The Al Jazeera America cable network never found its audience in the United States and is shuttering its studio while promising to provide the American audience it never found with more digital content.
Al Jazeera America never had a chance?
With the lowest common denominator leading the charge towards the Republican nomination, did a the first independent network out of the Arab World (Qatar) ever have a chance to reach the audience it desired. Having purchased Al Gore’s Current TV network for $500 million, the network went on air in August 2013 receiving nearly immediate critical acclaim. But Marvel movies make money, independent films might be beautiful but they just don’t bring in the money they need to succeed. Promising to report the news unlike the current climate of cable news, Al Jazeera American excelled in their endeavors, shame nobody watched.
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The network has a shelf of awards including: A Peabody, Emmy, and Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University awards; but, again now audience. Al Jazeera’s prime-time audience often failed to find a viewership of over 30,000.
Al Jazeera America’s chief executive, Al Anstey said: “I have witnessed and worked alongside some of the most talented people any organisation could wish for. Since its launch in 2013, the work done by the team at Al Jazeera America has been recognized with nearly every major award an American news organisation can receive. I greatly respect the unrivalled commitment and excellent work of our team, which has created great journalism. We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest, and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone.”
While they did an admirable job reporting the news soberly, I don’t doubt that Fox News “anchors” and guests will be dancing tonight in less than gracious victory.
The meeting and memo that ended the dream
In a memo to the staff today, Anste said the “decision by Al Jazeera America’s board is driven by the fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the U.S. media marketplace.”
“I know the closure of AJAM will be a massive disappointment for everyone here who has worked tirelessly for our long-term future,” he continued. “The decision that has been made is in no way because AJAM has done anything but a great job. Our commitment to great journalism is unrivaled.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing before Al Jazeera America went on to the rocks today. Mr. Anstey only replaced former chief executive, Ehab Al Shihabi last May after a loss of a number of top executives and a couple of lawsuits by former employees claiming an undercurrent of sexism and Anti-Semitism at the network.
Controversy and content (digital)
In November, Al Jazeera America general counsel, David W. Harleston, was suspended when the New York Times published a piece that claimed he was not licensed to practice law. Just last month the network produced a documentary that linked some of the United States’ biggest sports stars, including Peyton Manning, of performance enhancing drug use; a claim that Manning has vehemently denied.
While shutting down Al Jazeera America, let’s remember that it’s primarily funded by oil revenues from Qatar, Antsey promised Al Jazeera “would bring new global content into America” in an expansion of its digital programming available in the United States.
With news bureaus all over the world, the company is well poised to do just that.