Sunday, February 23, 2014

Al Jazeera America rising, and what it means

About ten years ago, this was one of the most popular witticisms in America (variably attributed to Chris Rock or Charles Barkley):

You know that the world is off tilt when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest basketball player is Chinese, and Germany doesn't want to go to war.
They may have built upon each other over time with slightly different versions.  Screengrabbed from Google image search.  
I propose a 2014 update as follows:

You know that the world is changing when the best rapper is still a white guy, the best golfer is still a black guy, Germany still doesn't want to go to war, and the best domestic American news coverage is produced by Qatar under their governing system of absolute monarchy.
Al Jazeera America, aka AJAM (which is an interesting acronym given that it means "non-Arab" in Arabic), low-res logo screengrabbed from their website.  
Yes, you heard me correctly.  But rather than explaining my conclusion in this regard, given that I'm in a groove of quoting others here, I am honored to include one of my Facebook buddies, who recently beat me to the punch line in describing the circumstances that led to this result which is indeed bizarre by any historical precedent:

Our mainstream media has become a set of echo chambers tailored to their pre-polarized audience sets. They have a degraded purpose of passing off politicized opinions as news/analysis. Some are blatantly extreme in their bias like FOX/MSNBC, and others mask it a tad bit better.

I found Al Jazeera to be the best source of news in our wretched system of journalism. They also cover news outside our borders much better. Try it! Locally [in League City Texas], [DirecTV carries it on channel 347]. In case your cable provider doesn't cover it, their website offers a no-frills portal to topically organized content.

Is there anybody out there who would disagree with those precipitating conditions and, if so, why?!  That pretty much nails it in my opinion as well.  My buddy is not the first person to refer to domestically-produced news content using the term "echo chamber" (in fact there's even a book by that title), and he won't be the last.  What we see on TV is not news anymore - most of the content (what little exists) is nothing more than a carrier wave for propaganda.
The various echo chambers love to hurl echo chamber accusations at each other:
"YOU are the worse echo chamber!"
"No, YOU are the worst echo chamber!"

Screengrabbed from Google..
I actually found AJAM during a marathon channel surf a few weeks ago.  Every once in a while I have a full-blown attack of buyer's remorse because I'm paying big bucks for three million TV channels while all I watch is HGTV and TNG re-runs on Netflix (which, in case you were wondering, is currently running into bandwidth hell for this reason).  
Well, that's not exactly true.  I do also watch The Walking Dead, which probably means that I will be held financial hostage by DirecTV for the duration.  Meme screengrabbed from this source, which probably got it from somewhere else.  
So when I get those attacks of buyer's remorse, I go on a big hour-long surf just so I can look at what else is out there and reassure myself that it all still sucks, and I'm not missing anything.  

Except I paused on AJAM because it didn't seem to suck that badly.  

And then I was encouraged to watch further because I noticed that they only spend about 10% of their time - just six minutes per hour - running commercials instead of the 36% consumed by the average American network (which makes live TV un-watchable for me... who would voluntarily waste 36% of their time, duh?!).

But then I realized... could it be true?!  OMG, was I dreaming, or was I seeing ACTUAL INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM?!  

It's true.  I felt like I was suddenly transported back to 1980 and I was watching the CBC all over again, the way it was back then (not the way it is now).  I thought that kind of journalism was gone forever.  But apparently it is rising like a Phoenix from an unlikely bed of foreign ashes.

This situation begs two questions:
  1. Why is this happening?
  2. How long will it last?
With respect to those questions, my Facebook buddy lamented as follows:

Given the primary [American TV viewing] audience profile that mostly wants sound bites that reinforce their biases, I can see [AJAM] not surviving too long.

His point is valid - how could AJAM possibly support its obviously-massive infrastructure with only six minutes of adverts per hour as it comes up against the fact that Americans have been largely brainwashed to expect feel-goody personal validation as their primary news hour deliverable??  But I myself am not so sure that it will prove to be as simple as AJAM dying a quick and largely unnoticed near-future death.  I replied,

First of all, the normal business rules of cash flow and profitability don’t apply when we’re talking about anything having to do with the Arab world. Second of all, [my husband] suspects that they’re establishing themselves as ethically unassailable with their American reporting specifically because they wish to command a corresponding presumption of objectivity when reporting on the Middle East. If that’s the motivation, then they may be willing to fund an American financial black hole in perpetuity or something close to it.

Time will tell how this thing evolves.  Will the effort last?  Will AJAM manage to thoroughly embarrass and shame the front-running American networks into reverting to higher journalistic standards??  In effect, will it save Americans from their egotistical echo-y selves??  We await the answers.  Meanwhile, we can sit back and enjoy the show - the news show in which AJAM is hands-down beating us at what had previously been our exclusive journalistic game.   

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