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Will Al-Jazeera America’s Name Doom It to Failure?

Today’s biggest news in journalistic circles concerns the debut of a cable outlet called Al-Jazeera America, which should begin broadcasting across the US right about…now.

The channel promises to offer Americans a “more sober” take on world news and investigative reporting that transcends the talking head pile-ons that have come to define the FOX/CNN/MSNBC trifecta and the light celebrity gossip that provides such a large share of all networks’ bottom lines.

Journalists at AJAM (which is bankrolled by the royal family of Qatar) take their reporting very seriously. As of today’s debut, programs will contain only six minutes of commercials per hour—and a quick look at the parent network’s Facebook page reveals a collection of matter-of-fact reportage on big international stories.

This is all very encouraging, but Al-Jazeera America has one (very big) problem: its name.

The issue, of course, isn’t the name itself, which means “The Peninsula”, but the fact that it’s an Arabic phrase. Despite AJAM‘s employment of such familiar faces as Soledad O’Brien and Ali Velshi, quite a few Americans who’ve never seen any of the network’s content already have negative opinions of the larger brand. Advertisers are also wary, because they’re not convinced that we’ll watch.

Americans have learned over the years to get their news almost exclusively from what that they see as ideologically friendly outlets, so any new network with an unfamiliar and, frankly, foreign title will need to earn their trust.

Al-Jazeera already received criticism in the early 00′s for broadcasting messages recorded by terrorists like Osama bin Laden despite the fact that these messages were extremely relevant to the public at large, and we can already hear competitors calling AJAM the “Terrorist News Network”. Time Warner Cable has jet to ink a deal with AJAM, which means it will be conspicuously absent from TV sets in New York, LA, and other big markets.

But the big issue, again, concerns trust. Ads like this one look to position AJAM as a voice of reason where viewers of all persuasions can come to get straightforward news amidst the endless clamor of the networks. But will they work?

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