Content is King on AJAM, But Presentation is Deplorable

Al Jazeera America, the new kid on the block aiming to provide authentic news coverage of domestic and global events for us Yanks, launched this week. It is an ambitious move by Al Jazeera and the tiny state of Qatar to launch a news channel in this country at a time when hard news is a hard sell. The fragmented media business has all players staking out their territory. The question remains to be answered as to whether Al Jazeera America can attract a sustainable audience in order to survive. But you have to give credit to those trying to bring back a rational and straight-forward voice to the marketplace. The content of “AJAM” programming presents us with an alternative point-of-view that has been lacking in the mainstream media. It is the peoples’ points of view that is front-and-center. While scholars and academics have a room on the channel, one does detect a socialistic tone in the output. AJAM strikes the right cord with the airing of domestic and international news coverage in addition to simulcasting “Newshour” from Al Jazeera English.

Yet AJAM is no match for AJE when it comes to on-air presentation. The grade school graphics and pompous music theme make AJAM look like an un-sophisticated and second tier news network. Its like the nerd in high school trying to be popular when he doesn’t have the goods to show off. What am I saying? AJAM lacks a strong and incisive visual identity and that is needed to stand out in the marketplace. It appears the creative and management folks missed the brilliant relaunch of ITV News and the inspiring visuals of Bloomberg or Al Arabiya. The production values are not slick enough to compete with the likes of CNN, Bloomberg or even BBC World News. Countless repeats of employee testimonials are not altruistic and come off as annoying. I care about why the “faces” of AJAM (Ali Velshi, Soledad O’Brien, Joie Chen, Davis Shuster, Tony Harris, John Seigenthaler) joined the network. These are the “stars” of the channel and I want to hear from them in an emotional and compelling capacity. Let us face one fact. If viewers elect to watch the news, their favorite anchors determine what channel gets picked. But like all new kids on the block, AJAM will somehow work out the kinks, adapt and survive. If it doesn’t, well, we can talk about it till the end of time.

08/26/13 Update: In my next post, I focus on the channel’s talent including those who have a bright future. Yes, I’m looking at you Thomas Drayton and Libby Casey.

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