Mainstream news media – whether print or broadcast – has fallen on hard times. Part of the problem are the owners obsessed with delivering shareholder value over journalistic quality. A lot of the problem has to do with fragmentation of news outlets brought on by the digital revolution. And, part of the problem is self-inflicted because news organizations are run by non-journalists.
ABC Evening News with Diane Sawyer recently aired a story about a massive Chinese traffic jam outside Beijing “now entering its third week.” Problem was that the story happened two years earlier. How did ABC News air such a mistake? My guess is that many of the editors behind-the-scenes are interns. It’s the same at other news organizations. Young, no experience, no training, and low pay.
In such a deteriorating news environment, there were high hopes when Al Jazeera America was announced. A new cable new channel promising “unbiased, fact-based, in-depth stories of U.S. and international news, including sports, business, lifestyle and investigative journalism.”
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Al Jazeera America hired TV news people by the hundreds, including some news veterans and far too many well-coiffed would-be actor/news readers from small market TV stations. Al Jazeera America has a small market TV look and sound. Amateurish.
I have tried to watch Al Jazeera America from the first day they signed-on and was immediately struck by the fact that Al Jazeera America definitely is anything but “unbiased and fact-based.” Here are some examples:
- Staged video – Nearly every story has video that clearly has been staged. That’s not news or journalism. That is theatre.
- Music for editorial effect – Nearly every story has a music or sound effect track that creates an editorial perception. It’s been bedrock of TV news forever that the use of music or sound effects is taboo because it editorializes. Legitimate TV news uses natural sound, not music or sound effects.
- Preconceived story angles – News … journalism … is an observer of events in the world. Al Jazeera America makes no attempt to mask a preconceived editorial slant of its “stories.” Consequently, I do not trust what they say.
- Painfully boring – Covering news in the world is a never-ending exploration of knowledge and wonder. I know from having done it for years. Al Jazeera America is laborious and boring to watch. Part is because it is repetitive. Part is because it is amateurishly produced. Much of it is because it is so contrived and phony that the outcome is obvious.
My bottom line, having watched Al Jazeera America for several weeks, is that it’s little more than boring “entertain-features” with an agenda-based slant. It came as no surprise when I heard recently that some cable companies are already dropping the channel. No loss.