“Al Jazeera America Quits,” NY Times, January 13, 2015:
The cable news channel Al Jazeera America, which debuted in 2013 to great fanfare when it promised to cover American news soberly and seriously, is shutting down by the end of April. The move was announced at a companywide meeting on Wednesday.
In a memo to the staff, Al Jazeera America’s chief executive, Al Anstey, said the “decision by Al Jazeera America’s board is driven by the fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the U.S. media marketplace.”
“I know the closure of AJAM will be a massive disappointment for everyone here who has worked tirelessly for our long-term future,” he continued. “The decision that has been made is in no way because AJAM has done anything but a great job. Our commitment to great journalism is unrivaled.”
Al Jazeera America went on the air in August 2013 after it bought Al Gore’s Current TV for $500 million. It promised to be thoughtful and smart, free of the shouting arguments that have defined cable news in the United States over the last decade. But meaningful viewership never came, with prime-time ratings sometimes struggling to exceed 30,000 viewers.
To make matters worse, the newsroom was hit with turmoil last year when staff members complained bitterly of a culture of fear. There was an exodus of top executives, along with a pair of lawsuits from former employees that included complaints about sexism and anti-Semitism at the news channel.
In May, Ehab Al Shihabi, the chief executive of Al Jazeera America, was replaced by Mr. Anstey. Morale improved in the following months but ratings remained low.
And Al Jazeera America has not been free of controversy in recent months. In November, the news station’s general counsel, David W. Harleston, was suspended following a report in The New York Times that he did not appear to be licensed to practice law. In late December, Al Jazeera aired an hourlong documentary that linked some of the biggest stars in Major League Baseball and the National Football League to performance-enhancing drugs. The most prominent athlete mentioned in the report was the Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who angrily denied the report, calling it “complete garbage” and “totally made up.”
As part of Wednesday’s announcement, Mr. Anstey said that after the cable news network shuts down by April 30, Al Jazeera would expand its digital presence in the United States. The expansion “would bring new global content into America.”