Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A “new” news outlet in Chicago?

At a time when many people are downgrading the local newsgathering scene for having one newspaper being incapable of paying its printing bills and the other having been so weakened by bankruptcy that the only people now interested in buying it are ideologues more intrigued by political possibilities than reporting; it’s almost encouraging to see someone talking about creating something new.

Will we watch Chicago on Al Jazeera?
But that “someone” is Al Jazeera, the broadcast network funded by the government of Qatar, that most people became aware of in recent years as a source of propaganda for the Middle Eastern interests who viewed the U.S. military and western society as their enemy.

NOT THAT WE’LL be seeing any such programming here any time soon.

For in recent years, there has been an English version of Al Jazeera. Aside from the fact that its stories don’t center around the United States (their worldwide weather forecast usually spends just a few seconds on U.S. storms and spends the bulk of its time on Arab countries), it doesn’t differ much in tone from the network newscasts many of us don’t pay much attention to.

But the Al Jazeera folks have hopes of expanding their programming in the United States. They see a market that could help them make even more money, IF they can tap into it.

I have to praise the Al Jazeera types for one thing – they realize that producing an improved product means having more staff. Crain’s Chicago Business reported Tuesday that they plan to have a Chicago bureau of six reporters and producers – along with the rest of their world-wide staff.

MANY NEWSPAPERS AND networks have reduced their Chicago bureaus, or erased them altogether (the Washington Post is in the latter category) – all in the name of saving money. Going along with that old cliché, “You can’t spend what you don’t have.”

Although it would seem the Al Jazeera people are following the other old cliché, “You need to spend money in order to make money.”

After all, a worthwhile product is what is most essential to make any money from the news business. Nobody wants to read something that is cheap and shallow in terms of content.

So the answer is “yes.” I think it is a good thing that somebody is thinking in terms of hiring people to report the news. Considering the number of people who’d like to remain in the business after being told they were damaging some other company’s financial “bottom line,” they probably won’t have much problem finding qualified people to work.

BUT I’M ALSO wary of Al Jazeera – even though I don’t think their political spin is any more harmful than the nonsense we’d get if the Koch brothers really do take over the Chicago Tribune and make it in their own image.

Spin over fact is harmful in all circumstances – regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the viewpoint being expressed!

The English-language versions of their newscasts that I have seen (usually broadcast on PBS affiliates) try to make themselves seem like a version of the BBC. Except that instead of thinking of England as the center of the universe, they focus on Arab nations.

But that may be because those were programs meant to air on other networks. We’re talking about a separate cable television channel they would control – and some of the observations I have heard are that Al Jazeera in English is much more neutered than the versions being broadcast in the Middle East.

WHICH COULD MAKE this whole effort an attempt to cleanse their own image around the world. Which is something the company desperately has to do.

Because there is the chance that these newly-hired people won’t get seen much. There are few cable television systems in this country that even include the channel in their lineups.

It may well be nativist paranoia that makes many people reluctant to even consider such a channel. But if Al Jazeera can’t overcome it, it will be the “Capitalist Way” – that causes it to fail.


No comments: