Al Jazeera English looks at news through a different lens
The 20-month-old channel expands its global audience but barely penetrates US market.
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The staff is something of a mini-UN: It includes Americans, Canadians, Britons, as well as Colombians and Lebanese. Mr. McKinney is a former Scottish TV journalist, as is evident from his brogue.Skip to next paragraph
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AJE operates independently of Al Jazeera Arabic, maintaining its own bureaus, journalists, and production staff – as well as broadcast centers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Doha, Qatar; London; and Washington. Each center is responsible for part of the channel's 24-hour broadcast and has "regional authority" when it comes to making editorial decisions. "That's the dramatic change that Al Jazeera English represents," says Will Stebbins, the Washington bureau chief, of the local decisionmaking.
At the top, AJE is governed by a team of news executives. But overall, a board of directors and code of ethics govern both the Arabic channel and AJE. The two channels do put reporters on each other's broadcasts.
AJE decidedly doesn't target an American audience with stories, which may be one reason it doesn't have much of one. Producers say stories have to reach a certain "threshold" of interest or importance – to have as much curiosity for someone in Islamabad as in Iowa. "It's about broadcasting to a world audience," says McKinney.
Even when it does do a US-based story, it isn't always the standard fare you might see on other channels. "What we didn't cover is the marine who murdered his pregnant girlfriend," says Mr. Stebbins. "We didn't touch the Mormon ranch ... story. We make an effort to reveal dimensions of the US that have not been seen before."
Stebbins was the first employee hired by the company for its North American operation before AJE's launch in November 2006. A former Associated Press broadcaster, he is not reticent to defend what he calls the "Al Jazeera tradition." "What Al Jazeera Arabic has done is really brought into the center voices that were previously marginalized in the Middle East," he says. "Nobody heard from the Egyptian opposition before Al Jazeera, nobody heard from Saudi dissidents before Al Jazeera. We're certainly trying to do the same thing in the US."
Like Al Jazeera Arabic, AJE is often criticized for being anti-American and anti-Israeli. Even some insiders have questioned the tone of its coverage. Former anchor David Marash, who quit the channel this past spring with mixed emotions, told Columbia Journalism Review that one series the channel produced on poverty in America essentially boiled down to: "Here a poor, there a poor, everywhere a poor poor."