January 13, 2016

Al Jazeera America will close by April 30th, AJAM CEO Al Anstey announced Wednesday.

The network said, “The decision by the AJAM board was driven by the fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the U.S. media marketplace.”

The network captured a lot of media attention when it hired journalists to staff regional TV bureaus at a time when other U.S. networks were consolidating them. But the grand idea of in-depth domestic coverage was hampered by Al Jazeera America’s inability to get clearance from cable companies. As a result, the network struggled at times to attract even 30,000 viewers, about what a medium size local station would get. It was not enough enough to claim a single rating point. 

And the work has been, at times, remarkably good, as Anstey pointed out:

Despite its initial struggle for TV ratings, the newcomer network was quickly – and repeatedly — recognized by its industry peers for the excellence of its journalism. Within months of launching, AJAM began collecting prizes ranging from the prestigious Peabody, Emmy, Gracie, Eppy and DuPont awards to the Shorty award for best Twitter newsfeed and the Newswomen’s Club of New York’s Front Page awards and citations from groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists and the Native American Journalism.

But the network has had some tough times, too. Recently, it came under fire for a lightly sourced “investigation” into alleged drug use by top NFL players. There have been personnel dustups, too.

AJAM went on the air in April 2013, after the network paid a reported half-billion dollars for former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV network. Gore ended up filing a lawsuit over the sale.

But the real trouble may be more deeply rooted in world economics. The network is owned by the government of Qatar. As world oil prices plunged, the deep pockets that can prop up a flagging well-intentioned news enterprise are not as deep these days.

And then, there was the name. Staffers have long claimed that Americans just won’t watch a news source that is named Al Jazeera. More recently, the network began posting slickly produced social posts through AJ-PLUS, but even those posts do not link back to original Web content, as other networks do.

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