Disgruntled Al Jazeera journo helms new Middle East satellite news channel launching in Beirut next week
After my students started talking about the ubiquitous billboards popping up around Beirut touting the launch of a new satellite news channel, Al Mayadeen, I started looking for information about the new initiative but wasn’t finding anything more than reposts of press releases. My students had pointed out that the channel would be helmed by Ghassan Bin Jiddo, who used to run the Beirut Al Jazeera offices, but quit last spring, accusing the channel of being biased against Syria among other things.
The online news site Now Lebanon posted a fuller account of the channel today, noting that it purports to specifically have a focus on reporting Palestine (although I have also heard it will give a different view of the Syria conflict). For Westerners, part of Al Jazeera’s claim to fame was first built on its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the Angry Arab noted in his blog last spring that the channel had shifted gears in that regard and was part of what he calls the “Saudi-Israel alliance.”
What is clear is Al Jazeera has taken sides in the various revolts around the Middle East. But as the Now Lebanon article notes, that doesn’t mean there is commercial support for yet another satellite news channel, which begs the question then of how Al Mayadeen or any other new endeavor can support its work.
Time magazine for Americans vs. the rest of the world: Neat club for ex-presidents vs. photo gallery of victims of Syrian violence
US edition compared with the international edition of this week’s Time magazine: Americans can read about how ex-US Presidents have a special club (and even a clubhouse!) and the rest of the world can ponder a disturbing photo gallery of victims of the Syrian violence.
Graduate student Sahar El Zahed presented her thesis research that compares the New York Times with The Guardian’s news coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict at today’s annual Research and Creative Works Symposium at CSUN.
A team of judges, rating sheets in hand, walks the room, systematically probing each student about his or her project.
Sahar arrived at 10 a.m. and stayed with her poster until 3 p.m. She was wedged in between two biology students. One had researched the survival rates of Giant Kangaroo Rats and the other student’s work was on “Characterization of Glucocorticoid Responsive Regions within the Human BTG1 Promoter.” Makes you glad you chose Mass Comm, doesn’t it?
Probably not. At least that’s what I would conclude based on the results of a project my international news students worked on last spring.
They studied reactions to news about Africa by audiences ages 14-29 (average age 22), asking friends and family members to watch and compare news reports from
- the frisky VBS.tv online channel inspired by the Canadian lad’s magazine Vice (audiences watched either a documentary about mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Darfur genocide in Sudan);
- a video report (also about DRC focusing on the refugee crisis) created by Amnesty International, the global human rights non-profit organization which especially focuses on recruiting student members;
- an ABC news segment about actor Ben Affleck’s visit to DRC to investigate the on-going war there.
A total of 80 people were interviewed. Ethnicity, age and a brief bio were collected in addition to gathering their responses to the videos (specific ethnic breakdown in table below reflects the diverse nature of Los Angeles). Many were college students attending Los Angeles universities including Cal State Northridge, Cal State Los Angeles, USC, UCLA, and Mt. Saint Mary’s. Participants often said they spent their spare time hanging out with friends, watching movies, working out or engaging in creative projects such as sewing or “making things with friends.”
|Ethnicity||Percentage of those interviewed|
Nearly every person interviewed said they got their news online, supplemented sometimes by television, often mentioning CNN as a main source. An handful used print media.
The interviews suggest the following might help news organizations engage younger news audiences with international news:
- use “real” people as sources and reporters, meaning fewer government officials and guys in suits and more of the ordinary folks who are experiencing whatever the topic of the story is. Lucy, 22, who gets all of her international news from CNN, said “unscripted” shows such as VBS were more appealing because the people being interviewed didn’t seem to perform for the camera and the reporters were not famous but instead “risking their lives to let the viewers know of the issue.” Others thought viewers would find Ben Affleck more real because he was not a professional journalist. Kathleen, 25, who enjoys traveling and is interested in “world culture news” said, “Ben seemed like he was trying to reach out to a lot of people, saying, ‘he is just trying to share his story,’ like a normal person.”
- don’t make it too slick. Some participants found the VBS reports more authentic because they appeared to be “independent” of corporate producers and their “raw” quality made them more trustworthy. Mya, 18, who has no interest in international news, liked the VBS report on the gorillas because “it didn’t feel like you were watching news, but rather listening to a story being told.” Zachary, 25, didn’t like the Amnesty video because the narrator “talked like a newscaster.”
- keep it brief. Viewers complained that the complete VBS show on mountain gorillas was much too long to hold their attention. Patrick, 25, who plays video games for fun and is a fan of the WSJ, said this made the VBS video “boring and I like National Geographic!”
- make it easy to understand. Lack of personal experience with Africa makes stories about the continent difficult to follow or to care about. Cindy, 22, one of the few participants who relies on newspapers (LAT, NYT) for news, said a more informal style that is not “condescending” would appeal to young audiences. Many of those interviewed said the use of music and a documentary style of reporting made the VBS stories more accessible. Kate, 23, noted that
“I find international news overwhelming at times because of the many outlets that are offered. Each story or article can have conflicting opinions and it is sometimes difficult to learn the underlining story.”
- bring the story to the audience. The people interviewed here said they would most likely only pay attention to a report about Africa if they came across it within their own social networking sites such as Facebook. They would not visit CNN or the NYT to specifically look for such reporting. Trevor, a 22-year-old student, said he would watch more international news but that it was “hard to find.”
- connect stories to existing interests. If the story could bring in sports or music or some topic the young news consumer was already connected to, it would make it easier to get them to pay attention.
- use celebrities? Maybe. Christine, a 23-year-old college grad working in marketing, said she preferred the Affleck report because of its “Hollywood” connection. In fact, many reported a third-person effect with their interview subjects certain that other people (not necessarily themselves) would trust Ben Affleck because he is a famous actor. Yet others scorned the idea that Affleck was a serious conveyer of international news and said they would specifically avoid reporting if it was delivered by celebs. Mike, 22, who gets much of his news from blogs and spends his spare time biking, sewing and watching movies, said of the Affleck DRC report,
“This video was a joke for me. It took an issue that needs to be addressed and made a mockery of it.”
So, has news coverage of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Africa this week made use of any of these suggestions? Not that I’ve seen. And for all the reasons noted above, we can expect younger audiences haven’t paid much attention. While they may not have been the intended audience anyway, without news media laying the groundwork for interesting younger audiences early on, the likelihood of them developing a yen for global stories later on seems pretty slim.