August 19, 2013

Al-Jazeera America prepares for Tuesday launch

The network has hired many veterans of U.S. television, and is promising a meaty diet of news that it believes will contrast with the opinionated talk that dominates American news networks.

By David Bauder / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

This undated publicity image released by Al-Jazeera America shows news anchor John Seigenthaler. he will host Al-Jazeera America's central nightly newscast when the network goes on the air Tuesday.

AP

Bishara said that asking potential viewers in a poll whether they consider Al-Jazeera to be anti-American sends a bad message.

Bishara worries that Al-Jazeera will water down its journalism for an American audience, "and nothing could be further from the truth," said Paul Eedle, deputy launch manager. Being bold — not bland — is the secret to success, he said.

The Al-Jazeera English network, which has disseminated its programming online and over some widely scattered cable systems during the past decade, is generally straightforward in its news coverage, said Philip Seib, a professor of journalism and public policy at the University of Southern California, who has written a book about Al-Jazeera.

"That's what's encouraging about Al-Jazeera America," Seib said. A focus on technology and science-oriented programs indicate an effort to reach smart, younger viewers, he said.

Dave Marash, a former Al-Jazeera English reporter, said he believes that AJA will be able to produce the solid news reporting it is counting on to distinguish itself from its competition.

"Almost all of their hires are respectable people with real careers and real records," Marash said. "Several are flat-out outstanding — Sheila MacVicar is outstanding. I'm optimistic."

AJA will be available in less than half of American homes at its launch. The Time Warner cable system, for example, dropped Current when the sale was announced. AJA is negotiating with Time Warner and carriers like Cablevision that didn't carry Current in the first place, to get in more homes. But people at the network expect a wait-and-see period.

Another handicap is the channel's location on cable systems. Current was often given a high-numbered channel that makes it much less likely that viewers would find it by chance; AJA said it is working to improve that.

Even with Al-Jazeera rarely available on TV in the U.S., the Al-Jazeera English network had a substantial following online. But that will end; as a condition of being carried on cable systems, Al-Jazeera will no longer be able to send out a live Internet stream of its programming.

That seems unwise, Marash said. Essentially, Al-Jazeera will be trading a young and growing audience online — the distribution form that best represents the industry's future — for a smaller, older television audience, he said.

"None of this makes any sense unless you talk about it in the context of ego," Marash said.

AJA has said little about its online plans. Al Shihabi said the company's goal is to get near-universal carriage on television, making the worries about the online audience moot.

"We are not coming here to compete," Al Shihabi said. "We are coming here to win."

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