Al Jazeera English: Tells the stories that other networks do not

Throughout the semester, while watching the news and listening to some of my professors share their thoughts about the Egyptian demonstrations, I learned about Al Jazeera. I will be honest: Until last month, I had never heard of the news channel, but have since researched its history and visited the Al Jazeera English (AJE) website.

Al Jazeera

Since its establishment in 1996, Al Jazeera – which means “The Peninsula” – has become one of the most influential broadcast networks in the Arab world. From its base in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, Al Jazeera’s news reaches at least 40 million viewers.

AJE, which was launched in 2007, is an extension of the main Al Jazeera network. According to its “About Us” page, AJE “tells the stories that other networks do not…through a spirit of journalism that is honest, courageous and distinctive.” I think an example of such a feature is the story, “In search of an African revolution,” which raises concerns that the media neglect to mention Egypt’s uprising not only as a Middle Eastern issue, but as an African revolution as well.

Most of the Arab governments view Al Jazeera’s live broadcasts and talk shows with disdain. In addition, the network’s sensational news banners and stories that often focus on Arab suffering and political crisis have led many Western leaders to believe Al Jazeera is escalating anger against Israel and oppressive Arab governments supported by the United States. To say the least, during the past decade, Al Jazeera has struggled to remain on air. In fact, AJE viewers in the United States must watch it streaming live on the Internet.

Some government leaders around the world have asked Al Jazeera to tone down its news coverage of the Middle East. With all controversies aside, though, AJE’s website undoubtedly delivers journalism by investigating and reporting on events, issues and social trends to a broad audience. AJE provides similar multimedia features as credible American news websites, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, by including news and photographs, opinion articles, live broadcasts, videos, podcasts, blogs and mobile services.

An Al Jazeera interview

In addition, the website contains entire news sections devoted to Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Central and South Asia, Europe and the Middle East. As a result, AJE provides its audience with a variety of news from around the world.

I enjoy watching the live video on the website because I can view the news wherever I am without a television, as long as my computer has an Internet connection. Buffering for AJE’s live feed and video advances at a surprisingly quick pace – on my computer, anyway. The weather feature amused me because I am not used to seeing forecasts on the news for countries other than the United States. I thought it was comical when a weatherman gave the forecast for India this morning.

I would also like to mention the “In Depth Spotlight” story, “Hajj 2010.” As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently enrolled in an Islam class. Throughout the semester I have learned about the Muslim hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. It was exciting to discover AJE’s multimedia package that reported on last year’s religious trip because I have never seen the American media produce such a story.

Al Jazeera English newsroom

Of course, there is always room for improvements. First, I found some of the titles for the main tabs and sub-tabs (specifically “In Depth” and “Programmes”) to be ambiguous. Specific organization of the main topics would be beneficial for readers, especially for those unfamiliar with the website. Second, I couldn’t find a continuous platform for comments. For example, some stories have a long list of people who have “tweeted” about a story; other articles display a list of people who have tweeted AND commented; and several reports don’t provide a comments section at all. Every reputable news website that I have visited allows readers to comment on most stories. AJE should also contain comments sections for its readers. Last, the majority of stories don’t contain internal links for its audience to clarify a person or phrase, such as Julian Assange or al-Qaeda. On the other hand, The New York Times’ website provides extremely useful internal links that help readers understand unknown terms.

I am not suggesting that all Americans should ignore other media and only rely on AJE for current events. But I think exploring different news organizations’ websites helps people become informed global citizens. Even if you believe AJE is biased and controversial, the information might raise an issue other media don’t cover. Overall, I think the website is intriguing and succeeds at tracking and updating news throughout the day. In the words of AJE: I plan to visit the website occasionally for “stories that other networks [might neglect],” especially while uprisings in the Middle East continue.

First inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Second inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Third inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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