Two Sundays ago, I sat on a panel discussion, moderated by former CBS newsman Randall Pinkston, on “the future of journalism.” The panel was broadcast on Al Jazeera America, during one of its last live weekend shows. The two-and-a-half-year-old news network was, in effect, airing its own wake.
On Tuesday night, following a three-hour live celebration of its extraordinary but brief run, Al Jazeera America will die. Its vibrant website, which stopped production in February, sits with archives and eulogies testifying to AJAM’s claim that it’s a voice for the voiceless. (The international Al Jazeera English site is still very much alive.)
Ever since the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network launched its virtually all-American-staffed channel in August 2013, AJAM TV and its website have racked up an impressive series of Emmy and Peabody awards—but very few viewers. AJAM reported on, and often revisited, the sort of corporate-unfriendly stories the Big Three cable channels tend to ignore—on labor, refugees, poverty, social justice, climate change, inequality—a veritable feast for Nation readers. It reported on the lead crisis in Flint long before Rachel Maddow did. It regularly covered Native Americans, going far beyond “the stereotypical ‘sad life on the rez’” stories, wrote AJAM producer Tristan Ahtone, who contributed to the site’s dedicated vertical Indian Country. “There was nothing like it at any other mainstream news outlet in the United States,” he said.
And they gave our crazy presidential campaign plenty of coverage without succumbing to the onanistic ratings jones that has consumed TV news in America. To place Al Jazeera America in today’s cable-news landscape, look no further than this screenshot posted on Facebook by AJAM nighttime anchor Antonio Mora back in September:
On January 13, AJAM announced to its stunned staff that it would shutter the website and TV channel, laying off about 700 people across 12 US bureaus. Then, two weeks ago, the parent company, Al Jazeera Media Network, announced that an additional 500 people will be let go worldwide, most of them in the Qatari capital of Doha.