September 24, 2020

American Al Jazeera Channel Shifs Focus to U.S. News

While it has a foreign name, the forthcoming Al Jazeera cable channel in the United States wants to be American through and through.

When Al Jazeera’s owners in Qatar acquired Al Gore’s Current TV in January, they said that Current would be replaced by Al Jazeera America, an international news channel with 60 percent new programming from the United States. The remaining 40 percent, they said, would come from Al Jazeera English, their existing English-language news channel in Doha, Qatar, that is already available in much of the rest of the world.

That plan is no more. Now Al Jazeera America is aiming to have virtually all of its programming originate from the United States, according to staff members and others associated with the channel who were interviewed in recent weeks. It will look inward, covering domestic affairs more often than foreign affairs. It will, in other words, operate much like CNN (though the employees say they won’t be as sensational) and Fox News (though they say they won’t be opinion-driven).

The programming strategy, more ambitious than previously understood, is partly a bid to gain acceptance and give Americans a reason to tune in. It may help explain why Al Jazeera America’s start date has been delayed once already, to August from July, and why some employees predict it will be delayed again.

Al Jazeera also has yet to hire a president or a slate of vice presidents to run the channel on a day-to-day basis, which has spurred uncomfortable questions about whether earlier controversies involving the pan-Arab news giant are creating difficulties for the new channel.

The Arabic-language Al Jazeera was condemned by the American government a decade ago for broadcasting videotapes from Osama bin Laden and other materials deemed to be terrorist propaganda. Others have criticized the Arabic and English channels for being a mouthpiece for Qatar, though the channel’s representatives insist that is not the case. Other questions about bias persist; as recently as last week, the Al Jazeera Web site was accused of publishing an anti-Semitic article by a guest columnist.

But some Al Jazeera America staff members are already rehearsing with mock newscasts. Others are fanning out to report news stories from parts of the country rarely visited by camera crews. Still others are setting up new studios in New York, where the channel will have a home inside the New Yorker Hotel, and in Washington, where it will take over space previously occupied by ABC at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

New employees are being added to the rolls every weekday from places like CNN, “Frontline” and Time magazine. “We expect to have approximately 800 employees when we launch,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, the Al Jazeera executive in charge of international operations, including the American channel. He declined to comment on the delays, but said the channel would start “later this summer.”

Since January, he and his colleagues’ overarching message to lawmakers, mayors, cable operators, and potential viewers has been that Al Jazeera is coming to America to supply old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground news coverage to a country that doesn’t have enough of it.

A series of announcements about new hires like Ed Pound, an experienced investigative reporter, and new bureaus in cities like Detroit have bolstered that message. Public relations and marketing firms retained by Al Jazeera, like Qorvis Communications and Siegel Gale, have worked to limit opposition to the channel and increase support for its arrival.

Al Jazeera representatives seem aware that they are confronting an enormous marketing challenge. But they benefit from the public perception that they have boundlessly deep pockets, thanks to the oil and gas wealth of Qatar. Al Jazeera America has been portrayed by some as a giant stimulus project for American journalism at a time when other news organizations are suffering cutbacks. “This is the first big journalism hiring binge that anyone’s been on for a long time,” said the business reporter and anchor Ali Velshi when he left CNN in April for a prime time spot on Al Jazeera America.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/business/media/american-al-jazeera-channel-shifs-focus-to-us-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: The Breakfast Meeting: Al Jazeera’s Deal for Current TV

Al Jazeera, the Arab news giant financed by the government of Qatar, announced its plans to buy Current TV, the failing progressive network co-founded by Al Gore. The deal will give Al Jazeera a much bigger footprint in the United States, reaching 40 million households. After the acquisition was announced, Time Warner Cable said that it would no longer carry Current TV.

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Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/the-breakfast-meeting-al-jazeeras-deal-for-current-tv/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: Al Jazeera Seeks a U.S. Voice Where Gore Failed

Al Gore, a co-founder of Current TV, which will be shut down by the Qatar-based news organization Al Jazeera.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press Al Gore, a co-founder of Current TV, which will be shut down by the Qatar-based news organization Al Jazeera.

9:16 p.m. | Updated Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news giant, has long tried to convince Americans that it is a legitimate news organization, not a parrot of Middle Eastern propaganda or something more sinister.

It just bought itself 40 million more chances to make its case.

Al Jazeera on Wednesday announced a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore, a former vice president, and his business partners seven years ago. Al Jazeera plans to shut Current and start an English-language channel, which will be available in more than 40 million homes, with newscasts emanating from both New York and Doha, Qatar.

For Al Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar, the acquisition is a coming of age moment. A decade ago, Al Jazeera’s flagship Arabic-language channel was reviled by American politicians for showing videotapes from Al Qaeda members and sympathizers. Now the news operation is buying an American channel, having convinced Mr. Gore and the other owners of Current that it has the journalistic muscle and the money to compete head-to-head with CNN and other news channels in the United States.

Al Jazeera did not disclose the purchase price, but people with direct knowledge of the deal pegged it at around $500 million, indicating a $100 million payout for Mr. Gore, who owned 20 percent of Current. Mr. Gore and his partners were eager to complete the deal by Dec. 31, lest it be subject to higher tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1, according to several people who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the deal was not signed until Wednesday.

A spokesman for Al Jazeera said that antitrust regulators had not expressed any objections to the deal.

Going forward, the challenge will be persuading Americans to watch — an extremely tough proposition given the crowded television marketplace and the stereotypes about the channel that persist to this day.

“There are still people who will not watch it, who will say that it’s a ‘terrorist network,’ ” said Philip Seib, the author of “The Al Jazeera Effect.” “Al Jazeera has to override that by providing quality news.”

With a handful of exceptions (including New York City and Washington), American cable and satellite distributors have mostly refused to carry Al Jazeera English since its inception in 2006. While the television sets of White House officials and lawmakers were tuned to the channel during the Arab Spring in 2011, ordinary Americans who wanted to watch had to find a live stream on the Internet.

To change that, Al Jazeera lobbied distributors and asked supporters to write letters to the distributors — but accomplished next to nothing.

Some activists accused distributors like Comcast and DirecTV of blacklisting a channel that is widely respected elsewhere in the world. But the distributors said there was scant evidence that many American viewers wanted to watch.

Current, similarly, has suffered from paltry ratings. “Nobody’s watching,” one of the channel’s prime-time hosts, Eliot Spitzer, quipped to a reporter last month.

Current was conceived in 2005 after Mr. Gore and another co-founder, Joel Hyatt, bought the small cable news channel Newsworld International. After several years in obscurity showing viewer-submitted videos and documentaries, Current tacked to the left in 2011 with the hiring of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. A year later, Mr. Olbermann was fired, but a channel made in his image remained, with Mr. Spitzer, Jennifer Granholm and other liberal pundits as hosts. But on a typical night last year, just 42,000 people watched their shows, according to Nielsen.

By selling Current, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt are giving up their vision for an alternative to MSNBC, which has much higher-rated liberal hosts.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hyatt praised Al Jazeera for “bringing large-scale resources to journalism — something which we have not been able to do.” In a letter to Current employees, some of whom are expected to lose their jobs, he said he and Mr. Gore would join the advisory board of the newly rebranded channel.

“We look forward to helping build an important news network,” Mr. Hyatt wrote.

Rather than simply use Current to distribute its existing English-language channel, Al Jazeera said it plans to create a channel based in New York. Tentatively titled Al Jazeera America, roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States, while the remaining 40 percent will come from Al Jazeera English.

Al Jazeera, which has bureaus in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, intends to open several more in other American cities.

“There’s a major hole right now that Al Jazeera can fill. And that is providing an alternative viewpoint to domestic news, which is very parochial,” said Cathy Rasenberger, a cable consultant who has worked with Al Jazeera on distribution issues in the past. However, she warned, “there is a limited amount of interest in international news in the United States.”

And others are trying to elbow their way in. News channels financed by Britain, China and Russia are especially hungry for American cable deals. To date, the BBC has had the most success; its BBC World News channel is now available in about 25 million homes thanks to a deal struck last month with Time Warner Cable.

But the takeover of Current brings Al Jazeera to the front of the line. In recent weeks, Mr. Gore personally lobbied the distributors that carry Current on the importance of Al Jazeera, according to people briefed on the talks who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Distributors can sometimes wiggle out of their carriage deals when channels change hands. Most consented to the sale, but Time Warner Cable did not, Mr. Hyatt told employees.

Time Warner Cable had previously warned that it might drop Current because of its low ratings. It took advantage of a change-in-ownership clause and said in a terse statement Wednesday night, “We are removing the service as quickly as possible.”

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/al-jazeera-said-to-be-acquiring-current-tv/?partner=rss&emc=rss