The announcement that the Al Jazeera Media Network was shutting down Al Jazeera America caught many off-guard, but it could not have been a complete surprise. Its struggles were well-publicised. Its ratings were horrifically low. Critics inside and out protested it was boring, tepid, old school, too objective, not objective enough, or way too Americanized to be interesting. Reports of low morale in the newsroom abound. It was also embroiled in numerous lawsuits, including damaging accusations of workplace bias and gender discrimination, and more recently, defaming professional athletes.
What really doomed Al Jazeera America from the beginning was its decision to offer straight, sober journalism via legacy cable and satellite TV carriers, distribution platforms on which such a product is fast becoming extinct. Al Jazeera America was also quasi-commercial at best, but the gatekeeping companies it had to appease are highly commercial.
Al Jazeera America had the unenviable task of marrying Al Jazeera’s self-described mission of subversive journalism that challenges power with being digestible enough to American TV viewers to attract a respectable number on a nightly basis. It would have to be domesticated, yet it was an outwardly foreign brand — one many Americans still unfairly associated with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, even after the channel’s Arab spring coverage was widely hailed.