Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Going Dark

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Al Jazeera Logo 2

I have been inside a broadcast facility twice when it lost power.  Once was in Korea when lightning hit the antenna of AFKN, aka the military run, American Forces Korea Network.  The other was at WKRC in Cincinnati.  High up on Highland Drive, that huge red and white, 500-foot antenna also was a lightning magnet.

In both cases, it was very, very creepy.  Somebody like me, who has practically grown up in studios, production rooms, edit bays, and news pits, surrounded by lights, buzzes, beeps, bells, flashes and static; to have all of that go dark and silent – for a minute, it can feel like the end of the world.

And God help you if you are in the path of a engineer, rocketing through the building with a waving flashlight and screaming that they have to get to the backup generator.  Meanwhile, everybody sort of mills around with literally nothing to do because they have, literally, no way to do it.

A dark and silent TV or radio station is a thing against nature.

So it is with some sadness that I read that Al-Jazeera America is going dark after three years of trying to create an American market for it’s brand of newscasting.  In Arabic, the name means, “The Peninsula”, a direct reference to the fact that the parent of Al Jazeera America is based in Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula.

According to Wikipedia, the network, which had its first broadcast on November 1, 1996, is sometimes perceived to have mainly Islamist perspectives, promoting the Muslim Brotherhood, and having a pro-Sunni and an anti-Shia bias in its reporting of regional issues. It also accused of having an anti-Western bias. However, Al Jazeera insists it covers all sides of a debate

In an article by Laura Wagner, she quotes NPR Media Critic David Folkenflik as saying about the network:

“After an earlier channel called Al-Jazeera English failed to make a dent in the U.S., Al-Jazeera America was built on the acquisition of a liberal cable network called Current.”

Al Jazeera purchased Current in 2013, which was itself a struggling news network, from a consortium headed by former Vice President Al Gore.  Folkenflik adds:

“The deal intended to ensure major distribution, but some cable providers resisted, saying that was a bait and switch. Al-Jazeera executives also promised the channel would not distribute its shows online, which meant that much of its content never became available digitally. Internal strife proved common and Al-Jazeera America never caught on — drawing audiences in the tens of thousands. Ultimately, the channel’s Qatari patrons pulled the plug.”

Wagner says “the network’s goal was to produce serious journalism and thorough reports, and it won several awards during its short run, including a Peabody and an Emmy. Its most well-known documentary was an expose that alleged several professional athletes used performance-enhancing drugs. Much of the evidence, however, hinged on the word of one person, Charlie Sly, a former intern at an Indianapolis clinic, who later recanted his story. The documentary was slammed by former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, one of the athletes implicated in the story, and prompted defamation lawsuits from Major League Baseball players Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard.”

Al Jazeera will go dark Tuesday night after it airs, and repeats, a three-hour farewell.  As a reporter and journalist, editor, writer, talent and lover of all things broadcasting, and politics notwithstanding, turning off that transmitter is a sadness I will feel in my bones.

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Written by Interviewer

April 12, 2016 at 10:15

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