Al Jazeera Sets August Launch for 'Unbiased' News NetworkPlanned hallmarks include investigative journalism, elevating consumer voice 6/17/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
It's been nearly six months since Al Jazeera bought Current
TV for $500 million; the media company has now set the launch
of its new network, Al Jazeera America, for the week of Aug. 24.
In preparation, the network had a presence at last week’s Cable Show
in Washington, D.C., with a booth on the exhibit floor and branded
buses making loops around the convention
center to pitch itself to distributors.
Ehab Al Shihabi, executive
director of international operations
for Al Jazeera, who is overseeing the
launch, told B&C it was “the opportunity
for Al Jazeera America to prove to
everybody it is part of the landscape of
the American news channels.”
Al Jazeera America also offered a
glimpse of some of its initial programming.
At launch, key shows will include
the flagship nightly broadcast
America Tonight, Ali Velshi’s Real Money
at 7 p.m., a 60 Minutes-style newsmagazine
at 9 p.m., an American version
of the Al Jazeera English documentary
series Fault Lines, social media-driven
talk show The Stream hosted by Lisa Fletcher and the daily half-hour
talk show Inside Story.
The network plans to have at least 11 hours of rolling news a day and
is also developing lifestyle, entertainment news and sports news programming.
Al Jazeera America has hired former Versus executive Neal Scarborough
as its senior executive producer for sports and Jessica Taff, formerly
of YES Network, as a New York-based sports anchor and reporter.
Al Shihabi said Al Jazeera America will also have a morning show at
launch. The program will not look like the Today show, he said, but will
feature serious, in-depth news. “We haven’t finalized the detailed format,
but I will tell you it’s not going to look like people sitting and talking
about kitchens,” he said.
Turning Newsgathering Power to the People
The through-line for all of the network’s programs will be a commitment
to fact-based, unbiased, investigative journalism, which Al Shihabi
sees as its differentiator in the current American cable news landscape.
Al Jazeera America will have 12 bureaus across the country at launch in
an effort to shift the newsgathering focus to the people and regularly produce
content from overlooked regions, rather than parachute reporters in
for major news events. Where other news may elevate the voices of politicians
or celebrities, Al Jazeera will look to elevate the consumer voice.
“We’re going to be putting a real emphasis on gathering money stories
from people who we cover, not just from politicians and decision-makers
and economists and academics,” Velshi said of his business program.
“We’ll use all of them. But we’re going to do a more complicated form of
journalism than just booking guests and talking about a topic.”
While Al Shihabi acknowledges that
having well-known personalities like
Velshi is critical for a young network,
he’s most concerned with recruiting
talent who can carry the identity of the
Al Jazeera America brand, which he
defines as giving a voice to the voiceless,
covering under-covered areas,
speaking to the mainstream and most
of all, possessing a strong journalism
background. “We’re not having bigname
[people] without a journalistic
identity,” he said.
Searching for a Leader
One key hire—a network president—
is still missing, though Al Shihabi says
he is “very close” to naming one and
will “definitely” have someone in place before the launch. He said he
is not concerned with whether the executive has led a network before;
rather, Al Shihabi’s key criteria is someone who has leadership, a deep
understanding of journalism, reflects the in-depth, unbiased identity of
Al Jazeera America, is motivational and is a great public speaker.
Part of that president’s job will be to act as figurehead, reassuring
some skeptical American news consumers—and distributors—that a
media company backed by the deep pockets of the Qatar government
does not have a political agenda. The network will launch in 48 million
homes, but not on Time Warner Cable, which dropped the channel
when it switched from Current TV last January.
The MSO said at the time it would reevaluate as the network develops
whether it makes sense to carry it. Al Shihabi believes the simplest way
to change minds is to get people to sample the programming.
“If they watch it, then they will understand it is not reality, it is a
perception,” Al Shihabi said, noting he tells people to watch Al Jazeera
English in the interim. “They have to expect that Al Jazeera America, it
will be a different product covering domestic and international, but it
will maintain the same core values.”