TeleSUR English: 4 Years of Corruption, Wasted Money and Lost Opportunities

TeleSUR English is unique in today’s media environment.

Unlike other media news companies wholly or partially funded by foreign governments – such as BBC and Britain; RT and Russia, 24 and France – TeleSUR English is avowedly socialist in its political orientation. There are no red flags or five pointed stars in its masthead to indicate this, thankfully, but it is evident in other ways.

He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune

TeleSUR’s three main financial supporters are Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia –  three countries that over the past two decades have each elected political parties to power in order to enact radically new policies. These policies caused major upset for the traditional economic elite in each country, and in America, as they switched to a governance model intended to benefit all citizens rather than the one which previously only benefitted those best able to financially contribute to politicians.

Additionally, the non-current event content shared on their social media pages includes quotes and photos from socialists such as Rosa Luxembourg, the Black Panther Party, Patrice Lumumba; people that were sympathetic to socialists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr; and a variety of other socialist related content.

In their About Me section, TeleSUR English claims that they want to be “A space and a voice for the construction of a new communications order” centered around the subject of  “Global South” an allusion to social, political and economic justice.

Why I Decided to Review TeleSUR English’s Digital Footprint

Long a researcher into radical political history and thought; a student of Venezuelan media and politics since the failed 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez Frias; TeleSUR English was born in 2014, just as I was starting to change my career from an academic to Creative Director and Digital Media Strategist.

In December of 2017, a few months after I left a job as a Creative  Strategist at a Major Marketing Firm, I decided to see how I could best contribute to TeleSUR English.

To accomplish this I looked underneath the proverbial hood of this modern iteration of a radical newspaper to see what was doing well and what needed to be changed.

My intent in looking at various key performance indicators I’d previously used in the digital media strategy and marketing realm was to be able to highlight some of their pain points and then present a pitch which showcased my strategy and services which attracting viewers and build audience in a digital ecology.

On first look, what I discovered was disconcerting – bad key performance indicators. As I began to engage, something more nefarious emerged.

Why What I Discovered on Reviewing TeleSUR English Required A Public Report

I reached out to TeleSUR English director Pablo Vivanco about contributing to their efforts and was warmly received. After a one on one interview and passing a competency test I was scheduled to speak with Orlando Perez, the Assistant Director of TeleSUR, on January 8th. However after sending a sample section of my data-based findings to Pablo Vivanco, all previously accessible channels of communication ceased.

Why? I’m not sure but I imagine that it has to do with fact that I uncovered at TeleSUR English what looks to be corruption and gross incompetence, if not sabotage.

How do I know this?

Some of the bad stats were intentionally produced to be misleading as to the level of success of TeleSUR English’s operations.

Some of the bad stats were intentionally produced as the person directing operations was either incompetent or is trying to purposely sabotage TeleSUR English’s operations.

Why Future Historians Will Refer to The First 5 Years of TeleSUR English’s Wasted Money and Opportunities as it’s Lost Half Decade

If someone should write about the history of TeleSUR English they will refer to it as The Lost Half Decade. Why? Because of how badly TeleSUR English has been  directed since its inception in the digital realm. How bad is it? Below is an explanation as to why it happened as well as several examples of the criminal-level incompetency that I’ve discovered.

Worthless Metrics Promoted as Meaningful

In the description on his LinkedIn account, Pablo Vivanco writes the following:

“With a reduced staff and budget, improved metric outreach by over 2000% in under 12 months”

As impressive a number as 2000% is, anyone that’s done any sort of digital marketing, growth hacking or any kind of content marketing strategy will tell you – outreach by itself is an entirely meaningless metric.

Nobody cares about the numbers of emails sent that are never opened; the number of dofollow links placed on low Domain Authority user-generated webpages; or the links posted on websites that are never read, etc. Google, especially, doesn’t care about these.

While this number can be useful in comparison to something else over time – for instance outreach numbers in relationship to A/B testing email headers, only someone that doesn’t have a professional understanding of digital media ecology would self-publicize about such a metric, let alone authorize the spending of tens of thousands of dollars to achieve such a metric.

Key performance indicators that ought to be monitored to track and map improvement include the following:

  1. Number of email subscriptions.
  2. Genuine number of followers of social media accounts.
  3. Genuine engagement level on social media accounts.
  4. Domain authority.
  5. Brand/website awareness.
  6. Number of readers.
  7. Reader engagement (i.e. Time Spent on Pages, Number of Pages Traversed, Comments/Shares).

Any person wishing to genuinely understand and track the health of TeleSUR English, or any website for that matter, should be looking at these key performance indicators.

Looking at TeleSUR English’s social media footprint, we can see the shape of such mismanagement.

False Followers on All Social Media

On TeleSUR English’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube Accounts there is ample evidence that many of the people which are “Following” these accounts are not real.

Pablo Vivanco admitted this was true while on the phone with me.

Lacking internal access to their social media accounts and to their internal purchases (to check for “Pay for Followers” services) I cannot say for certain what proportion that this is actually is, but I can estimate and what I can say authoritatively is that they have zero value.

False Followers on Twitter

TwitterAudit suggests that about 80% of TeleSUR English’s followers are real, however based on engagement numbers demographics and the number of people following them that follow over 500 people, I’d say actual people following are about one-half to two thirds of what is actually shown for Twitter. A full report from Twitnomy could easily show me wrong. 

False Followers on YouTube

For the number of YouTube views and subscriptions, I would say the percent of people that are fake to real is much higher.

Given the ratios of ratings of videos, to engagement via comments, to view numbers I’d say that it is likely half of the views and subscriptions aren’t real.

False Followers on Facebook

There’s fewer means for determining false engagement levels on Facebook outside the app itself, so I decided to try an experiment.

After reviewing a number of posts people, I noticed a number of recurring names.

Given many of these people’s profiles were almost entirely not in English, I was surprised. I understand that it’s normal in many places for English to be a 2nd, 3rd or even 4th language – but there was just zero indication other than a TeleSUR English link that it was within there repertoire. As such I decided to send friend requests and message ten people to see how many responded. Out of the ten, only one did.

Now does this mean only one in ten of their followers are real? Certainly not.

What it does mean that someone at TeleSUR English has been paying for follower services, which ought to be categorized as an improper allocation of tax resources.

Interesting to note: What happened shortly after I tried this experiment? Facebook took down the TeleSUR English Facebook page.

***Update 2/11/18***

Because of the above section I’ve since been accused that I want to “destroy” TeleSUR English. This is simply not true, I simply do not believe that paying for fake followers is a defensible strategy.

Furthermore, I’ve since learned from an internal source that the unpublishing of the TeleSUR English Facebook page was an accident on their part. That they’ve not commented on this, to me, is totally irresponsible and a further example of their willingness to distort the truth for their own narrative gain.

What TeleSUR Should Have Done

TeleSUR English would be much better served using social media to connect directly with creaders by exchanging tweets, direct messages and responding to Facebook comments by readers. This has real value — not only helping win them over, but also showing prospective readers that the news enterprise genuinely wants to engage. This is another example of the poor strategy of TeleSUR English. If you review their comments section on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube you will see almost no replies to comments left by people, even when they are being asked a question.

Other Wasted Opportunities

TeleSUR English has now been in existence for over four years and as a result of their choosing a director primarily for ideological rather than professional reasons, TeleSUR English pursued a number of content ideation, production and digital media strategies that are not considered best practices by YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Examples of Best Practices Not Being Followed

One example of TeleSUR English not following best practices is with its abundance of high production videos that are simply too long.

YouTube and Facebook videos which are most often shared are five minutes and under. While longer format content certainly fulfills a need, TeleSUR English ignores all data-based advice by not repurposing what they’ve already produced into short and succinct segments that are more readily sharable and digestible.

That the above video has only 38 views is both a testament to its length and the bizarre name “Birds of the Apocalypse” that means a person looking for information on “Vulture Funds” will have great difficulty finding it.

Additionally there are the technical mistakes which sometimes require viewers to tell the TeleSUR English staff that the video they are live-streaming is sideways.

Such mistakes happen naturally, it’s only human. However it seems that TeleSUR English has such an abundance of them as the person directing the enterprise simply doesn’t know how to optimize their digital media presence.

Wrong Backlinking Strategy


A well-executed back-linking strategy is an incredibly powerful means for establishing a higher Domain Authority and drawing in readers. However from the above view from Ahrefs we can see that this was not the case.

The strategy which TeleSUR English followed was to take a route that allowed for the wrong kind of data to be presented in fair light rather quickly – “outreach”. Outreach in this instance means putting over a million links on low domain authority websites that has their content generated by users.

Not only does this not constitute an effective strategy, but changes on the content platform could remove all of that effort with a terms of service change or a coterie of committed, computer literature people could remove all of those links.

It’s understandable WHY someone would want to do this – currently some of the top referring pages to TeleSUR English are from Wikipedia, however this doesn’t justify this as a strategy but instead as a reason why to change strategy.

Any government funded institution that spends money on a back-linking strategy that involves people placing hundreds of thousands of links on Wikipedia, Pinterest and GooglePlus is guilty of gross incompetence and misuse of public funds.  

Terrible User Experience Encourages Visitors to Bounce

The above screen shot capture is one of numerous examples that illustrate the website was not properly designed.

Difficulty browsing frequently causes viewers to leave the page and I imagine that their bounce rate is exceptionally high.

After all, what sort of credibility can you grant to an enterprise that doesn’t know how to properly put the pieces together that allows for the dissemination of content?

Wrong Content Management Strategy
Many articles simply don’t have a title.

Many of the pages on TeleSUR English lack titles or anchor text. This is a basic and important component of websites. That it’s not there means that there is no Quality Assurance or Editorial staff that knows to include these before publication. That so much of their web content has been posted without this indicated a lack of competency on the work the Director oversees.

No One Is The Reporter
You’re the Reporter Section January 8th, 2018
You’re the Reporter Section January 19th, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

The brief report I sent to Pablo Vivanco mentioned how in the You’re the Reporter subheading of TeleSUR English there were only five articles and that the last one published was over a year old.

This must have struck a nerve, as a few days later the content therein was deleted while the header remained.

What a telling symbol of the Director of TeleSUR English’s technical incompetence: he can’t even properly delegate the deletion of the entire section – only the content within the section!

Beyond just a symbol of incompetence, what else does this say about Pablo Vivanco’s directorship of TeleSUR English that after multiple years he still hasn’t been able to come up with a means for attracting, retaining and developing talent that want to write from the perspective TeleSUR English wishes to promote. Huffington Post, and other publications like Thought Catalog and Elephant Journal have been able to turn reader submitted content into their primary source of content – yet TeleSUR English over a four year period can get only five people to freely submit!

Given that their stated intent is to be “A space and a voice for the construction of a new communications order” you would think that there would be guidelines readily available for writers interested in contributing.

Given that their stated intent is to be “A space and a voice for the construction of a new communications order” you would think that they would have reached out to every public university in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador with a Journalism program to determine if it was possible to collaborate via a “real world” reporting component with TeleSUR English.

Given that their stated intent is to be “A space and a voice for the construction of a new communications order” you would think that there would be attempts at consultation or collaboration with established leftist news, media and publishing outlets.

Given the frequency with which they publish content on the Global South and that such a collaborative working relationships with radical presses presents an easy means for attracting readers, such an absence in light of all of the above indicates  gross incompetence.

Are Orlando Perez and Pablo Vivanco the Barriers to TeleSUR English Flourishing?
Orlando Perez

One of the Austrian School’s criticisms of the socialist mode of workplace administration and management is what they see as the tendency for innovation to be lost in production. Why? Those which meekly follow “the Party Line” would take up such a position rather than those that are most meritorious.

While I think that most of this school of thought to be ahistorical and metaphysical – no surprise as I identify as a socialist – this could explain the reason why TeleSUR, let alone TeleSUR English, doesn’t make it into the top 100 Latin American Newspapers Web Rankings.

Certain personality types, after all, prefer to keep power to themselves and act as a barrier for those that might be better equipped to direct. These are the kind of people that insulate themselves with a coterie of sycophants rather than surround themselves with the type of talent that is continuously striving for excellence.

Now admittedly I do not know much of the history of the people involved in TeleSUR English other than what I’ve been able to piece together from forums and blogs on the internet, but the story which emerged seems to confirm that the Hayek’s concerns have been actualized at TeleSUR English.

There are numerous (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) accounts of TeleSUR English’s difficult working environment and the person who oversees it’s Director, Oscar Perez, has had his fare share of controversy as well.

In 2017 Orlando Perez was fired from El Telegrafo as part of a political change up.  Shortly thereafter he fled Quito, Ecuador for Miami, Florida following his assault on his former girlfriend. After he decided to stop evading arrest and returned to Quito, he held a press conference to explain everything and has since maintained his innocence, but in a highly politicized context wherein working for a leftist state-media publication is seen a mar on one’s resume, this doesn’t really matter.

In an environment where attracting and retaining talent is already hard, appearance matters and it’s no logical leap to say that talented women may be shy of wanting to work in an environment they are concerned about male aggression.

Besides this consideration, there Orlando Perez’s proclaimed political purity and orthodoxy that takes on a sinister tone when it comes to how he views his opponents. After translating several of his articles and interviews (1, 2), I noticed an overlap in our political views. However where he uses abelist language to refer to the “the autistic left” I refer to this group as politically aloof hedonism as I see no reason to insult and alienate potential allies as well as those with mental impairments.

En toto, considering that TeleSUR English states that they want to be “A space and a voice for the construction of a new communications order” centered around the subject of  “Global South” an allusion to social, political and economic justice – it makes me wonder why they would have someone directing the decision making process considering that clearly alienates so many potential allies and talent.

 

Pablo Vivanco

Not being a reporter with numerous articles by and about him, learning about Pablo Vivanco has been more difficult. From what I can tell his experience in digital media starts with him at TeleSUR English and besides the above, which shows that he has directed operations as if it were still the early 1990s and without a thought to the important nuances which make up effective digital strategy, there is little else worth noting.

I admit this is total conjecture, but it certainly seems to me likely that Orlando Perez would want to cover up the extent of Pablo Vivanco’s ability to formulate and enact a digital media strategy based upon the current best practices shared by the social media outlets that TeleSUR English uses.

In the wake of his domestic assault case, this would likely become another reason those in power would want to distance themselves from him and thus he needs it swept under the rug.

***Update 2/11/18***

I’ve received confirmation from a source inside TeleSUR English that confirms my above speculations about Orlando’s insulting, overbearing demeanor. I’ll quote this in an second article in the event I get more feedback.

Why Speaking Up and Out is More Important Than “Keeping it Professional” in This Instance

The reason that I’ve decided to write and publish this assessment is simple: It’s what an honest citizen with professional abilities and integrity would do in the situation – call out incompetence and corruption to help ensure the optimum function of a government institution.

TeleSUR encourages greater transparency in all governmental affairs, no surprise as it was in part founded to counter the lies of corporate media that had a major role in the 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez Frias.

Ecuador has given asylum to Julian Assange and the governments of all TeleSUR contributors initially a defended Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. While U.S. politicians called these people traitors, seditionists and said that they should be killed without trial – the voices representing The South defended their actions as a service to the world. People have a right, they said, to know the extent of surveillance and espionage that everyday people and various businesses were subject to.

TeleSUR English, however, does not themselves abide by such values as transparency that the governments paying it’s bill claims to promote. Instead it replicates an elitest strand of authoritarian socialism. As a self-identified socialist, I have a major issue with this. Not only is TeleSUR English thus operating sub-optimally, but they are missing opportunities to educate, agitate, organize and grow their audience such that they become a meaningful, tangible impact in debates in the countries where they have a large audience.

Given the changing generational views that many youth have towards the possibility of another world not directed solely by capitalists and private property right but by the constitutive will of the people, the institutions which inform must also reflect such values and be model for the change they promote in the world.

This is why I had to share this information – the duty is beyond merely a citizen pointing out government waste, but as a fellow socialist pointing out how certain actions aren’t in accordance with socialist ideals. TeleSUR English’s loss of integrity reflects badly on all socialists, thus it needs to be critiqued so that it can be corrected.

What Democratizing TeleSUR ENGLISH Would Look Like

Corruption isn’t just about obtaining bribes for looking elsewhere or not reporting, but also comes in the form of continuing to keep operations going in a certain manner as it gives one personal power in the face of better options. Given all of the evidence above which clearly shows Pablo Vivanco has either purposefully sabotaged TeleSUR English or was just plain incompetent, it appears that Orlando Perez has sought to cover this up.

Once construction of a new communications order” centered around the subject of  “Global South” an allusion to social, political and economic justice.

Their mismanagement, however, isn’t permanent and there are a number of immediate steps that TeleSUR could take to ameliorate their misdirection and work towards creating a genuine voice for the construction of a new communications order focused on social, political and economic justice.

12 Steps Towards Democratizing TeleSUR English

These won’t solve all of the above problems, but it will be a step in the right direction to actually creating the sort of network that TeleSUR English states that they actually want to make:

  • General survey of current TeleSUR English readers to better understand audience.
  • Increase ability for readers/consumers to choose the type of content to be produced.
  • Increase transparency in its approach to determining what is produced.
  • Publicize editorial process (i.e. “We do not speak of billionaires in articles unless also using the words oligarchs” to spark conversation).
  • Properly reformulate the user experience of the website so that it’s more intuitive and suited towards readers.
  • Apply Content Marketing Institute model to repurpose content.
  • Survey leaders in Leftist New Media Outlets to determine potential co-branded projects.
  • Create database for Leftist parties and organizations to determine similar areas where collaboration can happen.
  • Survey union/related organizations about such topics (i.e. a long form article about what life is like in a town where factories left and what life is like in the place where it went).
  • Create database of influencers and new media outlets with appropriate cross-over
  • Create database of Latin American Graduate journalism teachers that could be surveyed as to what sort of content they would want for their students to contribute to the “You’re the Reporter” sections in English language.
  • Begin talks on syndicating content with other countries media operations so that TeleSUR English don’t need to devote money to foreign reporters.

 

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