BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America executives have once again shown how unable they are to manage a news organization in the digital multimedia age. Managers failed to arrange for a video recording of today’s VOA interview interview with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while BBC correspondent Barbara Plett-Usher recorded a video interview with Kerry at about the same time, which BBC promptly posted online and highlighted on its homepage, “Iraq Crisis: John Kerry says US-Arab coalition ‘can take on IS’ – BBC.” There was no Facebook post about the VOA audio interview on the official VOA Facebook page. Compared to CNN, which got over 3,300 Facebook “Shares” on its far more extensive report about its own interview with Kerry, which included video, the VOA report got only slightly over three dozen and the VOA Q-and-A online transcript of the interview just one Facebook “Share” after several hours online.
VOA was not even able to get and post online a photo of the VOA correspondent interviewing the Secretary of State and by 11:00 PM EDT Thursday still had no Facebook post on his report on the interview on the official VOA English Facebook page.(As of 1:00 AM EDT Friday there is still no Facebook post on the correspondent report about the interview and nothing on the interview on the main VOA Facebook page which links from the VOA English homepage.) VOA was not updating its main Voice of America English Facebook page Thursday afternoon and evening for several hours.
**VOA eventually posted on its VOA News Community Facebook page, which has very few followers compared to VOA’s official Facebook page, a link to the audio of the interview, but not to the correspondent report about the interview.
But BBC had a Facebook post about its own interview with Kerry almost immediately. The photo in the BBC Facebook post came from BBC.
At 11:00PM EDT, the BBC Facebook item on BBC video interview with Kerry showed that it was posted five hours ago, i.e. at about 6:00 PM EDT, and it had 361 “Likes.” CNN Facebook post on CNN interview with Kerry had close to 1,000 “Likes” and close to 1,000 comments as of 3:45 AM EDT. VOA had none on Facebook because it failed to post anything, but even if it did, VOA’s social media engagement numbers do not even come close to those of BBC, RT, or CNN.
The fact that VOA did not even bother to post anything on its official Voice of America main English Facebook page about its own interview with the U.S. Secretary of State is simply inexcusable for an organization whose top executives claim that their primary mission is to engage foreign audiences using digital media. This is echoed by VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which so far has failed to address crippling management problems at the Voice of America.
Ironically, one of Voice of America managers wrote in an email before the interview with Secretary Kerry:
“The forces are gathering here [Voice of America headquarters in Washington, DC] to give the interview, and the secretary’s words, as much attention as possible.”
The manager must have gone home before the interview was delivered to Washington because nothing like this has happened.
BBC, on the other hand, gave its own interview with Kerry maximum digital exposure. VOA executives, who refer to themselves as “Digital First” did practically nothing for VOA interview with Kerry, not even a Facebook post.
VOA Facebook – No Post on Kerry Interview News Report (Still As of 1:30 AM Friday)
But what is even more inexcusable, VOA managers failed to arrange for posting even the audio of the Kerry interview and did not make sure that the interview would be mentioned in a VOA radio newscast with a soundbite several hours after it was conducted. When the interview was finally noted very briefly in a VOA online on-demand radio newscast for the first time after 9:00 PM EDT, there was no report about it from the correspondent and no soundbites of Kerry’s key comments about Russia in the newscast.
By 11:00 PM EDT Kerry interview disappeared altogether from the VOA radio online on-demand newscast while VOA still kept an old news item about South African track star Oscar Pistorius being acquitted of murder and reported on several other less important news stories. Kerry lost to Pistorius in a Voice of America English newscast.
We did not check the 10:00 PM online VOA on-demand radio newscast to see if it had anything about the Kerry interview, but as of 11:00 PM EDT, there was no mention of Kerry in the on-demand newscast and the VOA news report about the Kerry interview was number 11 headline on the VOA MIDDLE EAST NEWS page, behind many much older news stories.
The Kerry interview headline was not listed at all by 11:00 PM EDT on the VOA USA NEWS page.
BBC’s own interview with Kerry was still number two headline on the BBC USA & CANADA NEWS page.
*UPDATE: VOA eventually posted full audio of the Kerry interview at the end of the online correspondent report, but it was after 9:00 PM EDT. At most, a short soundbite and a brief reference to the interview appeared in only two online on-demand VOA English newscasts on Thursday before they were dropped.
Recording of VOA Online Radio Newscast After 8:00 PM EDT, Thursday, September 11, 2014. VOA Interview with Secretary of State Kerry Is Not Mentioned
Voice of America correspondent Scott Stearns had conducted the interview with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday. It was only an audio recording without video, but VOA should have been able to record a video of such an important interview unless the Secretary of State would not agree to record a video interview with a VOA correspondent, which would seem unlikely. More likely, VOA executives were not able to make arrangements for a video interview to be recorded, although we could not confirm this. We know, however, that it was not recorded as video. This was also not an exclusive interview with VOA in Jeddah. BBC recorded a video interview with Kerry in Jeddah at about the same time, as did CNN. CNN’s interview was also on video.
But if only an audio interview was recorded for the Voice of America, VOA international audiences still did not get to hear it several hours later and did not learn about it in online VOA radio newscasts until after 9:00 PM EDT. VOA online radio was late in reporting on it and did not keep it in its on-demand radio newscasts for very long. The VOA online radio newscast at 11:00 PM EDT no longer had anything on the Kerry interview.
VOA’s “Latest Newscast” downloaded from the VOA website between 8:00 and 8:30 PM EDT Thursday definitely made no mention of the Kerry interview and included an old and somewhat outdated radio news report from Scott Stearns, not related to the interview and not mentioning the interview. (BBC had its video interview with Kerry online by at least 6:00 PM EDT.) A text news report about the VOA interview and a transcript were, however, already posted online by then. It is not known how many hours it took VOA to post these after the interview was conducted in Jeddah.
There was also no photo on the VOA website showing Scott Stearns interviewing Secretary Kerry. A transcript of the VOA – John Kerry interview was not posted on the VOA website until 7:41 PM EDT, September 11. By 12:40 AM EDT, September 12, it was showing only 1 (one) Facebook “Share,” 5 Tweets and zero readers’ comments, which were not activated.
CNN also interviewed Secretary Kerry in Jeddah. “Kerry: U.S. not at war with ISIS” By Elise Labott, Laura Smith-Spark and Ray Sanchez, CNN, updated 7:33 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014.
Like BBC’s, CNN’s interview was on video. The CNN report with video of CNN interview with Kerry was showing over 3,300 Facebook “Shares” as of 2:20 AM, EDT Friday, compared to only 1 for the VOA transcript of the VOA interview and barely three dozen for the VOA news report on the interview. Like BBC, CNN had a Facebook post linking to their correspondent report about the interview. VOA did not.
Near Zero VOA Audience Engagement on Kerry Interview on Social Media
What international audiences initially got from Voice of America was a news report with a few quotes from the interview, followed by a Skype debriefer with VOA correspondent Scott Stearn, which was mostly not about his interview with Kerry, but about the political situation in the region.
VOA managers, however, promised much more. This is what they wrote to each other in an email sent out Thursday. They discussed what they were planning to do with the interview.
EMAIL FROM VOA MANAGERS: “Great news on the Kerry interview. The forces are gathering here to give the interview, and the secretary’s words, as much attention as possible. The goal is to get it on the Web quickly, offer the sound and get out a radio story. So, here’s what we would like to do:
1) At the interview, would it be possible for someone at the site to snap a picture of the two of you just before, during or just after the interview. We’d like to have the image to put up on VOA Web sites. If this is not appropriate, with the personnel present, understandable of course.
2) Immediately after the interview, we’d like you to upload audio of the entire interview to VOA.
3) We’d like you to then do a debrief, via skype, with one of the Web desk writers. The Web will be putting a story out quickly, which will be incorporated in the CN file as well. [Two VOA staffers] will be in touch with you and are copied on this message – so if you can follow up with your skype info, and timing of the interview (when it becomes known), they’ll look forward to it. Whatever the Web is writing, you can take a look at it to be sure accuracy and tone are correct.
4) Follow up with the CR. We’ll want your reporting and writing on the story as it develops and, of course, the radio services will appreciate getting your CR.
Please let us know if these arrangements are workable and if you have suggestions or concerns.”
Comment from a veteran VOA reporter:
VETERAN VOA REPORTER: “A Skype de-briefer on the interview?
Please…you would never see this on the BBC. Only at VOA, desperate as the place is to milk the maximum out of rare contact with high officials.”
While VOA managers and staffers were wasting time recording a SKYPE de-briefer with the correspondent about the interview, there was no one to quickly post a transcript and full audio, to do a Facebook post, to include soundbites of the interview in VOA English on-demand radio newscasts, and to include a correspondent report about the interview in these newscasts. [UPDATE: A transcript and full audio were eventually posted, but it took hours and by then the news item about the interview was removed from major headlines.]
VOA finally included a short sound bite from the Kerry interview in its “Latest Newcast” available online at 9:00PM EDT, but the radio newscast had nothing about a key news-making statement from the interview that John Kerry and the U.S. administration are disappointed by Russia’s initial reaction to President Barack Obama’s speech on the Islamic State militant group Wednesday. While the 9:00 PM EDT VOA newscast had an item on Ukraine, it failed to include any comments from Kerry’s interview about Ukraine and Russia. The VOA 9:00 PM EDT radio newscast only reported that Kerry’s next stop was Turkey to discuss the IS threat. The 9:00 PM EDT radio newscast also did not include any radio report from VOA correspondent Scott Stearns about his interview with the Secretary of State or Kerry’s comment that the IS represents a threat to Russia.
Recording of VOA Online Radio Newscast After 9:00 PM EDT, Thursday, September 11, 2014. One Short Soundbite from the Interview But No Correspondent Report or Key Remarks on Russia
Much of Voice of America managers promised about the Kerry interview did not happen. As of 9:45 PM EDT Thursday, the VOA report about the interview has only 37 Facebook “Shares” from the online text report, 54 Tweets and six readers’ comments. As we noted, incredibly VOA did not have a Facebook post about the interview. BBC Facebook post about the BBC interview with Kerry had 361 “Likes” as of 11:00 PM EDT. For another comparison, a related Russian RT’s news report also from today, “CIA estimates 20k-30k fighters in Syria, Iraq after Obama pledges to destroy ISIS,” already shows 872 Facebook “Shares,” 345 Tweets and 56 readers comments.
VOA also posted a news report, “CIA: As Many as 31,000 Islamic State Fighters in Iraq, Syria,” which shows 39 Facebook “Shares,” 18 Tweets and one comment. This VOA report makes absolutely no use of the earlier VOA interview with John Kerry — not a single quote.
Secretary Kerry has gotten far more online and social media exposure with his BBC interview. Even Russia’s RT would have delivered much more social media exposure than VOA and would have certainly have a Facebook post if they had gotten an interview with Kerry. BBC highlighted his most important statement on the homepage. As of 11:00 PM EDT, BBC headline “Kerry: Coalition ready to take on IS” was still number one under its lead story headline “CIA triples estimate of IS numbers.”
This was yet another amateur performance by the VOA management team on news reporting and web handling of an important interview with the U.S. Secretary of State. BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and John Kerry’s representative on the BBG Board, U.S. Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel, should take a lead and act quickly to address the management meltdown at the Voice of America.
VOA NEWS REPORT
Last updated on: September 11, 2014 7:21 PM
JEDDAH—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. administration are disappointed by Russia’s initial reaction to President Barack Obama’s speech on the Islamic State militant group Wednesday.
In an interview Thursday evening with VOA in Saudi Arabia, Kerry said, “I would hope that Russia will come to see that ISIL really represents a threat to them, too.
“There are problems through many of the countries around Russia and near Russia and even in some of the parts of Russia,” he said, referring to its experience with Chechnya. “There are terrorists, many of whom will take an example from ISIL and what is happening [in Syria and Iraq].”
Syria and Russia are both denouncing President Obama’s threat to attack Islamic State fighters in Syria, with Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich saying such action without the consent of the Syrian government or the U.N. Security Council “would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”
Kerry said Russia should not block the coalition, however, but should join the international effort against IS militants.
Kerry said the Obama administration hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government will help the international community “engage in responsible behavior to deal with” ISIL and end the war in Syria.
“I think over time Russia will see that the real need is for them to be more cooperative and stop supporting a guy like [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], who kills his own population, and to help bring about a political solution,” he said.
“We are looking to Russia to help bring about a political solution,” said Kerry. “We still believe that’s the only solution for what is happening in Syria.”
VOA’s Scott Stearns discusses the Kerry interview:
Possible Iranian role
Iran is allied with Russia in backing Syria’s Assad, but it shares U.S. concerns about the Islamic State, helping arm Kurdish forces in Iraq that are backed by U.S. airstrikes.
While Kerry said there is no direct military cooperation with Iran, he told VOA that Tehran and Washington do not want to get in each other’s way as they fight a common enemy.
“Both Iran and the United States are smart enough to take precautions to make sure that there is a deconfliction with respect to that kind of possibility,” he said.
“That’s common sense, but it doesn’t amount to cooperation in terms of military operations or otherwise,” Kerry added. “And certainly we will keep people out of harms way as appropriately, and we would hope they would.”
A senior State Department official said the United States and its Arab allies in this coalition are “pretty much aware of what Iran is doing in Iraq. And they’re not trying to conceal it either.”
France hosts a conference on the Islamic State next week that will include the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, Russia, and the United States.
French officials have said previously that Iran should also take part in those talks. But Iran believes tackling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria should include representatives from the Syrian government, which is opposed by the United States, Britain, and France.
The U.S. secretary of state, following up on Obama’s push to “degrade and destroy” the group in both Iraq and Syria, secured a committment Thursday from 10 Gulf and Arab leaders to form an international coalition against Islamic State militants at a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The top U.S. diplomat continues his regional tour to forge a broad alliance against the Sunni militant group Friday in Turkey. From there he will travel to Egypt, meeting top leaders in Cairo.
September 11, 2014 7:41 PM
Transcript of VOA correspondent Scott Stearns’ interview in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Q: Russia and Iran supporting Bashar al-Assad has been a problem for the United States from the beginning on Syria. On Islamic State, Iran has come around at least to your way of thinking. Russia, not so much. So, what do you do with the Russians on the issue of the Islamic State? Not only do they not seem cooperative, but you saw their reaction to the president’s speech and they seem to want to take it to the U.N.? It’s this Libya thing all over again.
A: Well, I would hope that Russia will come to see that ISIL really presents to threat to them, too. There are problems through many of the countries around Russia and near Russian even some of the parts of Russia where there are terrorists, many of whom will take, you know, example from ISIL and from what is happening there. So I think Russia needs to worry about ISIL. And the fact is that we are responding to the legitimate request of a country, to help that country. We have legitimate authorization from Congress in which we have been fighting against al-Qaida and its affiliates for some period of time. And I think over time Russia will see that the real need is for them to be more cooperative and stop supporting a guy like Assad who kills his own population and to help bring about a political solution. We are looking to Russia to help bring about a political solution. We still believe that’s the only solution for what’s happening in Syria.
Q: You and the president have both said that a lot of this will be done at the U.N. General Assembly. Do you fear that Russia might, you know, be an obstacle there?
A: Well, when we say done at the U.N. General Assembly, we are not talking about the Security Council and resolution, things like that. What we are talking about is simply, you have many countries assembled at the same time. The leaders those countries are all there. And we will air the issues surrounding ISIL at the United Nations with those leaders. I will be chairing a U.N. Security Council session on the 19th of the month. The president will chair one the next week on the subject of foreign fighters and we are going to focus on this challenge. And we hope Russia, will in fact, join us and recognize the degree to which it is challenged and engage in responsible behavior to deal with it.
Q: The president announced new sanctions against Russia today over its situation in Ukraine. Do you see any irony in the Russians complaining about your planning to act against the Islamic State when they are acting in Ukraine?
A: Ah, you know, I could probably go on for 20 minutes on that one. There’s a lot of irony and it’s really not worth commenting on.
Q: So you said yesterday in Baghdad, Iran’s doing what it’s doing against Islamic State but there is no cooperation with the United States. Given the size of the Islamic State threat, isn’t that an inefficiency in dealing with that?
Q: Is there any concerns that a lack of cooperation could lead you inadvertently to cross militarily, you know, you don’t want to be in each other’s way?
A: Well, that’s for certain, and I think the both Iran and the United States are smart enough to take precautions to make sure that there is a deconfliction with respect to that kind of possibility. That’s common sense. But it doesn’t amount to cooperation in terms of military operations or otherwise. And certainly we will keep people out of harm’s in way as appropriately. And we hope they would.
Q: A senior State Department official told us last night that it was her opinion that Kuwait and Qatar had a spotty record on restricting financial assistance to the Islamic State. Did that come up here today?
A: Well, I am not going to get into what country does what or hasn’t done what in the past and this and that and the other. We’ve got pretty good sense through our Treasury Department efforts and the past records of where the weak spots are with respect to movement of money and finance of terrorism and so forth. Clearly, part of our effort here will be to focus in on whatever country may be a weak link and that important chain. And we are going to focus on it. And we need to tighten up. We need to tighten up everywhere. And there are many different things that need to tighten up. Some countries have to tighten up the flow of money, others have to tighten up the flow of weapons, others have to tighten up the flow of foreign fighters. There are all kinds of concerted efforts that are going to have to be focused on in order to make this work.
Q: How do you take what happened here today and build on that tomorrow in Turkey?
A: Well Turkey will be, you know, Turkey’s a big border with Syria. It’s very, very important. Many foreign fighters have moved through Turkey. So there is a lot to discuss with Turkey about roles that can played here, but obviously they have some immediate sensitivities and we thoughtful about those. So we’re going to sit down as talk about the road ahead.
Q: If I can finish off subject, South China Sea. The Chinese appear to be dredging up a bunch of sand and rocks to try increase the size of some of the claims that they have in the Spratly Islands. How does that square with your understanding about the rival claimants not taking unilateral steps that might antagonize?
A: Well they all need to avoid unilateral steps. We’ve had long discussions with China about this. Our hope is that every country with claims will not self-help in the resolution of those claims except to go to a legal process, through arbitration, to court, resolve these issues peacefully. That’s our only desire. We’re not talking a position on the merits of one particular claim or another. We are taking the position that the entire region is safer and more secure if these kinds of issues are not resolved in a confrontational manner.
Q: But what do you say to U.S. allies frustrated when they see, the Philippines I’m talking about, when they see China doing that and they say, well, what is the consequence for China?
A: Well, we, all of us, believe the consequences lie in the application of the law. Nobody’s looking for confrontation here. And we’ve had conversations with China about how to approach the South China Sea and other conflicts in the area, the East China Sea and East Japan Sea and so forth, and we really need to continue to press for appropriate legal avenues as the appropriate remedy for resolving this. And we urged the Philippines, and we urge other countries, Vietnam and others with claims, also, not to take provocative actions. It’s not all falling on China, you know. There are different folks who have made different decisions at different times to try to flex their muscles with respect to this and none of that is obviously helpful.