Magazine article Variety

Al Jazeera Won't Stoop to Score with U.S. Channel

Magazine article Variety

Al Jazeera Won't Stoop to Score with U.S. Channel

Article excerpt

Arab newsie vows profits will come second to substantive news, in-depth reporting

Prominently displayed in the bazaar of cable TV companies that took over the bottom floor of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., last week was a logo that still turns heads in the U.S.

AI Jazeera America's white-carpeted booth at the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn.'s annual confab was situated in the main drag of the convention floor, a neighbor of Disney and Turner, and kitty-corner from the Fox Networks Group installation.

Unlike most of the confab's larger exhibs, Al Jazeera America came to NCTA with real distribution work to do, courting cable operators to carry the all-news channel that parent org Al Jazeera Media Network intends to launch by late August. Leading the effort for the Qatar-based, state-funded newsie is Ehab AƎ Shihabi, the parent company's exec director of international operations. Al Jazeera America is assured of launching in at least 50 million U.S. homes, thanks to its acquisition of Current TV in January.

Al Shihabi comes to the job with an MBA from Georgetown U. and a background in global business consulting prior to joining Al Jazeera four years ago. He sounds like a polished media exec as he discusses the market research studies that convinced Al Jazeera there is demand in the U.S. marketplace for a channel devoted to hard news, and in-depth and investigative reporting. "Intelligent" and "unbiased" were among the buzzwords featured in the promo vids that unspooled on a giant screen in the booth.

Al Jazeera America is emphasizing its focus on news of substance to everyday Americans, rather than celebrity fare or partisan bickering, with a concerted effort to illuminate the global impact of news, cultural shifts and social changes. To buttress the argument that Americans hunger for serious reportage, Al Jazeera's vid features a testimonial from "Miguel, a barista in Miami," as well as a stay-at-home mom, a Gen-Y blogger and a small-business owner.

"We are looking for the human side of the news," Al Shihabi said. "There is huge demand for the voice of the mainstream."

Al Jazeera is pouring major resources into the America launch, starting with the $500 million it paid (or overpaid) for Current. Staffers are now in the midst of a spree to hire 800 journalists by launch time (21,000-plus applications have flooded in) to man 12 domestic bureaus, with plans for more down the road. ā€¦

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