Al Jazeera America Vows Expansion Push with New Shows, More Staff

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AJA Interim CEO: 'We are in this not just to compete but to win'

Barely two months on the air, Al Jazeera America is vowing to hire more staffers for the news channel and open more U.S. bureaus.

The expansion push was detailed Tuesday morning by interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi and prexy Kate O’Brian. It comes on the heels of a distrib pact inked with Time Warner Cable, the nation’s third-largest MVPD, last week.

The impetus to add staff and bureaus was spurred by the encouraging results from the channel’s first two months on air and the fact that the team hastily assembled this spring and summer has been able to , Al Shihabi said in an interview.

“I am confident in the existing leadership and where we are going to take this business,” Al Shihabi said. “This is not something where we have a plan to take us through 5 years or 10 years. We are in this not just to compete but to win.”

Al Shihabi said AJA execs were measuring the response in terms of feedback from market research and volume on the AJA website. The further build out of the AJA staff, which now stands at 800, and infrastructure, was always part of the business plan. AJA announced it with fanfare today because they want to make a statement to the broader news biz and to reinforce the motivation of existing staffers that the channel is on the right track, Al Shihabi said.

“The first two months on air confirmed the assumption that there is demand for international news, there is demand for serious news,” he said. “My target audience is young people who are global-minded. They are finding us and catching up with what we are doing.”

Al Shihabi declined to cite any specific metrics for the website and channel to date. But he boldly predicted that AJA’s blend of hard news and investigative reporting would have a major impact on its more established competition.

“By 2014 I think you are going to see a huge re-shaping of the market,” he said.

The U.S. arm of the Qatar-based news organization said it will move into new headquarters in midtown Manhattan within the next 18 months, though the channel has yet to settle on a specific space. Plans for the staff and bureau expansion will unfold during the next 12 months but no specific numbers were given. Al Shihabi said Atlanta and Boston were tentative targets for new bureaus.

More staff means more shows, and AJA plans a new morning news program, a new weekly programs focusing on sports and culture. The memo also said “multiple” new documentary series are in the works. And the news channel will put even greater emphasis on investigative reporting, O’Brian said.

“More people and more bureaus plus our new programming will help us keep the promise we made to our viewers about always providing the highest possible quality journalism,” she said. “Not only will you continue to see unbiased reporting about the stories that really matter, you’ll see more of it from more places around the U.S.”

The memo added that talks with other distributors are under way. The TW Cable deal should put AJA over the 50 million subscriber base mark, but it still has a ways to go to gain parity with its fully distributed (in around 100 million homes) rivals Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.

AJA’s growth plan also includes increased investment in marketing the channel as a home for hard news and news of substance to “Main Street America” rather than partisan bickering.

AJA is an unusual animal in today’s media biz. The parent company has made it clear it is not focused on the bottom line, unlike the situation at most of the major U.S. news orgs. The state-funded Al Jazeera org has sought to gain credibility and distribution throughout the world as it builds up the AJA brand and news-gathering infrastructure.

The entry of Al Jazeera into the U.S. market in a major way has been closely watched by U.S. journos, from the moment the org paid a whopping $500 million in January to acquire the struggling cabler Current TV from Al Gore and his partners. AJA launched on Aug. 20.

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  1. Gillian says:

    I love AJAM. I got addicted to it when I traveled to Europe and watched Al Jazeera English. They have a very smart way of attracting viewers. They AJ English was the first news org I saw to have a live feed on their smartphone app…brilliant!
    My one issue with AJAM is it is not in High Definition. I was shocked when the network went live, and I am confused as to why they didn’t feel the extra cost was worth it. Maybe over the next few months, during the expansion, they will include this. AJAM PLEASE DO!

  2. Pete says:

    For goodness sakes, Qatar is a U.S. ally. Remember when George W. Bush said, “You’re either with us or against us”?. Qatar was (and is) WITH US. Open your minds just a little bit, people. Don’t hate everybody.

  3. AJA should Implode says:

    It’s funny Dimwit Neofascist’s claim that the Tea Party are criminals and Teahadist’s yet it is AL GORE who sold CurrenTv to Arab Extremists! It is Barack H. Obama who gives GUNS to Syrian Terrorists, at the same time saying GUNS ARE EVIL FOR THE US CITIZENS! Oh you haven’t watched Al Jazeera.. you don’t know what it’s about?… AJA is Propaganda for the Hard-Left New World Order Fascists in the USA, and Islamic Fascists AROUND THE WORLD! If people are getting iv treatment full of Mainstream Media Kool-Aide, that’s fine! Become more stupid than you already are! You don’t have to drink it anymore! Now it’s straight to the veins!

    People with commonsense should ask DirecTV and Dish, not to carry this Islamic Extremist Network. You fool everyone! But you can fool sheeple…Thank you.

  4. By these comments alone AJA MUST..but has yet to address who they are and how Qatar is one of America’s top trading and military allies in the Middle East. This turnaround in perception will be a long and arduous siege, so they had better get started. They have already lost nearly a year by not attending to this. On another note, AJA will not blossom until they get any kind of carriage on high def – which so far is not happening.

  5. Al Jazeera America Viewer says:

    Propaganda channel? Muslim channel? Have any of you people actually watched it? It’s more like CNN before it went political — a combination of BBC America and CBS Sunday morning. Lots of interesting domestic and international news without all of the incessant rhetoric that you get on the other cable news channels. Don’t be small-minded and mean-spirited about something you’ve never seen.

  6. M Constans says:

    This is great news. It’s very sad to me that the majority of the American people are so brainwashed with actual propaganda and lies of the right wing main steam elitist crap media that they fail to understand and realize that Al Jazeera is the exact opposite. The problem really is the name, people will make false and misrepresented judgments about this media source simply because the name is Al Jazeera. I hope that Al Jazeera succeeds and I hope they expand (job oportunities) to my area, I would love to be a part of a company that is truly invested in quality news. They are really opening the eyes of the American people to the truths that are happening all over the world, and within our own country that so many have blinded themselves from really seeing.

  7. gene@oolah.com says:

    The problem that Al Jazeera has is that it truly is simply a propaganda channel…Very much like Goebbels, or Tokyo Rose, or any media from a country that has no free speech or tolerance for women, Christians, Jews, or anybody that is not just like them, It is evil, just like the seller.

    • Bill L says:

      And what about Fox News and MSNBC? No propaganda there? Fox News is the worst excuse for a news channel on this Earth…. fair and balanced? Huh? jokers what is so troubling is all the opinion on the American “news” channels that render them almost useless.

      Watch AJA and decided for yourself…. don’t rely on what hate mongers are saying.

  8. gene@oolah.com says:

    Thank goodness MR. Gore had the vision to sell Clear Channel to our Mid eastern friends instead of an American who saw things differently. What a patriot.

  9. Kento says:

    All those other news channels that AJA is trying to compete with are in HD. At least on Dish Network, it’s still looking rather low res. Will they be looking more like the others any time soon?

  10. Sam Smith says:

    Anyone who wants to understand how/why this channel has the potential to succeed need only watch the Daily Show to see parodies of regular US media as well as excellent documentaries such as this one on how US news is doctored for entertainment and bias:

  11. Non Muslim says:

    I have deleted this channel from my personal DirecTV channel guide.
    I will never watch this muslim channel and have made sure that no one who enters my home will be subjected to the muslim extremism that this channel represents.
    Shame on every entertainment system that broadcasts this filth and makes every system subscriber pay for this filth that they do not want.

    • EK says:

      Your comments exemplify the image problem Al Jazeera will always have due to its name and logo. Actually it does not exist as a Muslim propaganda organ but rather is striving to be a competitive, non-political legitimate news organization. Whether it can overcome its image is its biggest challenge.

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