A Bold New Network Just Like All The Others


A new Pew study on Al Jazeera America (AJAM) suggests that the nascent network doesn’t stray far from the cable-news pack:

[A]fter viewing 21 hours of cable news on Syria across five networks, measuring coverage using five metrics, the researchers have arrived at an answer: So far, anyway, Al Jazeera America is more or less CNN – minus Wolf Blitzer, and with a snazzier logo. “The content that Al Jazeera America provided in many ways resembled the coverage on the three major cable competitors” – that is, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told Foreign Policy.

AJAM actually reported fewer stories directly from the Middle East than did BBC America or CNN, and it also devoted less airtime to Syrian citizens than either network. Matt Wilstein detects a strategy:

[The study] helped underscore the network’s aim of being a fundamentally American product. While some U.S. viewers may be looking to Al Jazeera America to offer an international perspective not often found on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, for now the network appears happy to broadcast news by and for Americans first.

Arit John sees a waste of potential for what could be a “non-partisan anomaly in this crazy, mixed up liberal-conservative media world”:

The last thing we need is another network putting on the same old song and dance as the other ones, especially to a much smaller audience. But despite our disappointment, AJAM seems pretty happy with the news – they even tweeted about it.

Previous Dish on AJAM here, here and here. Update from a reader:

Being a hard-core supporter of Al Jazeera English (AJE) and its terrific web content (video and essays), I had welcomed the advent of Al Jazeera English (AJA). Imagine my surprise when I received an email in July noting that video content on AJE’s website would no longer be available to those of us who reside in the US.

I didn’t really think about it, as I assumed the new AJA would make a seamless transition (both web and TV based), with the same wonderful international content known and respected on AJE. Big mistake on my part.

I tried to give AJA the benefit of the doubt, I really did. I watched the new cable channel; I checked their website. Sigh. AJA is no clone of AJE. None of the top international reporting; none of the great international video content. In short, AJA is just an expensive clone of the mundane US channels, regurgitating the pablum of the American press – and why on earth would Al Jazeera want to do that? If I want to have my intellect sucked out of my brain, there are already so many options to choose from on American TV.  I (and many others) watched AJE on the web specifically because it wasn’t like those other catatonic-inducing news cable channels.

AJE videos remain blocked in the US. Why? This is what has really stoked my ire: in order to have AJA on US cable TV, Al Jazeera caved to the traditional US cable/ satellite providers and agreed to block AJE web content. It has even managed to block AJE videos on third-party sites. A once-pioneering news organization has in effect drunk the cable KoolAid. They might as well start showing cute cat videos.

Thanks for listening to my diatribe. I tried to vent in emails to AJA, but all I got back were cheery automatic responses that sang the new channels praises. Sigh.

Another reader defends the new network:

An element left out of the “network just like all the others” comparison is that AJAM is 24/7 news, whereas BBC America TV (not radio) only has news on a few times a day. At least that’s true on my cable lineup. So a direct comparison to BBC America TV is kind of phony. You might as well include CBS, which has turned its morning show into a harder-news format, and which I’ve started watching as a result. But the bottom line is that I’m happy to see AJAM as an alternative.

(Graph: Pew Research Center)