Al Jazeera America Chief: We Will Have ‘Less Yelling,’ ‘Fewer Celebs’

Al Jazeera America

Al Jazeera America will strive to distinguish itself from the opinionated newstalk of competitor nets

Al Jazeera America’s interim CEO and prez made one thing clear during a conference call Wednesday: the forthcoming network will be about hard news, not the salacious “infotainment” made popular on competitor cable news nets.

The channel, set to launch on August 20, is promising a more restrained approach to its presentation, in contrast with the opinion-punctuated hosts – and frequent emphasis on celebrity – found on the other cable news nets.

“This will be about unbiased, in-depth news,” said Al Jazeera America CEO Ehab Al Shihabi. “It’s less opinion, less yelling, and fewer celebrities…[There is a demographic] that needs information, not infotainment, and they’re underserved.”

He continued: “The media landscape focuses on the 10%, including the politicians and celebs…And then, they ask the 90% what they think. We’re changing that model and focusing on the 90%…We ask the 10% what they think about what the 90% is saying.”

Shihabi’s comments follow CNN’s announcement that it plans to revive “Crossfire,” which historically has been known as a shout-fest between hosts and guests. Elsewhere on the cable news spectrum, MSNBC and Fox News continue to draw criticism for leaning too far left or right, respectively.

“We’re coming [into the marketplace] to win based on our core identity,” Shihabi explained to journos on a conference call. “We will do the impact, and make the audience chase us. We don’t need to shift our core to chase the audience” and try to convert viewers from other nets, he noted.

Shihabi and prez Kate O’Brian understand that Al Jazeera America faces several hurdles as it rolls out in American households, from P.R. issues deriving from its Middle Eastern name, to penetration issues as the net still engages in talks with carriers who do not have Al Jazeera America on their lineups.

“We did national testing on the network name,” said Shihabi. “75% of the people who didn’t watch Al Jazeera” had a negative impression of the net, whereas “90% of those who did watch” had a positive impression. Shihabi stated that these results were encouraging, while O’Brian emphasized that Al Jazeera America will be fulfilling the American viewer’s need for unbiased news in the marketplace.

“Launching this particular channel, which has a very particular mission, is frankly less challenging than people might think,” O’Brian noted.

Advertisers have also warmed up to Al Jazeera America, according to Shihabi.

“They had a perception [of the channel] but not a reality,” the CEO said. “Then, they saw us, the quality, our president, and this all translated the bad perception being converted into a good perception. We’re not concerned anymore.”

O’Brian and Shihabi hope to draw in younger demos to Al Jazeera America with social media-savvy shows including “The Stream,” which integrates Twitter, Facebook, Skype and other platforms into the broadcast.

“According to research, the 24 to 30-year-old crowd, they’re global thinkers,” remarked Shihabi. “They’re tech-savvy and interested in international news…Al Jazeera is appealing to that demographic, which we saw with Al Jazeera English.”

With the debut just days away, Al Jazeera America has been busy piloting programs, even breaking in with live news from events in Egypt to test the channel’s capabilities and work out last minute kinks.

“We are absolutely ready for next week’s launch,” Shihabi said with confidence. “We’re not just ready, we’re more than ready.”

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  1. Mack K says:

    I just hope not all of their content is from “an American perspective.” I was a regular viewer of AJ English, as well as current regular viewer of BBC, NHK World, RT, Deutsche Welle Journal, and the reason I watch them is specifically because they are NOT from an American perspective. I want to know what others in the world think, from their perspectives.

  2. Toure says:

    I am watching Aljazeera right now as I type these comments, and I have been doing so more than two years thru my international dish. Don’t get fool by the name, watch the channel if it becomes available and then you can decide.
    Those who criticize the network have never watched it, and they just going by what they heard.
    They just report the hard news without bias and opinion,on top of that, zero commercial.
    Every time a huge breaking news, I tune in straight to Aljazeera and get the frank and uninitialized news from them. They have correspondents all over the world and they always have the first hand account of the unfolding event.
    The big old networks are scared and they are trying everything to give Aljazeera a had time, because they don’t like competition and they want keep business as usual.
    Welcome to America, Aljazeera, it is about time….

  3. anon says:

    I’ve been watching Al Jazeera English for the last two years, I’m glad they’re rolling out Al Jazeera America. I’ll be a regular supporter of this news source as long as they follow what they’ve done with Al Jazeera English, and keep true to the statements Mr. Shihabi made in this article.

  4. AnnieM says:

    We free Americans will be watching…..I hope you completely understand the Constitution of this great land AMERICA……and, free speech is certainly everyone’s right, THE PEOPLE WILL DECIDE success versus failure.

  5. Michael Anthony says:

    And another poster who thinks that anything relayed to the muslim world is suspect. And NOT ALL Muslims are violent and evil. Was McVeigh Muslim?

    And speaking of propaganda, have u ever checked out that little network called Fox News??

    • Charles says:

      I believe the only way you can watch Al Jazeera America is on DirecTV, Dish, Verizon FIOS. Of course, Verizon has stopped building out, so if you don’t have it you never will. Time-Warner, Cox don’t want any competition for all their Fox channels.

  6. The Transparency Department says:

    Ehab Al Shihabi is one of the most hated executives at Al Jazeera. So much so that they were thrilled when he left Doha to move to NY to run Al Jazeera America. Just look at the transparent email Marwan Bishara wrote to all the senior management of Al Jazeera in June 2013 (Bing or Google it) where Marwan (AJ top political analyst) denounces Ehab’s management abilities to all even on his open web blog.

    Ehab is also a petty thief stealing technology products off other first class passengers on long haul flights for his own research and enjoyment. Who does that?

    He is a descendant from one of the top imams at a Jerusalem mosque and yes even though that Al Jazeera does have an incredible world class news gathering and digital teams around the world with some great breaking stories and in depth undercover reporting there is still a strong under current that pushes – at times – a Muslim agenda which in the world of unbiased news gathering is shockingly wrong and contemptable.

    • FREEDOM FIGHTER says:

      I think you understand part of what is going on here. Things like this are not cut and dry as they would like people to believe its much deeper then what they think.

    • Charles says:

      Unfortunately the THIRD largest Cable Company (COX) ha no intention of opening a channel for Al Jazeera America. Too busy adding more FOX channels.

  7. Marshall Silverman says:

    Coming from a culture which designates the United States Of America as the “Big Satan” and the state of Israel as the “Little Satan”, this channel has a long road to hoe in convincing intelligent Americans that its coverage of world news will truly be unbiased. Some of the coverage by other AL Jazeera networks in the middle east during and after the 911 mass murders in New York and Washington were, in fact, blatantly anti-American and suggestively pro-terrorist. That is one of the reasons some American carriers are unwilling to do business with their new sister network. I think Americans who are aware of Al Jazeera’s history are not going to easily trust its reporting of events, and will be looking carefully for bias in emphasis of some elements over others, no matter how factual.

    • Charles Gustafson says:

      Yes. I do. I can fortunately, watch Al Jazeera America on my compuer. I can see the American content and they show some content from Doha. They show hour long documetaries that you won’t see on Fox CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, et. al. I couldn’t imagine being stripped naked just to cross a border, or being dressed in a suit to continue my college education in Israel and have an Israeli soldier say “Sorry no education for you today.” Go back to the West Bank. Of course we know Rupet Murdoch doesn’t have any bias on his many venom networks. We also no that none of the Cabe Companies would DARE not carry any on his news or sports networks. How many his he up to now? About 5. I guess there is a First Amendment right, as long as it is the Conservative viewpoint. At least Cox is consistent. They don’t carry the network that is to the right of Fox. Of course, IF they do, they will be opening themselves to questions about NOT carrying Al Jazeera America. You know, Fair and Balanced and all. That is something Time-Warner, Cox, Cablevision, and Charter Communication wouldn’t know anything about.

    • William Miller says:

      Of course the American networks are totally unbiased when reporting on Middle East affairs in general and Israel in particular?

  8. I’ve been watching Al Jazeera and RT (Russia Today) online for several years. Along with fluffy info-tainment, It seems that CNN, MSNBC and FOX are also quite good at regurgitating White House press releases and Pentagon propaganda.

  9. LOL….less yelling..? Well, what is needed is more public informational “crucifixion”….!! Its going to be very telling what corporate sponsors advertise and fund this “news”…!! If this network has any guts they will hire Pepe Escobar from Asia-Times and Matt Taibbi from the Rollingstone to give eacch other a one two punch at 10 pm to be a lead in for John Stewart and Steven Colbert..!!

  10. Barbara G. lifton says:

    Al Jazerra America is an excellent international and national news network, which actually reports NEWS, not boring, bull commentaries by talking heads! It is now the ONLY station on television here in New York City that actually has foreign correspondents on news sites reporting news as it happens in an objective, intelligent manner. Good job!
    Barbara G. Lifton, NYC

  11. If they make good on this promise to give unbiased news that doesn’t double as infotainment then I might start watching the news again. Please stick to this. Please!

  12. cadavra says:

    Well, since Time Warner Cable (again!) dropped Current TV the moment the sale was announced, I guess many of us we won’t be able to decide for ourselves.

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