AJAM interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi
Al Jazeera America has a long, tough road ahead.
Ehab Al Shihabi, the interim CEO for the channel, acknowledges as much. Al Shihabi said that according to their market research, 75% of people surveyed that had never seen any Al Jazeera programming had a negative perception of the brand.
There was a silver lining however: among people who saw Al Jazeera programming, 90% had a positive perception of it. “There was a perception, but it wasn’t a reality,” Al Shihabi said.
The channel is embarking on a wide-ranging branding effort, encompassing both an advertising campaign and in-person meetings with politicians, interest groups and community leaders. The push will be in cities where AJAM has carriage, as well as in places it doesn’t.
“We have engaged in this opportunity by taking on a lot of dialogue, so that people understand our mission and journalistic identity,” Al Shihabi said. ”With the heavy public affairs, with the heavy communications, with the heavy dialogue building, I think we can see most of the media coverage and most of the interactions, we can now move it on the positive side.”
Feedback will come quickly, as AJAM is planning to be rated by Nielsen at launch, even though it lost a few million households after acquiring Current TV and taking over its spot on the lineup. There is still a chance it finds space on other cable and satellite operators before launch.
A (Temporary) Home
Al Jazeera America’s New York headquarters sits inside a nondescript entrance on West 34th St. and 8th Avenue, inside the building that houses The New Yorker hotel (while the building does house the hotel, AJAM utilizes the Manhattan Center for services and utilities). There are TV screens on the sidewalk, though they have not been turned on yet, and a gold Al Jazeera America logo is emblazoned into the stone. The first thing you see when you walk in is a blindingly white lobby, while off to the right a security checkpoint looks like it would fit right in at a small airport.
Up a flight of stairs, the newsroom itself is vast, covering two floors (see photos in the slideshow below), with 150 or so desks flanked by 40 foot marble columns, while the walls are covered with flatscreen monitors and clocks. Natural light flows in through full-height frosted windows, a stark contrast to the cold, dark newsrooms at some other channels.
“It used to be a bank depository, and as I understand it was in quite decrepit shape,” Paul Eedle, Al Jazeera’s director of programming said on a tour this morning.
While it is now far from decrepit, the space is only slated to be temporary. Eedle says a search is underway to find a permanent home for all of AJAM’s New York staff. At the moment the network also uses Current TV’s old studio space on 33rd street, where Ali Velshi‘s program will originate. Eedle hopes to move to a permanent space in two years.
An Undercovered Mission