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July 15, 2013, 12:15 p.m.
LINK: nymag.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   July 15, 2013

Al Jazeera America will launch on August 20 and, according to increasingly contentious recent coverage, it’s either going to save American cable news or be a disaster.

Apparently, TV news in the U.S. could use some saving. In a Sunday blog post, Glenn Greenwald accuses cable news of being, “inoffensive, neutered, voiceless, [and] pro-US-government.” In a story by Joe Pompeo published Friday, Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal was quoted as calling cable news “cannibalistic and opinionated and right and left and in some ways completely bonkers.”

Greenwald’s piece focuses on the politics around foreign policy, and voices concern that, in attempting to represent America’s main streets, Al Jazeera America could destroy the news org’s reputation for providing “strong, fearless, adversarial journalism.” Meanwhile, Pompeo focuses on what it takes to build a station from the ground up in the current media environment — including how to sift through 21,000 resumes for 400 editorial jobs. (Al Jazeera America has made a total of 689 hires, according to Pompeo.)

But will the over half a billion dollars Al Jazeera spent to get the project off the ground be worth it? Writes Pompeo:

In a recent Toronto Star column, former Al Jazeera English chief Tony Burman questioned Al Jazeera America’s independence from its patrons in Qatar, which backs the larger enterprise. He also has doubts about Al Jazeera America’s, well, Americanism. “Al Jazeera seems to be making compromises, probably to placate the cable and satellite companies,” Burman, who left the broadcaster in 2011, tells me. “If you live in Washington, or L.A., or Chicago, or any city for that matter, why would you turn on Al Jazeera? You’d turn it on because, like the BBC, it could help Americans get a window on the world that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them.” Will Americans watch a version of Al Jazeera that provides a window into their own world? “Of course they won’t,” says Burman. “Will American cable and satellite companies continue to keep it on the air if Americans don’t watch? Of course not. I hope I’m wrong.”

For even more background on the American perception of Al Jazeera and the company’s U.S. strategy, check out this Newsweek feature from a few months back.

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