choose Radio rather than TV) I saw a programme listed that I was unfamiliar with, called “Independence West”. Interested to see what this was – as I’ve become more familiar with VOA English axing shows than starting up new ones – I clicked on the link to the “Independence West” program page to find out more by reading the “About the show” section – not sure if this link will work but try
or follow the voanews.com > Programs > Radio > Independence West route.
The “About the Show” details showed the programme was a podcast, and encouraged readers to check out the “Independence West” Twitter and Facebook pages. I checked out the Twitter feed – which is clearly branded as a bi-weekly podcast “from the VOA”, dealing with things such as “inernational” (their spelling) entertainment, and remember, is reached directly by that link from the show’s page on the main VOA website, VOAnews.com.
I wasn’t impressed by what I saw on the Twitter page at all. Most of the tweets seem to be from people involved with the show desperately asking other Twitter users if they wanted to appear on it – and in many cases simply being ignored. But what was shocking was that this VOA branded Twitter page included several expletives, which I won’t repeat in full, but include:
16 Aug, Independence West tweet directed to @Mooftroop, view conversation, see DominicK’s response “f*** u”
19 Jun Independence West tweet directed to @Herondalesb**h, view conversation, see responses from City of **** u, including “holy s*** its amazing”
8 March, Independence West tweet directed to …, responding positively to her tweet “Not giving a f*** is the point of leggings”.
Is this appropriate language for something that, whilst admittedly on Twitter, nevertheless contains the VOA brand name and is reached by a direct link from VOAnews.com – in fact the VOA website encourages people to look at the Twitter page.
I think this has worrying implications regarding the level of oversight that VOA management seems to have (or not have) over some of VOA’s social media output. I also see echos of the problems you have previously reported on at the RFE/RL Kazakh service website, when it contained inappropriate content in what seemed to be a desperate effort to attract a new younger audience. Does VOA management really think that diverting funding from VOA Worldwide English radio services to fund social media stuff like this is a good use of funds?
I do wonder if someone at VOA has belatedly realised that “Independence West” seems to be out of control – there have been no Twitter posts after August 16th, and the Audio section of its programme page on the VOA website only has links to today’s programme (September 13th) which is called “Best of Independence West”. Has this podcast been put out of its misery? Do any of your sources know anything about it?
3) Finally, you have pointed out how embarrassingly few Facebook “Likes” and Tweets news stories on the VOA website are getting at the moment. VOA’s unpopularity on social media is also painfully evident on YouTube. Remember that YouTube shows exactly how many people have viewed its content. Go to YouTube and search for “VOA TV2Africa” and “VOA News” two VOA branded YouTube channels, and check out their “views” figures. I did, and found:
– Of videos up to 1 (one) week old on the “VOA News” YouTube channel, the most viewed uploads were: “Washington Week: Obama to Lobby Congress for Syria Strike” 9,310 views in 5 days, “US unveils Intelligence on Syria Chemical Attacks” 6,945 in 1 week, and “World Reacts Cautiously to Obama’s Syria Speech” 4,897 views in 2 days. But almost all other videos had less than 1,000 view and many had under 100.
– Of videos up to 1 (one) week old on the “TV2Africa” YouTube channel, well, it’s embarrassing, none had more than 86 views (yes, eighty-six) that being “Africa54 – Syria Crisis Update” and that had been uploaded a week or more ago. Almost all others had been viewed fewer than 30 times.
In comparison, the Russia Today channel on YouTube had (again just looking at the most viewed videos up to a week old) videos with 80,572 views (“Putin: Russia doesn’t defend Assad we defend international law”, 1 week old) and 58,373 views (“Syria chemical attack is ‘rebels provocation’ “, 1 week old). The majority of videos had been viewed 10,000+ times.
At least this is one area where VOA and Al Jazeera English perform similarly. On the latter’s YouTube channel, very few videos had been viewed more than 2,000 times, with a great number of views only in the hundreds.
Keep up the good work, congratulations on reaching 2 million hits – and I hope BBG Watch can help restore VOA to its former greatness.”