Friday, December 20, 2013

Aljazeera America

Aljazeera America is a fine, serious, and first-rate news station. It deals with real news, in depth, with fewer commercials, and competes directly with the rest of our MSM. Launched in August of this year it has so far failed to capture a substantial share of the market for news. As it is well financed by Qatar this is not at the moment considered a problem, although it is hoped that eventually it will be successful on its merits. I like it and find that I watch it more and more. I hope it will succeed, but I wonder about it.

Aljazeera is based on the idea that there exists in the U.S. a desire for a more serious and in-depth news station, one that will be able to present news not otherwise available to U.S. viewers, including more world news. I believe there is such a demand. However, I fear this demand will be only on the part of a relatively small number of U.S. viewers, probably not enough to compete effectively with the other outlets. That is, the demand exists, but only on the part of a few.

I suspect Aljazeera overestimates the demand for serious news and underestimates the U.S. demand for infotainment. I am skeptical of how much interest most U.S. viewers have in serious news, especially serious foreign news. I doubt they are really much concerned with what happens in the Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and other nations they know nothing about and most probably cannot find on a map. I suspect this is true even if what happens there involves the U.S. directly. Most viewers, I believe, have lost interest even in Iraq and Afghanistan and do not want us involved in places like Syria or even Iran. I could be wrong, of course, but I doubt it.

Will a serious news story about someplace like the Amazon, for example, lure readers away from the Huffington Post’s obsessive fascination with “nip slips,” wardrobe malfunctions, dresses that show “lots of skin,” and Kate Hudson “Rocking in Bright Orange Pants?” How about Miley Cyrus wearing a sheer white top with a black bra? Obviously this is not all one finds on the Huffpost and elsewhere on the news. How about “Six year-old boy suspended from school for kissing a girl,” or Donald Trump’s latest birther nonsense?

The fact is, our major news sources do not give us serious, in-depth news about much of anything. Fox is no doubt the worst as it scarcely deals in news at all, mostly propaganda, fairy tales, and the latest inane babblings of Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Hannity, and others. It seems to me that not only do the current news outlets insist on dealing with infotainment rather than news, they basically have no interest in the news at all, seeking only something that will allow them to feature more commercials. With the exception of Rachel Maddow I have stopped watching MSNBC almost entirely because there are so many commercials. Aside from Aljazeera all the other stations suffer from overcommercialization.

In a sense Aljazeera has no competition, partly because it has so few commercials, but more importantly because it deals in real news rather than infotainment. It has a worldwide network of reporters who actually exist to collect news rather than simply using the same major source all the others use, like AP, for example. Unfortunately it has no competition because it is playing a game no one else is playing, and for a small universe of viewers.

Of course we do get some news from the MSM, but it is almost always domestic, is always featured on every channel, sometimes for days, and usually has to do with murder or rape. “Texas cop shoots a schizophrenic double amputee in his wheelchair,” for example, or “Teen, handcuffed with hands behind his back shoots himself in the head,” or “Teen killer of four escapes jail because he suffers from ‘Afluenza.’” When a shooting occurs the reporting begins immediately, whether anything is known about it or not, and each detail is worked over and repeated endlessly, every interpretation is made with or without foundation, every last person they can find is interviewed, often including such authorities as someone whose brother once attended the school where the shooting occurred, or someone who once knew someone who knew the shooter, and on and on. If and when the ultimate truth comes out it most probably has nothing much to do with all the previous speculation and hullabaloo. As there is no useful definition of “news” we accept whatever we are told as news.

As it is so important to them Eskimos have many words for snow, depending on its quality, usefulness, and so on. We need a similar vocabulary for news, “real news” as opposed to “fake news” doesn’t do justice to the problem.

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