Stepping Up: Al Jazeera Takes on US Cable News
After a series of fits and starts, Al Jazeera America launches today.
The network had tried to enter the US market over the years. When that didn’t work it bought Al Gore’s Current TV for $500 million to essentially get broadcast rights to 48 million homes. Consider that a cost to entry.
US media is skeptical about its possibility for success. “Al Jazeera America launches without significant advertiser base,” says the New York Post; “Al Jazeera America Will Have To Work Hard To Win Viewers,” says NPR; “Al Jazeera America faces more than the usual new-kid challenges,” chimes the Los Angeles Times; “Some Advertisers View Al Jazeera America as Too Risky: Conservative clients are balking,” warns AdWeek.
And all this is true, of course. The network entered American consciousness during the Iraq War. As US outlets focused on where missiles were launched from, Al Jazeera often spent time on where those missiles landed. Sadly, one of those missiles killed an Al Jazeera reporter.
At the time, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused the network of “enflaming” Arab passions. “You could say it causes the loss of life,” he said of Al Jazeera. “It’s causing Iraqi people to be killed.”
And so, bogeyman. Terrorism. Al Jazeera.
This is the lens through which many Americans know it.
I started paying attention to the network around 2003/2004 as well. I was working in Saudi Arabia. I remember watching broadcasts of Osama Bin Laden. And these were important broadcasts that weren’t being shown on US television. This was, after all, the man who bombed the World Trade Center. You would think people would want to hear what he had to say. But hearing what he had to say was anti-American and Al Jazeera, by showing it, was anti-American by default.
Now, ten years later, Al Jazeera opens its New York offices. It begins broadcasting to America. I wish it the best of luck. Anyone who flipped to its online, live coverage of the Arab Spring knows how well they can do what they do.
And so, let’s watch them launch. They do so with some familiar faces. John Seigenthaler, former weekend anchor of NBC Nightly News, is on board. So too Joie Chen (CBS News and CNN) and Antonio Mora (Good Morning America). Ditto Soledad O’Brien.
And the network’s mission is less talk, more hard hitting news. As Brian Stelter kicks off his piece for the New York Times:
Fourteen hours of straight news every day. Hard-hitting documentaries. Correspondents in oft-overlooked corners of the country. And fewer commercials than any other news channel.
It sounds like something a journalism professor would imagine. In actuality, it is Al Jazeera America.
Can’t argue against that. We’ll be tuning in. — Michael
Related 01, circa 2009: Fred Kaplan, Why I Love Al Jazeera.
Related 02, circa today: Nikki Usher, Can Al Jazeera Win the Cable Wars?
The Schedule: That would be here.