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Al Jazeera America Announces Plans

International news organization to launch American news channel in late summer

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April 30, 2013 | by Matt Paolelli
Ehab Al Shihabi

Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director for international operations of Al Jazeera America, talks at Medill about the news organization's plans. Photo by Stephen Anzaldi

EVANSTON, Ill. ---Al Jazeera America, a new U.S. news channel set to launch later this year, unveiled its plans for entering the U.S. broadcast news market Tuesday at a panel discussion hosted by the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

“It will be the voice of Main Street,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director for international operations of Al Jazeera America. “Content is king for us.”

Medill Associate Dean Jack Doppelt moderated the conversation with Al Shihabi, and Bob Wheelock of Al Jazeera English.

Based in Doha, Qatar, the Al Jazeera Network continues to strengthen a partnership with Northwestern University in Qatar, where students earning degrees in journalism and communications are uniquely positioned to gain experience with the news organization. Al Jazeera and the University signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March to facilitate collaboration and knowledge transfer between two of Qatar’s foremost media organizations.

This collaboration continues with Al Jazeera America, as Al Shihabi announced a new internship program specifically for Medill students that will launch along with the network in the late summer.

Al Shihabi explained that Al Jazeera America’s journalistic mission is to provide in-depth, investigative and balanced coverage of the United States in the same way that Al Jazeera covers the news through its 70 international bureaus around the world.

“Al Jazeera America will be a U.S. based channel providing a new choice for Americans seeking wide-range, in-depth journalism about America and the world,” he said. “We’re going to blend together domestic news for Al Jazeera America and at the same time we’re going to capitalize on our infrastructure with Al Jazeera internationally so you will become more informed about domestic news and international news.”

Headquartered in New York City, Al Jazeera America will provide domestic and international coverage through news shows, talk shows, lifestyle magazine programs and documentaries. The channel will add 12 additional bureaus in locations including Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit to find stories that Al Shihabi said are currently not represented in broadcast cable news coverage.

While Al Jazeera has historically been a global news operation, Al Shihabi said the organization is primed to provide American audiences with the same level of reporting they have come to expect from the network’s international coverage, citing statistics that 40 percent of Al Jazeera’s web traffic comes from the United States.

He acknowledged that perceptions of Al Jazeera in the United States have been mixed, but, he said, the quality of the network’s journalism will speak for itself.

“We know what the perceptions are, but those are simply perceptions,” he said. “We take the journalism seriously.”

Al Shihabi stressed that the launch of Al Jazeera America will provide even more opportunities for Northwestern students and alumni to join a well-funded news organization that is committed to journalistic excellence and in need of a talented and diverse staff — now on American soil. He encouraged current students to explore internship opportunities with Al Jazeera America and urged graduating students to consider working for the new network.

 “The internship program will allow you to join Al Jazeera America when we launch in the late summer, and also it will take you through Doha, Qatar and some overseas bureaus that we have,” he said. “We are also expanding our bureau in Chicago to have two crews for Al Jazeera America.”

For more information on Al Jazeera America, visit http://america.aljazeera.com/.

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