Al Jazeera: Model News Outlet?

By Swaffield, Bruce C. | The Quill, November 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Al Jazeera: Model News Outlet?


Swaffield, Bruce C., The Quill


I LIKE WHAT I SEE these days at Al Jazeera. They are doing the kind of journalism that made me want to enter this profession in the first place.

Go to enqlish.aljazeera.net and you'll find live streams, video links, interactive pages for citizen journalists, compelling photographs and breaking news from around the world.

I know what you might be thinking right now. Yes, Al dazeera may have an agenda - some social, political or religious bias. But look long enough at any media outlet in the world, including those in the United States, and you will find something to criticize.

I'm talking about Al dazeera from a journalistic standpoint: getting to the heart of a story and telling it in a way that viewers and readers can feel and understand the impact, especially in its television coverage.

"Al Jazeera - not ('The News Hour' with dim) Lehrer - is what the internationally minded elite class really yearns for: a visually stunning, deeply reported description of developments in dozens upon dozens of countries simultaneously," Robert D. Kaplan said recently in "Why I Love Al dazeera," published in The Atlantic.

To prove his point, Kaplan spent a number of days watching the Al dazeera English channel. "I was treated to penetrating portraits of Er it rea ? and Ethiopian involvement in the Somali war, of the struggle of Niger River rebels against the Nigerian government in the oil-rich south of the country, of the floods in Bangladesh, of problems with the South African economy, of the danger that desertification poses to Bedouin life in northern Sudan, of the environmental devastation around the Aral Sea" and so on.

He's right. I still remember watching Al dazeera for the first time a few years ago when I was in Rome, Italy. I was immediately struck by the fact that the stories were told by ordinary individuals in their own words and perspectives, not by the reporters themselves. They got out of the way and did not try to interpret everything. They let the people and events speak for themselves.

"I would say that Al Jazeera has become successful due to its commitment to putting the human being at the center of our news agenda," said Wadah Khanfar, director-general of the Al dazeera Network. "When Al dazeera started in 1 996, there were no independent news networks in the Arab world. We broke the mold of state-controlled media by giving a voice to ordinary people, the marginalized and opposing points of view."

What really separates Al dazeera from mainstream media is its unique method of reporting news and information. According to Khanfar, "Our stories are more compelling because our approach to news is rooted in fieldwork. While many news networks have centralized their operations, we continue to focus on having correspondents live in the regions that they report from.

"We now have an extensive network of almost 70 bureaus across the world," added Khanfar, who oversees a staff of 2,500. "This allows us to go beyond the immediacy of headlines and bring a much deeper perspective to issues that incorporate the complexity of historical, social, political and cultural contexts for a story. …

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