Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

 Can Al Jazeera News Work in America?

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera America.

One of the most important developments in television news in nearly 20 years is underway in the US, but you might not even know it. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcasting giant, has been quietly building Al Jazeera America, the first major US news channel since Fox News and MSNBC launched in the mid-1990s.

Having acquired the network infrastructure with its $500 million purchase of Al Gore’s Current TV in January, Al Jazeera has hired nearly 700 employees, including CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, and is planning to open a dozen US news bureaus. Al Jazeera America, which is scheduled to launch on August 20, says it will distinguish itself by focusing on in-depth reporting of stories that many Americans say they don’t get from the current slate of news channels.

Compared to the hefty corporate investment, the PR push has been minimal. There have been press releases and meetings with top editorial boards but, overall, Al Jazeera has been conservative in promoting the new channel. This makes sense. Although the network certainly wants to attract a broad audience, there is risk associated with this venture. Most Americans first heard of Al Jazeera in 2001, when it broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden following the September 11th terrorist attacks. It’s not unrealistic to think many potential viewers will associate the name with that event. Others will worry that Al Jazeera will attempt to push certain ideological agendas. Management’s focus now should be on building a fully fledged news operation with a keen understanding of what American viewers are looking for.

THE PR VERDICT:  “B” (Good Show) for Al Jazeera, whose ambitious plans may alter the American landscape of network news.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Show, don’t tell. When something is risky or untested, let the product speak for itself.  For Al Jazeera, there is little to be gained by hyping the channel prior to launch. Doing so will inevitably invite criticism that the network can’t answer yet. Instead, Al Jazeera America should keep on keeping on: staying in the press by hiring top talent, opening news bureaus, and being selective about the interviews it does. Bring out the PR bells and whistles once the channel is up and running.

How to Take On A Media Giant

 How to Take On A Media Giant A golden rule of corporate PR? Threatening to sue a newspaper or media outlet is a waste of time. Even trying to intimidate through an endless volley of legal letters usually backfires. Unless you can call out a media outlet on its polices and procedures, complaining about perceived unfairness usually falls on deaf and everlastingly hostile ears. Which is why Bloomberg’s recent misstep with Goldman Sachs makes interesting reading.

Bloomberg, a robust news organization, prides itself on high standards and journalist integrity, but is now wiping egg from its face following the admission and subsequent apology that its journalists had access to certain client information from its terminals ubiquitous on every trading floor. This included user’s login information and other general details including help desk inquiries. Bloomberg issued a quick apology and swiftly announced changes in procedure. It has since stressed that at no time did reporters have access to trading and monitoring systems or to clients’ messages to one another (the stuff that really matters).

When Goldman Sachs, routinely held accountable in the public eye, discovered that its employees were being monitored by Bloomberg journalists with access to private data, a formal complaint was made. This must have the been the gotcha moment. No news organization likes to be accused of an ethical breach and this was one case where Goldman could flex its own muscle and claim the moral high ground.

The PR Verdict:  “A” for Goldman Sachs for scoring a public and ethical win.

The PR Takeaway:  Integrity is the Achilles’ heel. No doubt Goldman Sachs has previously had its fair share of battles with Bloomberg but complaining to news organizations about bias and unfairness rarely works. This time it was different. A bruised eye for a leading news organization and a PR point for Goldman Sachs for starting a news cycle debate about journalist integrity.  When there is a breach of procedure any PR is on firm ground to go ahead and complain. Choose your battles wisely.


The Onion Makes China Cry

 The Onion Makes China Cry

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for China’s People’s Daily news outlet.

What do Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Channing Tatum have in common with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? They all share the global title of “Sexiest Man Alive.” The three actors, previously anointed  by People Magazine in its annual “Sexiest Man Alive” issue, now share their title with North Korea’s recently appointed dictator – courtesy of satirical magazine The Onion. Good one!

Not everyone got the joke, however. China’s leading online media outlet, The People’s Daily, immediately took up the story on its website and fawningly celebrated the universal appeal of its close ally – without realizing the story was a joke. The article included over 55 photos of Kim Jong Un, but unlike People, none of them showed the winner shirtless.

China’s paper of record unwittingly quoted extensively from The Onion‘s text, adding, “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.” Clearly not afraid to overpraise, the news organization went on to say that the dumpling dictator made the editorial board swoon with his “impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.” Channing Tatum, eat your heart out.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to The People’s Daily, whose credibility reached a new low.

The PR Takeaway: Death by a thousand laughs. The serious mouthpiece of the Communist party just had one of its more embarrassing and funniest falls. The official response at the outset was that The People’s Daily “verifies all its sources,” but since then the story has been taken down. The Onion is understandably boasting, “We just fooled the Chinese government!” Credibility is at an all time low. In the PR arsenal, ridicule is far more damaging and long lasting than ongoing protest.