BBG Watch Commentary


In its pursuit of fluff journalism, U.S. taxpayer-supported Voice of America (VOA) produced and posted online today a video report about teen pop star Justin Bieber getting arrested and being charged for drunk driving, but it failed to report on its English language news website about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks that U.S. diplomats in Kyiv are talking to Ukraine’s President Yanukovych in an attempt to end violence and resolve the conflict between him and pro-democracy demonstrators.

Russia’s RT, Germany’s Deutsche Welle, Al Arabiya, The Wall Street Journal and many other international and U.S. media reported that Secretary Kerry promised that the U.S. will stand with the people of Ukraine.

VOA English news website never reported on this Secretary Kerry’s statement on Ukraine made today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The vast majority of VOA language services, except for the Ukrainian Service, also did not report the news of U.S. diplomatic engagement to peacefully resolve the crisis in Ukraine and on Secretary Kerry’s additional remark that the U.S. “will stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, VOA English website has posted four different news reports recently on Justin Bieber, three of them on his arrest in Miami.

While VOA ignored Kerry’s “we will stand with the people of Ukraine” statement, Russia’s RT (Russia Today) did report on it.


Despite enormous efforts and resources put by VOA executives into entertainment journalism, it is not showing any significant audience gains in social media. VOA’s latest video report on Justin Bieber was showing only 20 Facebook “Likes” as of 1:00 AM EST Saturday, many hours after being posted.

RT’s report which included quotes from Secretary Kerry’s statement on Ukraine was showing over 1,700 Facebook “Likes,” just a few hours after being posted.


Even U.S. diplomatic posts sometimes beat VOA in social media popularity. VOA report on Bieber barely got just three more Facebook “Likes” (20) than the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv post on Secretary Kerry’s statement (17). The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv actually beat the VOA Bieber report with its post on Kerry in the number of Tweets: 21 Tweets for the Bieber report on VOA versus 38 Tweets for the Kerry statement on Ukraine on the U.S. Embassy website. Another recent post on the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv website got over 400 Facebook “Likes” while VOA report on the same Ukraine-related topic, which was late and superficial, got only a few Facebook “Likes.”


Among other media, Russia’s news agency RIA Novosti reported ““US ‘Will Stand With the People of Ukraine’ – Kerry”,” as did Al Arabiya in its report, “Kerry hits back at U.S. critics in Davos 2014,” which included a video of Kerry’s speech in Davos.

The Wall Street Journal quoted John Kerry’s comments on Ukraine in an editorial, “America and Ukraine: As the crisis in Kiev worsens, the U.S. needs to move on sanctions,” while the Voice of America English website and almost all other VOA language services did not even report that Secretary Kerry spoke in Davos about Ukraine.

Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) reported that “at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Secretary of State John Kerry said US diplomats were working with Yanukovych, pressuring him to forgo violence and promote democratic freedoms. DW reported: “We will stand with the people of Ukraine,” Kerry said. “Protests endure in Kyiv after Yanukovych suggests compromise,” DW, Jan. 25, 2014.

BBC did not report Friday on Kerry’s statement, but it posted and updated throughout the day several excellent news reports from Ukraine with details of what was happening from its correspondent on the scene and with information from other sources.

Some of these BBC reports from Ukraine now show over 1,000 Facebook “Likes,” while VOA’s most recent but by now old report, which has not been updated for many hours, shows only 15 Facebook “Likes” at 1:00 AM EST Saturday.


With excellent reporting from Ukraine on the BBC website, one can forgive the Brits for trying to gain audience with their reports on Justin Bieber. They do not do tabloid journalism at the expense of serious news reporting. BBC is an excellent news organization that takes care first of real news.


But even in fluff journalism, BBC beats VOA many times over, getting hundreds of Facebook “Likes” for its Justin Bieber report compared to 20 for VOA’s.

At the same time, as we keep pointing out BBC provides comprehensive coverage of real news while VOA does not. Russia’s RT does both news and pro-Kremlin, anti-American propaganda, but it also covers news, even U.S. news and official U.S. news, often much faster and much more comprehensively than VOA.

VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch should read this Tweet from U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power since she was talking about them:

BBG Watch site visitors may want to take note of these comments which were in response to one of our earlier posts: “Lessons in leadership, journalism and VOA Charter from employees for Director Ensor,” BBG Watch, Jan. 21, 2014.

Gary Thomas says January 24, 2014, 6:55 am

In an appearance on the Daily Show this evening, Hari Srinivasan of PBS News Hour was asked about their show vs. the networks and cable new outlets. What he said is extraordinarily relevant to the BBG and VOA and the other USG-funded entities and therefore bears highlighting:
“We’re on a public service mission mission. They’re in the audience business,” he said. “They’re doing what they have to do to build audiences and make money. And we’d like the audience, frankly. But that’s not what we’re doing. Our goal is to do something that hopefully makes you think.”
VOA changed markedly — and not for the better – when managers were brought in from outside news organizations, bringing with them the commercial sensibilities of their former employers. This steered VOA away from its public service mission and toward chasing audience numbers game by means of cheap quickie fixes to build up “share.” Newsgathering and reporting standards have eroded in this journalistically toxic atmosphere. I would not be at all surprised if we see a reality TV division spring to life there. It is so, so sad to watch – and was so, so avoidable.


BBG Watcher says January 24, 2014, 6:18 pm

The ultimate irony is that the fluff journalism strategy of these Voice of America executives is not working. This can be clearly seen from social media stats on VOA website. Dozens of their reports on the British royal wedding and British royal baby christening had gotten barely any Facebook “Likes” or Tweets and close to zero comments from readers.

On those rare occasions when a VOA journalist still manages to post a timely news report on a significant news development and includes in-depth analysis and balance, such a piece usually gets far more social media attention than reports on the British royalty or Hollywood actors.


Winston Wood says January 24, 2014, 6:30 pm

She should have included VOA in this list.

While outlets including CNN, The Washington Times and Los Angeles Times have dedicated a portion of Thursday’s news output to pop star Justin Bieber’s recent unlawful shenanigans, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has a message: You probably shouldn’t care.

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