Al Jazeera America set to shut down on April 30th: “There are executives here in tears”
Al Jazeera America will shut down on April 30 after a little more than two years on the air.
The news was announced at a sudden staff-wide meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
The mood inside the newsroom ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s meeting was gloomy, with employees expecting the worst.
“There are executives here in tears,” said one senior staffer. “Doom and gloom.”
Those fears were confirmed at the meeting when a tearful Kate O’Brian, Al Jazeera America’s president, delivered the grim news to the assembled staff.
In a memo, Al Jazeera America CEO Al Anstey applauded the work done at the channel.
“I greatly respect the unrivaled commitment and excellent work of our team, which has created great journalism,” Anstey said in the memo. “We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest, and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone.”
The memo indicated that Al Jazeera Media Network plans to “expand its existing international digital services” in the United States.
Al Jazeera America had invested in some in-depth reporting and commentary, but its ratings have remained anemic since launch.
In prime time the channel only averages between 20,000 and 40,000 viewers on a typical day.
The channel’s end appears to have been prompted by the plunging price of oil, which dropped below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time in 12 years. That’s significant because Al Jazeera America is owned by Al Jazeera Media Group, which in turn is owned by the government of Qatar.
Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 after its parent company in Doha bought Current TV from Al Gore and others for $500 million. The channel was billed as a more sober alternative to the rancor and sensationalism that typifies other cable news outlets.
“Viewers will see a news channel unlike the others, as our programming proves Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news,” the channel’s former CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said around the time of the launch.
But from the beginning, Al Jazeera America has been beset by lousy ratings and internal strife.Two former employees filed lawsuits last year against the company with charges of anti-Semitism and sexism in the newsroom.
Al Shihabi, who was named as a defendant in one of the lawsuits, was ousted in May and replaced by Anstey, who had previously served as managing director of Al Jazeera English.