Global Media Analyst

Michelle ObamaIt appears that Voice of America (VOA) English website has finally found its “journalism-light” niche. Every, even the most serious media outlet, needs to have a bit of tabloid in it. The questions are how much, what, and to what purpose?

VOA English website has had a lot of fluff journalism in increasing quantities in recent years as a substitute for reporting and posting hard news and breaking news — all in an apparent attempt to increase online traffic and engagement through social media.

Such were the orders from its own executives and strategic planners at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). But nothing seemed to work. Facebook “Likes” and Tweets were minimal even for the most tabloid-type reports. In fact, these reports got less than some of the diminishing serious political news stories VOA English reporters still tried to cover under the management that still looks with suspicion on any long report on political topics.

For a while, VOA executives and managers in charge decided for some strange reason that their fluff journalism niche would be the British royal family. In 2011, English website posted about 27 separate reports on the British Royal Wedding. In October 2013, it posted 5 separate reports on the British Royal Baby Christening.

Most of these reports got very few Facebook “Likes” or Tweets.

It’s difficult to even imagine what possessed VOA executives to try to compete with BBC on the British Royal Family front.

Finally, on January 5, 2014, Voice of America may have discovered its niche for journalism-light. It posted a report on the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Hawaiian vacation. Lo and behold, the report has 571 Facebook “Likes” as of 9PM ET Sunday. That’s more than the vast majority of VOA news reports of any kind get even after many days online.

Obama’s Birthday Gift to Michelle: Time Alone in Hawaii, VOA News, Jan. 5, 2014.

Good choice. Instead of extensive reporting the British Royal Family, VOA should report within good limits on the American First Family. May we also suggest more reporting on American society, American culture, and U.S. foreign policy, as the VOA Charter requires VOA to do.

Unfortunately, VOA English website editors went overboard with their First Family report. They placed it among the first seven top global news and as number one for U.S. news. After a while, someone removed it from top world news. Good decision. Later, it also lost its number one status in U.S. news. Also good decision. But after VOA English website, some VOA language services still list the report as one of their top news. Strange.

On the plus side, the report was posted quickly, which is highly unusual for VOA English website these days. It got more views and Facebook “Likes” because it was one of the first reports online on this news. It was also about something that audiences expect VOA to have expertise and connection with — unlike VOA’s reports on the British royalty. It was from VOA rather than simply posting a report from Reuters. While still based on wire service reporting, including AFP and Reuters, it was originated by VOA. All reporting during the Obama’s
vacation came from the few pool reporters who were assigned to be in Hawaii while the president was there.

VOA can’t take credit for the attention-grabbing headline, which apparently came from a pool report. But for a journalism-light piece, the First Lady story was a good choice. Too bad that VOA didn’t do the same thing with a recent report on the death of Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers. VOA was hours late on that story, used a Reuters report, and did not offer anything original.

VOA also had a chance to combine political reporting with Americana reporting on American music icon Quincy Jones’ statement on Ukraine. VOA did not report at all on the story. (RFE/RL did.)

In its New Year’s celebrations video, VOA could have added political news — political celebrations in Ukraine and Turkey — to an essentially journalism-light report, but it failed to do it.


Obama’s Birthday Gift to Michelle: Time Alone in Hawaii

VOA News
January 05, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama has given his wife Michelle a birthday present that many mothers can only dream of – time alone without the demands of children.

Her gift is to remain in the Pacific state of Hawaii, where the Obama family had a two-week vacation, to spend time with her friends ahead of her 50th birthday later this month.

President Obama and his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, left the warm breezes of the island of Oahu and boarded Air Force One late Saturday for the trip back to the icy winds of Washington. They returned to Washington at mid-morning Sunday.

It was not immediately clear when the first lady will return to the White House.

The president is expected to ratchet up his administration’s push for an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, now that he has returned to Washington.

Obama and his advisers have been pressing Congress to extend the federal aid to help out-of-work Americans who are searching for jobs.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.


The report included an AP photo of First lady Michelle Obama looking out from the stage as President Barack Obama speaks to members of the military and their families in Anderson Hall at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Dec. 25, 2013, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

We did not want to use it because of copyright restrictions. VOA rarely provides its own photos which would have been in the public domain.

List of VOA’s British Royal Family reports.

[aside] caption = Voice of America’s Coverage British Royals in 2011 and 2013
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U.S. taxpayers paid for these programs by the Voice of America (VOA) while many human rights-related news stories and important U.S. foreign policy pronouncements by the White House, the State Department, and members of Congress went unreported on VOA websites in recent months and years.

Years and months later, these reports on the British royalty posted on the VOA English website show zero or very few Facebook “Likes” or any other indication of any notable audience engagement through social media.


VOA British Royal Wedding Feast


Excited Crowds Fill London Streets for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Royal Wedding Ceremony Steeped in Grandeur, Tradition Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Kate Middleton Wears Wedding Dress by Sarah Burton Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Wedding Celebrations Held in Streets Across Britain Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Americans Rise Early for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Celebrities, Sports Stars Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Hopes for Billion-Dollar Economic Boost from Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


Crowds Gather for Britain’s Royal Wedding; Syrian Diplomat Pulled Off Guest List Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


London Readies for Royal Wedding Day Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


Formal Clothing, Informal Speeches Typical at British Weddings Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 26, 2011 8:00 PM


British Public Divided Over Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Preparing Security for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Royal Wedding: From Cake to Clergy Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Bahrain Prince Declines British Royal Wedding Invitation Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM


David Beckham, Elton John Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Notes Big Change in Royal Wedding Souvenirs Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 21, 2011 8:00 PM


Prince William, Bride-to-Be Middleton Visit Princess Diana’s Grave Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Queen Formally Approves Prince William’s Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Queen Celebrates 85th Birthday Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Royal Wedding: William & Kate Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:50 AM


A Royal Obsession, Do Americans Care? Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 19, 2011 8:00 PM


Muslim Group Applies to Protest Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM


YouTube to Air Britain’s Royal Wedding Live Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM


Princesses in Training Get Tips at Royal Tea Party Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 17, 2011 8:00 PM


10 Ways You Can Get Into the Spirit of the Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 14, 2011 8:00 PM


British Royal Engagement Sparks Interest in Modern Monarchies Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 29, 2010 7:00 PM


Britain Announces Royal Wedding Date Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 22, 2010 7:00 PM

VOA on British Royal Christening, October 2013

Among five reports on the VOA website on the royal christening in Britain posted on October 23 and 24, 2013, none has more than 20 Facebook “Likes” as of October 28, 2013, one had zero Facebook “Likes” and another one had three.

Zones: Breaking News , Europe

Prince William, Kate Hold Private Christening for New Prince

October 23, 2013 12:08 PM

……..was born on July 22. In the arms of his mother as she left the the palace’s Chapel Royal, George was dressed in a long cream satin robe that was a replica of an 1841 gown made for the christening of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Kate, a style icon whose outfits often increase sales of similar garments, wore an off-white, ruffled skirt-suit, made by British fashion house Alexander McQueen, and pillbox hat by British milliner Jane Taylor ….

Tags: Britain , duchess catherine , Kate Middleton , prince george , Prince William , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Reuters

Prince George’s Godparents Named Ahead of Christening

October 23, 2013 8:20 AM

……..William and Kate’s decision is a break with the tradition of choosing royal dignitaries to take on the ceremonial role, and a continuation of their effort to portray a more informal, modern image to austerity-hit Britons. After the christening, guests will attend a private tea at Clarence House, hosted by Prince Charles and Camilla. Hollywood photographer Jason Bell has been tapped to take official photos of the event, that will include a “historic multi-generational photograph” of the queen

Tags: Britain , monarch , prince george , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: VOA News

Royal Baby Christening Breaks with Tradition

October 23, 2013 12:14 AM

Carla Babb Prince George, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is being christened in Britain on Wednesday. In a break from tradition, the christening of the world’s most famous baby will be as low key as possible. Three months ago, Prince William and his wife Catherine shared their bundle of joy with the world. And just as the royal couple broke with tradition ….

Tags: British royal family , christening , Prince William , Princess Kate , royal baby , royal christening , royalty

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Carla Babb

Hollywood Photographer to Record British Prince’s Christening

October 22, 2013 9:59 AM

Reuters A British photographer known for his portraits of rock stars and Hollywood actors was named on Tuesday as the official photographer of the world’s newest celebrity – Prince George. Prince William and his wife Kate have chosen Jason Bell to photograph the christening on Wednesday, October 23, of their son, the third-in-line to the British throne, a palace statement said. Bell, 44, is an award-winning photographer best known for portraits of celebrities such as musician Paul McCartney, footballer David Beckham ….

Tags: Britain , christening , prince george , royals

Zones: Europe , Arts & Entertainment

Reporters: Reuters

Britain’s Future Monarch Christened in Low-Key London Ceremony

October 23, 2013 12:19 PM

a central London chapel, where he made his first public appearance since his birth in July. Prince George was seen in the arms of his father, Prince William, as the elder prince and his wife Kate arrived at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace for Wednesday’s traditional Anglican Christian ceremony. The infant was wearing a white satin gown, a replica of one made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter in 1841. In a private ceremony inside the chapel ….

Zones: World News , Europe