BBG Watch Commentary
On Thursday, November 7, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) had posted on its English News website 15 news reports from UK-based Reuters news agency. Most of these news reports, five of which dealt primarily with U.S. news, gathered between 0 (zero) and 3 (three) Facebook “Likes” or “Recommends” from visitors to the VOA website. All 15 reports showed only 2 (two) comments from online readers in three days.
A quick search showed that about 30 original VOA News or other VOA originated reports were also posted on November 7. Out of about 45 reports posted, 15 were from Reuters. That is a very high proportion of outside news content that generates hardly any audience engagement through social media. Out of 30 reports attributed to VOA, only 10 had a byline of a VOA reporter.
November 7 Reuters reports on the VOA website covering largely U.S. news developments or having a significant U.S. news element (Snowden-Germany) included:
(Facebook “Likes/Recommends” as of 1PM ET, Saturday, November 9)
Kerry Travels to Geneva as Iran, Six Powers Making Progress in Nuclear Talks
REUTERS ON VOA SITE – 3 FACEBOOK LIKES
US Senate Panel Will Move Ahead on New Iran Sanctions
REUTERS on VOA SITE – 5 FACEBOOK LIKES
Germans See Snowden as Hero but Don’t Favor Asylum
REUTERS on VOA SITE – 2 FACEBOOK LIKES
It should not be assumed that an original news report on U.S.-related political stories cannot attract social media attention. On the contrary, a Russia Today news report on Snowden and Germany shows over 4,700 Facebook “Likes” and its report on CIA and AT&T had over 6,300 Facebook “Likes” as of Saturday afternoon.
AT&T gets paid millions by the CIA to give up user data
RUSSIA TODAY – OVER 6,300 FACEBOOK LIKES
Germans lose trust in US, see NSA whistleblower Snowden as hero – poll
RUSSIA TODAY – OVER 4,700 FACEBOOK LIKES
One of the November 7 news stories, on Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia, had a significant U.S. news element since two of the prisoners are Americans, including the ship’s captain Peter Willcox. The Reuters report on the Voice of America website, however, did not mention this fact. VOA English News has not reported the fate of the two Americans since they were arrested in September. In contrast to VOA, BBC and numerous reports on jailed British nationals and their families in the UK organizing protests and calling for their release. Some of these BBC reports included interviews with family members of jailed Greenpeace activists.
Russia: Greenpeace Activists to Face Additional Charges
REUTERS ON VOA SITE – 3 FACEBOOK LIKES, 10 TWEETS
Greenpeace charges are excessive, says David Cameron
BBC – 123 FACEBOOK LIKES, 221 TWEETS
The BBC report includes an audio actuality of the father of video journalist Kieron Bryan, 29, from London. Andy Brian said that Mr. Cameron’s phone call to Mr. Putin was a positive move. His son, Kieron Bryan was reported as saying last week that he was locked up for 23 hours a day and feared “losing years of his life.”
VOA English News has not posted any interviews with family members of the two American Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia or with their supporters in the United States.
VOA English News also frequently misses significant news stories of interest to international audiences. One recent example is yesterday’s news story that CBS News apologized for “wrong” Benghazi report, in which one of CBS’s sources had claimed to have been at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya during the 11 September 2012 attack but apparently was not. BBC had a news story on this on November 8, “CBS News apologises for ‘wrong’ Benghazi report,” with 362 Facebook “Likes” by early afternoon on November 9. VOA English News had nothing on this journalistic controversy that has both U.S. and international focus.
The Voice of America loses credibility, audiences, and social media attention by not reporting on such controversies originating in the United States. VOA also loses audiences by relying on Reuters and under-reporting on important U.S. news developments. The beneficiary is not just BBC but also Russia Today, Al Jazeera and China’s CCTV.
Most of the seven VOA reports originated on November 7 by VOA correspondents/reporters under their bylines had far more Facebook “Likes” than most of the Reuters reports. While not anywhere close to the numbers BBC, Russia Today and often also Al Jazeera can get routinely for their news reports, one original VOA report posted on November 7 had 109 “Likes” as of late afternoon November 9, VOA news video: “Afghan Interpreter Finally Lands in US” by Kokab Farshori.
Another VOA report by Lucy Poni, “South Sudan Blames LRA for Deadly Attacks” showed 32 Facebook “Likes.” The other five original VOA news reports got: 23, 17, 7, 5, 3 Facebook “Likes.”
This is still far better than how most Reuters political news reports performed on the VOA website on November 7, but also nothing to write home about if compared to how Russia Today, BBC, and Al Jazeera news sites are doing. One thing is clear, however. When VOA relies on Reuters, audiences have no special reason to go to the VOA website and to “Like” such news reports.
VOA correspondents and reporters can’t be blamed for any of this. They certainly can’t be blamed for the management’s decision to use Reuters news reports instead of generating original coverage and for the low audience engagement these reports get through social media. Their own reports are far more popular on social media, but if they can’t match the numbers BBC and Russia Today get, it is again the fault of the management for making the VOA website unattractive, poorly-designed and lacking in news content that would attract international audiences in the first place.