Al-Jazeera America goes live, woos viewers
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Joie Chen, host of the new Al Jazeera America nightly news program America Tonight, sits at the anchor desk in the network's studio space at the Newseum in Washington, DC, August 16, 2013. Al Jazeera America, a cable news network was launched on August 20, with 12 bureaus in major cities in the US. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEBAl-Jazeera America went live Tuesday, accompanied by a campaign of traditional and social media for its cable channel launch, as it pledged to outdo its rivals with serious, in-depth journalism.
Former CNN reporter Tony Harris anchored the first newscast as the channel began broadcasting at 1900 GMT.
The Qatar-based media group meanwhile took out full-page ads in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and trumpeted the opening on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
"Change the way you look at news," said the ad in the Journal. "Get more depth, More perspective. Every day." On Facebook, Al-Jazeera America called itself "the new American TV news channel that connects you to the human stories at the heart of the news." "We're on the air! #AlJazeeraAmerica has just launched, and we're live. Are you ready to take a new look at news?" said a tweet as the channel went live.
The first hour included a preview of the daily news, magazine and interview programs.
One of the first in-depth reports set to air was an investigation for the "Fault Lines" program on Bangladesh.
The flagship "America Tonight" program began a four-part series on street gangs in Chicago, described as "the deadliest city in America." The channel reaches more than 40 million households and vastly expands the footprint of Al-Jazeera despite questions about how it will be received by American viewers.
Even before its launch, social media was abuzz over the channel and its new programs. Some expressed concern that Al-Jazeera was ending its streaming Internet of its English-language service, which, according to executives, was required under cable TV contracts.
On Facebook, the Al-Jazeera America page had 66,000 likes and a variety of comments.
It is likely to face a tough sell to US audiences because of its history in the Middle East, where it was the outlet for videos distributed by Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Some conservatives claim it is still anti-Western.
Since acquiring Current TV, a struggling US cable channel, Al-Jazeera has brought in well-known names in the industry, such as former CNN and CBS journalist Joie Chen, former NBC news anchor John Seigenthaler and David Shuster, a veteran of Fox News and MSNBC.
Along with 24-hour news, Al-Jazeera will include several showcase programs starting with the 5:00 pm time slot and carrying into "prime time" evening viewing.
Al-Jazeera's US operation is headquartered in New York, with a vast news hub and studio across from Penn Station. In Washington, the channel has taken studio space formerly occupied by ABC at the Newseum, overlooking the US Capitol.