What I Know…

Well, well. It’s been a while since I blogged. But with good reason or shall I say reasons. Life. Work. Motivation. Indeed, there has been a lack of motivation on my part to continuously write and keep you folks interested.

I’ve been eager to write this post for some time and while my english and grammar may not be polished, I hope you will not hold that against me in what I consider to be my final post. I knew exactly what I wanted the post title to be. “What I Know” sums up the essence of what I would like to convey. It also is the title of a music theme played in AMC’s The Killing. it’s a beautiful track if you ever get a chance to listen to it.

So, what do I know? Five years ago, I started this blog knowing that it was my last chance to cling to an industry that I had worked so hard to try and become a part of. Despite starting a career in a different field, this blog was my ticket. I worked tirelessly to build on a theme or niche that readers would find distinctive with a voice that was peppered with a mix of tongue and cheek. Within a few months of launching, I convinced other bloggers to add me to their respective blogrolls and public relation professionals to add me to their mailing lists. With a combination of luck and persistence, I grew my readership and managed to attract some influential folks to follow me on Twitter.

You see, I wanted to be part of the media industry since my early days at university. I was passionate about communication and the world itself. Like my parents, I was born in one country and lived in many others so there was a certain desire on my part to bring the world closer together through storytelling. Along the way I had role models to give me the inspiration to pursue this very competitive industry. My own family members such as my great-granduncle – who contributed to Pakistan’s founding after India’s partition in 1947 – proved to be altruistic as well. But five years later, it’s time to put the pen down. Why? Well, I shall tell you.

What I know…is that while I consider myself to be lucky (to an extent), I don’t have the experience, talent or connections to continue pursuing a career in media. I don’t have the star power or wattage to attract decision makers in an industry that is struggling to survive and be profitable. I wish more folks would communicate this to students aspiring to be in media or journalism. I am not my great-granduncle. I am no Brian Stelter. I am no Imran Garda. I am no Adrian Finighan. And I am certainly no Mishal Husain. Unlike most in my generation, I do no consider myself to be special. I am not special and I never will be. I’m just me…an ordinary chap who may have grabbed your attention with a few posts and that is perfectly okay.

So with a heavy heart, I want to thank all of you for your support and reading this blog. While I may pop up every now and again, for now…it’s good night, and good luck.

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NPR Generation Listen Project Needs More Ears

No organization is immune to layoffs…including National Public Radio. I was troubled by a tweet I discovered recently in which the photo depicted employees bidding farewell to those who had accepted buyouts. NPR is a beacon of journalism in a world where profit stomps over content and integrity. So it is with great sadness that I pen this blogpost and offer a piece of advice; NPR must invest in its future audience and ramp up efforts on NPR Generation Listen.

The project is supposed to focus on my demographic (20’s). But I don’t see a lot of effort being mustered by this endeavor. The bright spot: the daily production of abundant and accessible content that my demo would find appealing. A prime example of this was an interview conducted by David Greene with the band TLC. The segment was energetic, fun, and exuded gravitas. If NPR can package and tailor its content into a 30 minute weekend show or digital podcast, I think more of my peers will tune in which is exactly what the public broadcaster needs to ensure its survival.

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.

Who is Al Jazeera America’s Target Audience?

Unfortunately, I have no definitive answer to the question posed in the title of this post. But Richard Sambrook was right. In 2002, he correctly predicted that BBC World News would never be more than a niche player in the world’s most competitive media market. After failing to get signficant cable carriage for Al Jazeera English, Doha has pressed ahead with the launch of an American network. As a media junkie, one thing puzzles me: who is their target audience? The urban professional? Key decision makers? Expats or the general viewing public? If it’s the latter, we’re in big trouble. At this point you may be wondering with what authority do I write on such matters. If I were in your shoes, I’d wonder too. But more on that story later.

There is a perceived notion that Americans by-and-large are not interested in global events since it has no impact on their lives. If it’s not happening in my town, why should I care is the motto. Despite an ever-shifting media landscape and an evolved audience, Sambrook was onto something. He knew that BBC World News would fill a gap in the U.S. market and there would be a sustainable audience to serve. That niche audience has only grown in the last decade, but the majority of viewers are not still not demanding to the type of journalism that serves the public well. The only way to stand out is to be different from the rest of the crowd and not conform to American standards. In fact, the BBC asked its U.S. audience if they wanted an American to present the news. The idea was later rejected through a survey. Another example of being unique and succeeding is CBS This Morning. After floundering for years and enduring multiple makeovers, new leadership at CBS decided to run in the opposite direction as opposed to copying the market leader. The result? The show’s ratings are up and there is a certain amount of prestige associated with the latest re-incarnation. Will the Tiffany network ever have the number one morning show in America. Probably not. But at least that show stands for something. CBS has carved out an identity for their news programming and that is exactly what “AJAM” needs to be successful. If they don’t create an indelible mark, the network will be lost in cable space and viewers will not flip over. Unfortunately, Doha leadership seems more interested in attracting as many eyeballs as possible. Al Jazeera is a great news network for which I have tremendous respect and admiration (despite the tone of my posts), and it has the ability to be greater still. But it appears Doha management does not have the courage to be different and are only emboldened by the conviction of their own vanity.

If I didn’t care about the success for AJAM, I would not be writing these posts. As a former media insider, I started this blog knowing that I could bring a unique voice to the table by commenting on global news organizations operating in this country. I’ve been fortunate to communicate with many news executives. Indeed, I have “friends” in high places. Heck, I’ve even had off-the-record conversations with top executives from Apple and Starbucks. But I digress. I know this website will never generate thousands of hits, but I’m content with my place in the blogosphere. Can’t AJAM be satisfied with the role it should play in the U.S. media market? Stay tuned…

Hallelujah! AJAM Appoints Key Leaders

The waiting game is over! Al Jazeera has made an announcement on who will take charge of the American network. Kate O’Brian of ABC News will lead Al Jazeera America while veterans from CNN and MSNBC fill other management roles. The news is surprising as O”Brian was never bracketed with the likes of Jon Klein, David Westin or Mark Whitaker. Reports of David Shuster joining the network also surfaced yesterday. He’s probably being Al Jazeerized at this very moment. 

What is still a matter of concern is the programming on the channel….or lack of. Thus far, all we seem to hear about is Ali Velshi’s new business show, documentaries by Soledad O’Brien, and America Tonight. Doesn’t AJAM have 24 hours of air-time to fill? Do the business folks not want to sell ads in advance? If I worked for a media company and was interested in buying air-time on the network, I would be at a loss as I do not know where to spend my funds. Media reports suggest the network will have the lowest time allocated for commercial breaks. Is this due to the fact that ad-breaks have not been sold? Or will viewers be subjected to endless promos produced by the network itself? Hmmm, I wonder. 
 
The only words I can offer to senior management who work there is this: get your sh*t together, hire a reputable HR firm so you can sort of your talent and trivial HR issues and stop thinking you can throw money at every problem that comes your way. Otherwise, you’ll all find yourself on a plane back to Doha with your tails between your legs. Let me know if you plan on ordering the limo just in case this happens. 

What Would Turness Do at NBC?

If NBC News is on the verge of appointing a British woman as its next president, what would she do in her position at the beleaguered network? Here are some ideas…

Foreign Desk: Increase funding and ask that editors dedicate more air-time to international stories.

Ann Curry: Take her out for a meal and ease the noticeable tension. The new president will want Curry to stay with the network and may offer her the chance to anchor her own show.

Today:  Re-invigorate the brand offering new and innovative ideas to draw viewers back in. It is understood that the U.K. media business is a “factory” for  bold programming ideas [Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Weakest Link, American Idol].

Nightly News: Give Brian Williams a co-anchor or “supporting anchor.” ITV’s flagship newscasts at 6:30 and 10 pm feature two anchors. 

NBC News: Rebrand the news output featuring a consistent and less-cluttered look. Turness recently oversaw the relaunch of ITV News with the help of a British branding firm well-known for its on-air identities. Her name pops up at the end of the clip. See link above.

Sophisticated is Back with The Good Wife

Hallelujah. An audience exists for sophisticated drama. Over nine million viewers tuned into watch the season finale of The Good Wife on CBS. Having ended season four with twists and turns, The Good Wife, created by Robert and Michelle King, is without a doubt the smartest show on network television. It boasts consistently good writing, a stellar and impeccably-dressed cast & outstanding production values. In an era where programming has been dumbed down to reach the lowest common denominator of society, the Tiffany network is challenging the status quo with a slew of shows that entertain and make the audience think. Shows like CBS This Morning and The Good Wife prove that audiences exist for “niche” programming. The good news [no pun intended] is advertisers have taken notice. And not just any type of advertiser. In March 2012, luxury jeweler Cartier ran a whopping three-minute commercial during a Good Wife episode. It was beautifully executed and viewers took notice. When an advertisement compliments the values of a t.v. show, it’s a natural brand extension that makes creative and financial sense for all parties.

I offer two words to the cast and whole crew including Robert and Michelle King, Brooke Kennedy, and David Zucker; thank you!