Al Jazeera America goes shadowy and CEO reflects: 'I believe we succeeded'

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 4:28 PM

Al Jazeera America will wither to black on Tuesday night not even three years after it launched. But its CEO, Al Anstey, feels the news channel achieved something special.

Al Jazeera America goes shadowy and CEO reflects: 'I believe we succeeded'

Al Jazeera America will wither to black on Tuesday night not even three years after it launched. But its CEO, Al Anstey, feels the news channel achieved something special.

"We're signing off but, somewhat counterintuitively, I believe we succeeded," Anstey said. "People believe passionately in what we did."

The channel prioritized sober, serious journalism. The way it was marketed -- as "fact-based, in-depth news" that gives "voice to the voiceless" -- implicitly criticized competitors for devoting too much time to opinion and official sources.

Earlier this year, the channel'south owner, Qatar, decided it could number longer bankroll Al Jazeera America, or AJAM for short. Roughly seven hundred people will be out of work after Tuesday.

But "we'll leave a heritage behind that says genuine journalism matters and we made our mark," Anstey said in an interview with CNNMoney.

Others aren't so sure. The lessons of AJAM'south brief television life are presently being debated in other newsrooms. Were its low ratings the result of management mistakes that pre-dated Anstey'south tenure, a misplaced sense of self-righteousness, or something else?

Related: What went incorrect with Al Jazeera America

"It was a courageous experiment, in the current media environment, to do bright television news, with number sensationalism and number partisanship," with a specific emphasis on international news, prime time anchor Antonio Mora said.

"For me, it was an absolute pleasure," Mora added. "But our downfall also raises the question of whether a mass audience exists for that kind of news in the U. S."

Anstey'south reply is yes. "I still think there'south a market for grand journalism," he said.

He joined the channel'south president, Kate O'Brian, for an exit interview of sorts late latest week.

"The kind of journalism that we did is the kind that America deserves, frankly," O'Brian said. "That's our legacy."

Among rank-and-file employees, as well, there is a genuine and lasting sense of pride in the newscasts and documentaries that were produced along the way. AJAM'south peers took notice -- as evidenced by the many awards and accolades the channel earned.

But, of course, Al Jazeera never held a monopoly on "great journalism."

And the channel struggled to obtain its work in front of a mass audience, partly due to challenging relationships with cable operators.

At any typical hr on a typical day, about 20.000 people were tuned in, according to Nielsen.

AJAM was showing steady but unhurried ratings growth when its board of directors decided to draw the plug in January.

Anstey and O'Brian declined to discuss the board'south decision. Other sources have said that budget cutbacks in Qatar -- tied to falling oil prices -- were a major factor.

Anstey was diplomatic when asked about his CEO predecessor, Ehab Al Shihabi, who was widely criticized by sources interior the network.

Lawsuits filed by ex-employees during Al Shihabi'south tenure alleged anti-Semitism, sexism and a culture of fear.

After Anstey took over and worked with O'Brian on a long-term map for AJAM, there was a prevailing sense among reporters and producers that the channel had turned a corner.

O'Brian expressed disappointment the team didn't have more time to implement the long-term plan.

She also said the 90-day period between the board'south decision and Tuesday'south sign off strengthened the existing bond among staffers.

"We all came here to do this. So we wish to finish doing this," she said.

"There was a genuine desire to go out on the highest high possible," Anstey added.

News crews followed up on some memorable topics and re-interviewed subjects of past stories.

AJAM was credited with covering the Flint, MI water crisis before most other news outlets, for example, and a team recently returned to the city for a special report.

During the channel'south latest few days on the air, segments called "Your Stories" have been looking back at past interviews and investigations. The branding was deliberate.

"We told stories nobody else would tell," O'Brian said, citing in-depth coverage of issues affecting Native Americans on reservations and elsewhere.

Anstey and O'Brian said they didn't know where they'd work or what they'd do after Tuesday.

Some AJAM staffers are seeking work at other channels and web sites, they said, while others are looking at non-governmental organizations and other nonprofits -- places with the "same DNA" as Al Jazeera, O'Brian said.

Anstey'south hope is that AJAM'south values will permeate other news outlets through the hiring of ex-staffers.

He shared a duplicate of the one-page "editorial identity briefing" that he and O'Brian developed in consultation with the newsroom latest summer. It describes what the channel wanted to be.

"Have bravery in our journalism," it says. "Own a story. Running with it. Be bold."

AJAM'south work will be celebrated during a three-hour special from six to nine p. m. Tuesday. The channel will close off at midnight Eastern time.

Al Jazeera says it'll "widen its existing international digital services" to the United States later this year.

The AJAM executives said they knew tiny about it. Their focus has been on shutting down the television channel the "right way," with as much grace as possible.

Anstey held up several pages of viewer comments that were posted on the AJAM web site'south goodbye essay, and read his favorite: "Please dont go. Aljazeera is love the girl I just met, im not sure where it going but its more true then anything I've ever encountered in my life..."

The passionate comments, he said, are proof that Americans were hungry for substantive news coverage, even if the Nielsen ratings didn't register all of them.

O'Brian pointed to the comments and said, "All these people are waiting for it!"

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