Less than three years after it began broadcasting, the cable news channel Al Jazeera America will shut down operations by April 30th.
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.”
News of the channel’s closure was announced to workers at an unscheduled staff meeting on Wednesday. After its parent company paid Al Gore and his partners $500 million for Current TV, Al Jazeera America, the U.S. arm of the pan-Arab network financed by the government of Qatar, began broadcasting in the U.S. in 2013.
I hope all the major media outlets are scrambling to hire all the Al-Jazeera America talent now available. Top notch.
— Sara Benincasa (@SaraJBenincasa) January 13, 2016
Al Jazeera America did great things and hired lots of great and diverse people. A shame that experiment has to end.
— Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) January 13, 2016
It promised to be thoughtful, smart, and devoid of the shouting arguments that have become commonplace among cable news networks in the U.S. over the last decade. Unfortunately, AJAM was never able to build a strong, meaningful audience as the network was only available in about 60 million homes (compared to approximately 100 million households that have cable TV). Prime-time ratings sometimes struggled to exceed 30,000 viewers. And although the network was financed by the Qatari royal family, the steep decline in oil prices has affected that country’s economy and, most likely, its ability to continuously finance the U.S. operation.
In addition to that, AJAM’s newsroom environment has not been without controversy. The Times states, “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 a memo cited by the Times and Politico, Anstey said to the staff, “I know the closure of AJAM will be a massive disappointment for everyone here who has worked tirelessly for our long-term future. 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.”