A year after the launch of the cable news network Al Jazeera America, layoffs, rumors of more layoffs, and catastrophic ratings have staffers rattled. Writing for Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman reports on the struggles of the Qatar-based cable news network but misses one vital point:
But if there is indeed a market void, Al Jazeera America, or AJAM as it’s known internally, has made little headway in filling it. Its ratings have been tiny to the point of immaterial;–17,000 viewers in primetime this year, jumping to 23,000 during the early days of the Gaza war, compared to an average of 453,000 for CNN and 1.87 million for Fox News. (The figures require a few caveats, which we’ll get to.)
The network laid off more than 60 people in April, puncturing morale and creating a climate of uncertainty, according to current and former staffers. Recently, rumors swirled around the prospect of another round of layoffs, which Al Shihabi says he addressed in a recent staff-wide conference call/meeting, saying layoffs, if any, would amount to no more than 20 people.
What Starkman misses is what has to be most grating to AJAM: The network has absolutely no impact on the national conversation or news cycle.
CNN averages 453,000 viewers, AJAM has 17,000 viewers. Those are just different levels of failure.
The difference is that CNN still has an enormous amount of impact on the national political and social conversation. As long as that impact exists, the Left is going to fund CNN.
AJAM has no impact. None. Zip. Nada. The network’s stories get zero traction. Not a single story, video clip, factoid, or interview has ever penetrated the news cycle in any way. AJAM is the proverbial tree in a forest no one hears fall.
And this failure is an extraordinary achievement — it’s practically a miracle. There are individuals sitting at home in their pajamas who started blogs less than a year ago and have done what AJAM can’t with 800 staffers, hundreds of millions of dollars, and access to tens of millions of households: reported on something that penetrated the news cycle.
My job is to watch cable news. That’s what I’m paid to do 12 hours a day. I don’t watch AJAM. Not because I don’t want to but because the network doesn’t matter. I might as well a test pattern.
That’s AJAM’s problem, not ratings.
If AJAM got 17,000 viewers but could in some way penetrate the news cycle, the Qatar government would be happy to lose hundreds of millions of dollar every year. But AJAM just spins its wheels in total obscurity. If the Qatar government flushed that money down the toilet, it would at least have an effect: it would clog the toilet.
AJAM has no effect of any kind. It clogs nothing. It doesn’t exist in any form in the news cycle.
Therefore it doesn’t exist at all.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC