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Al Jazeera as blog broadcaster?

Link: FT.com / World / Middle East & Africa – Al Jazeera launches news channel in English.

It’s kind of a reverse colnialism isn’t it?  Al Jazeera is now colonising the airwaves with a move to start an English language news channel, having done deals with 83 distributers including Sky, but not it seems Freeview.

Al Jazeera intrigues me.  They had an interview with a senior Al-J rep on the Today programme today – which does not seem to be included on their interview download – where he was quite open about Al-J trying to re-balance the news agenda with news from the South to the North.  And it’s opinionated stuff too with the ‘editorial’ line being openly sympathetic to some of the concerns in the South – not least an aggressive western foreign policy, inequitable GATT terms etc.  That shouldn’t take away from the some of the great ‘objective’ reporting they do do [but i think it probably does at least in the minds of the white middle classes in the West!].

But what intrigues me most is that Al-J is a news broadcaster, a cultural concept, which is becoming increasingly popular at a time when news is struggling to engage people.  Opinions, passion, a POV and a specialism [geography, an ‘angle’ etc], mark  it out as distinctive which in many ways is what other broadcasters are so unable to do.  Other broadcasters – and I’m thinking primarily of BBC and SKY – tinker with style [sets, to sit on the desk or not?], the ‘metadata’ around the content which allows you to follow a story and see the context to a story but the story, the objectivity if you like, itself remains sacrosanct, untouchable.  Yet here we have a news channel breaking the rules and doing well, selling its stories back into the North. 

In terms of strategy, the Al-J approach it could be argued is on some parallel editorial line to user generated content in general, opinions rather than facts, personality, point-of-view etc.  And blogs are viewed sceptically by hacks because of their subjective, undisciplined style but ultimately that’s what makes good blogs stand out. Is Al-Jazeera the blog broadcaster, the Southern citizen news agency, always destined to be relatively niche, but punch above its weight, be far more engaging to it’s core audience and  innovate editorially?  Maybe the analogy is misplaced, after all in many ways it’s a very traditional broadcaster  [addendum – in fact it seems to be even more traditional then the others in trying to gain a foothold in the English speaking world], but it’s a great challenger ‘brand’.  Must scare the shit out of senior broadcasters here and those that are tied to old [Western ideals] of the Fourth Estate.