BBG Watch Commentary

Facebook and Twitter Top Stories - VOA, RT, Al Jazeera - July 7, 2013Whether a top news story is new or has been on the website for several hours, whether it deals with domestic U.S. issues, international issues or a combination of both, the Voice of America English news website gets clobbered by Russia Today and Al Jazeera in terms of online audience engagement through social media platforms such as Facebook of Twitter. VOA’s Facebook “Likes” (VOA uses “Recommend” which is the same as “Like”) are in single and low double digits. Russia Today and Al Jazeera get hundreds and often thousands of Facebook “Likes.”

This pattern is repeated day after day, news story after news story. The statistics collected for July 7, 2013, are not unique. The results were very similar yesterday, the day before yesterday and several months ago. The management has been trying to hide a serious problem from members of their oversight board, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), members of Congress, and American taxpayers who pay for Voice of America programs.

Three top Voice of America English news stories on Sunday afternoon DC time had the total of 107 Facebook “Likes” and Tweets. Russia Today had 10,902. Al Jazeera had 1,939.

Article by former Voice of America (VOA) journalist Gary Thomas in Columbia Journalism Review on journalistic practices at VOA and management of U.S. international broadcasting within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).In attacking a former Voice of America senior correspondent Gary Thomas who had published an article in Columbia Journalism Review outlining serious inadequacies in VOA news coverage, management and employee morale, Kyle King,  a spokesman for Voice of America director David Ensor responded that “A simple look at the Voice of America’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization. ”

VOA management refused to answer questions submitted by Mr. Thomas for his article, but after the article was published, Mr. Kyle accused Mr. Thomas, a journalist with more than 30 years of experience who was reporting from places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, of “errors” and  “malice.”

Sources told us that BBG members were appalled by such a Soviet-style treatment of Mr. Thomas by the management of a U.S. taxpayer-funded media organization that exists to champion freedom of the press. Several journalists accepted Mr. King’s invitation to take a look at the Voice of America’s English news website and found abundant evidence for what Mr. Thomas reported in his article: important news stories were being posted late, they were not being updated, they were short, many were simply re-written wire service reports, there was no or very little original news coverage by VOA, and Voice of America was being beaten by Russia Today and Al Jazeera in social media engagement by such enormous margins that to any outside observer it could only look as a total disaster for VOA.

Top executives do not agree.

Both Director Ensor, who is now believed to be on an extended summer vacation, and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo, who was recently in Europe, have been telling Congressional staffers, members of Congress and reporters that Voice of America has an outstanding social media outreach program. It was developed thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in technology projects. “Today we are reaching and engaging audiences like never before,” said Director of International Broadcasting Bureau  Richard Lobo at a recent Digital Innovation Expo hosted by IBB on Capitol Hill.

What these social media statistics show is that these executives and their top deputies have been hiding from Congress and American taxpayers that in order to pay for expanding IBB bureaucracy, consultants, contractors and projects that did not advance VOA’s social media engagement capabilities, they have nearly destroyed  VOA news coverage, eliminated many news reporting positions, and closed down or reduced many programs and programming jobs in VOA language services. Their management team is also responsible for the lowest employee morale within the federal government as measured by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.


Social media engagement (Facebook and Twitter) for three* top news stories each from Voice of America, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera, Sunday PM (DC time), July 7, 2013

*One of Russia Today’s top stories was live TV/video coverage of protests in Cairo for which social media statistics were not available. A fourth RT top news item was used. It is difficult to determine when these news stories were first posted.

Total Score

Voice of America English – 107

Russia Today – 10, 902

Al Jazeera – 1,939

Voice of America English News – Top Stories

US Lawmakers React to Crisis in Egypt, VOA News, July 7, 2013

5:30 PM DC

VOA Facebook “Likes” – 28

VOA Tweet – 17

Historic Mosque in Syria’s Homs Under Fire as Fighting Rages, VOA News, July 7, 2013.

VOA Facebook “Likes” – 9

VOA Tweet – 28

Jordan Charges Deported Muslim Cleric with Terrorism, VOA News, July 7, 2013.

VOA Facebook “Likes” – 9

VOA Tweet – 16

Russia Today English News – Top Stories

Crashed Asiana Jet Approached Runway Below Target Speed – US, Russia Today, July 7, 2013.

RT Facebook “Likes” – 7,000

RT Tweet – 1,925

Snowden: NSA is ‘in bed with the Germans’, Russia Today, July 7, 2013. (Story was posted only 2 hours earlier.)

RT Facebook “Likes” – 1,300

RT Tweet – 82

Protest in Egypt – LIVE – On Air, Russia Today, July 7, 2013.

Social media statistics were not available for this story due to live TV and online video coverage.

More than 100 injured as passenger train derails in southern Russia, Russia Today, July 7, 2013.

RL Facebook “Likes” – 407

RL Tweet – 188

Al Jazeera English News – Top Stories

Protests continue across Egypt, Al Jazeera, July 7, 2013.

Al Jazeera Facebook “Likes” – 228

Al Jazeera Tweet – 131

Scores missing after Canadian train explosion, Al Jazeera, July 7, 2013.

Al Jazeera Facebook “Likes” – 796

Al Jazeera Tweet – 248

Jordan charges preacher deported from UK, Al Jazeera, July 7, 2013.

Al Jazeera Facebook “Likes” – 404

Al Jazeera Tweet – 132