Al Jazeera America Will Be ‘Envy of the Industry,’ Chief Says

Al Jazeera America

Deep pockets make fledgling cabler a journalistic unicorn amid cost-cutting elsewhere

Al Jazeera America president Kate O’Brian has told staffers that the fledgling cabler is on its way to being “the envy of the industry” as it heads into 2014 with ambitious plans.

O’Brian can be forgiven for a little hyperbole in her year-end memo to the troops. But in truth, she’s not that far off the mark.

Plenty of journos have taken green-eyed notice that Al Jazeera America is plowing money into building up the kind of hard assets that network news divisions used to enjoy, namely reporters and bureaus around the country. O’Brian is the longtime ABC News exec who was recruited barely a month before AJA’s Aug. 20 bow and has led the breakneck expansion of operations while also overseeing programming.

SEE ALSO: Al Jazeera Vows Expansion Push with More Staff, More Shows

There’s also the OMG-worthy fact that O’Brian’s boss, AJA interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi  has said for months that AJA’s well-heeled parent org is not concerned about ratings or profitability while the channel is in its infancy. Those are words straight out of a dream sequence from HBO’s “The Newsroom.” Those are words that journalists at Tribune Co. newspapers and Time Inc. publications would love to hear as they brace to be separated from their motherships next year as free-standing entities.

Moreover, AJA is investing time and money in deep-dive and investigative reporting about meaty and undeniably significant issues ranging from homelessness and urban ills to political corruption to health and environmental concerns. Think “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” in its glory days, except that AJA is round the clock. It’s also endowed with international resources through the rest of the Al Jazeera Media Network — which makes a difference in covering stories like the conflict in Syria, the typhoon in the Philippines and the death of Nelson Mandela.

It’s clear that Al Jazeera, backed by the oil-rich Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, has been on a mission for more than a decade to build itself up into international news organization with unassailable credibility a la BBC News. You don’t have an international news organization without feet on the street in the U.S.

That strategic focus, combined with deep pockets, makes AJA a journalistic unicorn at a time of continued cost-cutting and belt-tightening elsewhere.

So far AJA is up to more than 800 domestic staffers, and it expects to add significant numbers to its Gotham- and D.C.-based operations. It has also vowed to grow its network of U.S. bureaus, which now stands at 12.

It’s a good thing that the parent company is giving AJA a pass on profitability because ratings to date have been unimpressive, showing auds for most primetime shows on the low end of the five-figure range. Yet distribution is inching ahead, notably with the Time Warner Cable deal that kicked in this month, taking AJA to more than 48 million subscribers.

Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder O’Brian’s year-end message is upbeat. She has the luxury of focusing her staff on the quality of the work, not the number of viewers — at least for now.

O’Brian’s memo also made mention of the detainment in Egypt Tuesday of four Al Jazeera journalists whom the government accuses of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false information.

 “Let us all keep our colleagues Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fawzy in our thoughts,” she wrote. “Their incarceration highlights the importance, and the inherent dangers, of the fearless journalism we espouse. “

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  1. Catherine says:

    It would be absolutely lovely if I could print this article without advertisements covering the content.

  2. john simone says:

    This is the second time I have written to AJA to express my enthusiasm for its news reporting. As a Time Warner customer I am delighted to have access to the AJA cable network. The stories are fresh and interesting and off-beat in a way that doesn’t whore after ratings and advertiser dollars the way the major networks do. Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC have become so irretrievably corrupted that they have reduced their news divisions to little more than delivery devices for advertising messages and advertiser influence. The death of the Fairness Doctrine and later on, passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 saw to that. The alternatives, BBC and the News Hour on PBS can only benefit from the entrance of AJA. More power to them.

  3. 07rescue says:

    AJAM is the very best news channel I have ever watched. I no longer watch any news other than AJAM and PBS. There is nothing even remotely like propaganda on it. Many of the journalists are famous, authoritative American reporters who have unassailable reputations for quality and authenticity. It is profoundly refreshing to see news not dominated by commercial interests, not sensationalized, not puerile, like much of what otherwise passes as news gathering in the US. Other than sheer bigotry based on the Al Jazeera name, there is no reason AJAM would not be a huge success in the US. Try watching AJAM before making judgements about it, because you will see how informative, straightforward, and interesting it is. They really do cover stories no one else covers; a delight to people who have long craved real, in depth news.

    • 07rescue says:

      I want to add to my comment above that I am a first responder who lived and worked in lower Manhattan since 1995, and served at 9-11 all through that disaster. I lost people I loved at 9-11, and still have large lesions and scarring in my lungs as a result, so if anyone might have reason to dislike the perpetrators of that catastrophe it would be the people like me who were directly affected, with lifelong consequences.

      AJAM has absolutely nothing to do with that terrorist event. NOTHING.

      Some people cite the parent organization, Al Jazeera Arabic, for showing Osama bin Laden videotapes after 9-11, as evidence of propaganda. I feel that if our US media had also shown the type of anti-US terrorist videos that were out there we in the US would have paid much more serious attention to the very real threats we were ignoring, instead of getting swamped by meaningless trash in our news like Monica Lewinsky, distracting our attention with fatal consequences. Reporting the real news from around the world alerts us to what we really need to attend to, like terrorism. Al Jazeera was acting as our best friend, not our enemy, informing everyone of the terrorist threat. The head in the sand approach never works. Watch Al Jazeera if you want to understand what is really going on in the world, instead of living in a self centered, delusional bubble.

  4. J. Davis says:

    America for sale. Even to its mortal enemies.

  5. ted says:

    I don’t trust these people for one minute- Get the hell out of the US!

  6. d says:

    Muslim propaganda news!!!!!

  7. Boca Ratso says:

    There’s that automatic rejection because of the Arab connection.
    I’ve worked in news at ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN and I can tell you AJA news is solid.
    They’ve put lots of your gas money where their mouths are.
    They’re hiring strong and doing everything our network news divisions used to do before they became nothing but commercials interrupted by entertainment and occasional bits of info.
    I hope more exposure on cable rewards Al Jazeera for its efforts.
    But I still believe they should have dropped the AJ name and logo.
    It’s turning off potential viewers who are biased against Arab ownership. who might otherwise give it a chance.

  8. Al Jazeera America’s ratings are so low they are statistically below reportable. Qatar is paying billions for this propaganda.

  9. Mark O says:

    She really has no idea how evil her bosses can be. She must not have any idea what she is really accomplishing – the destruction of the United States.

    • Arnold R says:

      Wow, ignorant fools scared of one thing: on the spot reporting. Go back to listening to Glen Beck and leave truth to adults. So much for Paine’s Age of Reason. It’s people like you that we’re slipping back into the dark ages.

      • ted says:

        Arab countries are in the dark ages, spend some time there

      • E Cheung says:

        Hey Arnold
        Way to start the name calling.
        Yeah, it wasn’t Muslim fanatics who flew into the Twin Towers.
        And it wasn’t apologists like you who continue to provide cover for the likes of them.

  10. E Cheung says:

    Finally! An efficient way of activating sleeper cells!

    • Arnold R says:

      I am no apologist! And you’re the one of those people who would rather put you head in the sand rather than actually checking out the news network that was demonized during the Bush Administration. And remember this, it was praised during the Clinton Administration. And please for fuck’s sake, NEVER use the Twin Towers as justification for hatred. Unless you want that sir.

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