Report: Al Jazeera America to open New Orleans bureau

Published: May. 7, 2013 at 1:55 AM CDT|Updated: May. 14, 2013 at 1:55 AM CDT
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A 2006 photo of Al Jazeera's English-language newsroom in Qatar. (AP Photo/ Hamid Jalaudin)
A 2006 photo of Al Jazeera's English-language newsroom in Qatar. (AP Photo/ Hamid Jalaudin)

In the coming months, the Al Jazeera Media Network will kick off an English-language cable news channel for American viewers, competing with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

The channel will be headquartered in New York, with news coming out of 12 bureaus across the country -- reportedly including one here in New Orleans.

"They're not perfect. Not everyone is going to like them, but they're credible and they're going to be a serious player in the landscape of journalism," says The Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins.

Tompkins adds that, at a time when U.S. media outlets are cutting budgets and slashing staff, Al Jazeera America will spend what's necessary to establish itself, including a large investigative unit to delve into American politics: "You can bet on that. Al Jazeera will throw tons of money on this."

Al Jazeera has yet to confirm its bureau locations, but reports the 12 cities where Al Jazeera America is opening shop are New York, Washington, Miami, Nashville, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Tompkins says New Orleans makes sense.  "The oil story is still a significant story," he tells FOX 8 News in a Skype interview. "Remember where these guys are based. The fact that Gulf oil and deepwater oil are still part of the international energy debate... it's something they're going to be interested in."

As far as quality news coverage, Tompkins says the Middle Eastern news outlet uses its 70 bureaus worldwide to outpace the competition: "They've done some amazing work in Bahrain, for example, covering the collapse of the Iranian government. They were the only ones there."

Tompkins says Al Jazeera America must jump two initial hurdles, albeit potentially large ones, if it's to be considered a legitimate US news source.

"The biggest questions to me are - will Americans give them a chance and will cable companies give them a channel? Two very big questions!" says Tompkins.

Al Jazeera's plan for an American network follows its purchase of the faltering Current TV, founded by former Vice President Al Gore.  Still, its not clear how many cable and satellite providers will actually broadcast the new network -- Time Warner Cable, for instance, announced it would drop the channel, even before the Current-Al JAzeera deal was complete.

America's cable news market may seem saturated, but perhaps the talking heads have left room for a different type of competitor.

"There is a feeling that what's lacking is a lot of journalism. There's an awful lot of yelling, a lot of back and forth and coverage of politics in the usual way. I think what Al Jazeera is hoping is that if there's a market for real reporting, with real people out in the field covering real stories, that they'll be able to tap into that," explains Tompkins.

Al Jazeera's website says to expect "objective, balanced, in-depth reporting on the issues that has won us virtually every major award from the journalism profession."

That remains to be seen, but Tompkins will say New Orleanians shouldn't be afraid of the new bureau.  "This isn't Al Qaeda coming to your door. It's a television network, and they've been there many, many, many times before," says Tompkins.

Tompkins predicts competition from a better-funded news outlet with a global footprint will force CNN, Fox and MSNBC to up their games.

Not counting this new US endeavor, Al Jazeera's other channels reach 220 million households in more than 100 countries.

Examples of Al Jazeera's coverage: