Just after Christmas, a U.S. media outlet made big waves with a well-hyped investigation of doping in professional baseball and football. There was undercover video, a shadowy guy with a lot of drugs in his refrigerator and not-entirely-corroborated allegations against a number of big-name athletes. It even questioned whether Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was linked to the doping industry. It came from Al Jazeera, the international news operation funded by the Qatari royal family.
At long last, Al Jazeera had made some news with its journalism, even if that journalism was widely challenged.
The unit that produced the doping investigation will be unaffected by the just-announced shutdown of Al Jazeera America, according to a spokesperson for the network. Those investigative employees report to Al Jazeera Media Network; they have their own “directorate” within the corporate structure, with offices in Doha, London and Washington. The doping story has triggered two libel lawsuits, from Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies.
As for Al Jazeera America, it’ll be shuttering its TV and digital operation on April 30. “In recent months at every level, and in every department, we have been making progress and demonstrated improvements and seen positive change,” said AJAM chief executive Al Anstey in a note to staff. “Our audiences continue to climb. Slowly, but steadily. Our Editorial excellence was demonstrated time and time again on the major stories of recent months. And we continue to win praise from our colleagues in the industry, and from our viewers for the quality of our output.”
This star-crossed enterprise launched in mid-2013 with the sort of boasts that generally accompany start-ups. “We are not just ready, we are more than ready. We know that Americans want in-depth coverage of the news that matters to them,” said then-interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi.
In any case, the channel did attempt to deliver on its launch promise. It’s programs didn’t just graze one story and alight on another; it devoted big chunks of time to the issues it deemed important, and some people noticed:
Americans really don't know what they were missing out on here. The channels programs reminded me of NPR on TV. https://t.co/DBX9zk04R4
— Lewis Weinerman (@The_Weinerman) January 13, 2016
Real, real shame to hear that @ajam is going to close at the end of April. A fresh, much needed perspective on America and some great docs.
— Ed Stocker (@Ed_Stocker) January 13, 2016
Not enough, however. Al Jazeera America never legitimately entered the ratings race among TV news outlets. It bumped along at 30,000 viewers per night. That’s fewer than 1,000 per state and a fraction of what the traditional U.S. cable news outlets generally score. AJAM generated more than its share of internal strife, with wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuits portraying an unsavory workplace. Al Jazeera America succeeded Al Gore’s Current TV, which was sold for $500 million.