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Al Jazeera America Comes into Focus

Org commits to bringing on 700 staffers, opening 12 bureaus around the country

Here comes Al Jazeera America. The nascent all-news cabler has recruited CNN vet Ali Velshi (pictured above) as its first major on-air name since its parent company struck a $500 million deal to acquire Current TV in January.

(From the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety.)

There are many more hires to come. The deep-pocketed Al Jazeera org has committed to bringing on 700 staffers and opening 12 bureaus around the country, as well as a Gotham headquarters, to support the launch of its English-lingo net. Among the industryites onboard is Tony Fox, a longtime Viacom PR exec, who is serving as a consultant.

The timing of Al Jazeera America’s debut is still in flux, given all the behind-the-scenes activity, but the goal is to launch this year. The new regime is in the process of winding down Current TV’s programming and talent commitments.

Velshi, formerly CNN’s chief business correspondent, will develop a half-hour business news program for the channel. The show will bow in a weekly format and expand to five nights a week by year’s end.

The talent roster at Al Jazeera America will be key in helping to change the perception of those domestic viewers who associate the Al Jazeera moniker with coverage of terrorist attacks against the West — an image Al Jazeera has been able to overcome in the U.K. and Europe.

“Al Jazeera America will be bringing respected, independent reporting to its viewers, and that’s exactly the type of coverage Ali Velshi is known for,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director of Al Jazeera’s international operations. “As is the case with Ali, all Al Jazeera America reporters will be fiercely objective, substantively strong, and absolutely committed to the truth.”

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