Al Jazeera America is reworking all of its programming schedule, relying less on hourlong specialty programs in favor of live newscasts, the network’s chief executive said in a memo to staffers Friday. The Qatar-backed cable-news outlet will also develop a two-hour morning program.
“News is at the heart of Al Jazeera, and our strong advantage in the market is embodied in our 24/7 live news programs. Our commitment to news around-the-clock remains at the heart of our mission. We will have an average of 14 hours per day of live news from our newsrooms in New York, London and Doha,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, CEO of the news channel.
The network intends to run live news for three hours from early evening into primetime, he said, starting at 7 a.m. and running until 10 p.m. Shows that had formed the spine of the network’s primetime lineup are being moved to later in the evening and in many cases will be shortened to half an hour. “Fault Lines” and “America Tonight,” hosted by Joie Chen, will run at 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and “Real Money,” hosted by Ali Velshi, will move to 10:30 p.m. “Inside Story” will shift to 11:30 p.m.
A two-hour morning program to air between 7 and 9 a.m. is also in the works, he said, and some elements of shows that are being truncated or cancelled will likely appear during that time.
The top-to-bottom overhaul is the latest signal that the network’s grand ambitions to offer an alternative to what Al Shihabi referred to in the memo as “happy talk, entertainment updates or local car accidents” that populate the schedules of rival operations have run into financial difficulties. While Al Jazeera America’s plan was to offer viewers news programming that was more serious, studious and in-depth than others, the network has met with distribution and advertising challenges. There has been speculation that the network’s ownership and coverage by its sibling networks overseas may give potential sponsors pause.
While Al Jazeera America has made headway, including a distribution agreement with Time Warner Cable, its short history has also been marked by periodic layoffs.
Despite the overhaul, the chief executive vowed the network would prevail in 2015, and continue to press for a better level of reportage. “We will report stories no one else is reporting, cover the news that matters to our audience, and work as one team to share the best ideas and resources. We will hold ourselves to the highest standard as we continue to assess and invest in our content and production,” he said in the memo. “We will stay true to our core values. And we will also focus on the most important measure of our success: our impact upon the public good. For Al Jazeera, the news is not merely an opportunity – it is an obligation. And we will fulfill that obligation every single day. “