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.

No Easy Interview for a Navy Seal

 No Easy Interview for a Navy Seal

The PR Verdict: B (Good Show) for Matt Bissonnette, Navy Seal and author of No Easy Day.

“Awesome” and “cool” were just some of the everyday terms that Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette used in a recent interview with 60 Minutes. He has gone public with a memoir, No Easy Day, of his time served during the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. The book is written under his nom de plume Mark Owen and coincides neatly with the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Bissonnette kicked off his informal and friendly TV interview with his appearance and voice disguised as he gave a tick-tock explanation of what happened in that now notorious Pakistani compound. Bissonnette gave few surprises. He stayed surprisingly close to the previously released official version of the event; this was not a mission to kill, but to “capture alive if feasible,” and the operation was a collective effort of talented individuals.

Bissonnette’s PR dilemma is to how comment on the events without creating controversy. Legally gagged from disclosing military secrets, his PR push is limited by the ever-present danger of inadvertently breaching official secrets.  His answer? Provide reassuring confirmation of already disclosed key facts, talk like an everyday humble guy and only give color and added information that are of limited consequence.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Matt Bissonnette’s PR push that treads a fine line but so far hasn’t overstepped boundaries.

The PR Takeaway: Stay on course, but add some spice. Bissonnette’s dilemma is that he could be accused of breaching official secrets. With most of the book’s proceeds going to organizations that help families of fallen Seals, his own motives are not open to debate. His minor details concerning who fired what when makes no appreciable difference to the overall established narrative – but it does make it almost impossible for the authorities to play a heavy hand. Skillfully done and elegantly handled.

To read more and see part of the 60 Minutes interview, click here.

Did you see the 60 Minutes interview, or read Matt Bissonnette’s book? Give us your PR Verdict!