Al Jazeera America launch: 3, 2, 1… Liftoff!

Kate O’Brian has a daunting job ahead of her. She’s at the helm of Tuesday’s launch of Al Jazeera America, the latest entry into the 24 hour news market. O’Brian, as I previously posted, is one of two women recently named president of a television news organization. (The other is Deborah Turness at NBC News.) Unlike Turness,  O’Brian is tasked with introducing an American audience to a whole new brand of news which will include 14 hours of live programming.

NPR’s “On The Media” spoke with O’Brian and other members of her team about the new channel’s programming and the hurdles it will have to overcome in order to gain an American audience. The network plans to focus its reporting on under the radar stories here in the United States. At the moment, budgetary costs do not appear to be of concern as the new cable news channel is financed by the government of Qatar.  O’Brian says,  “We will be able to tell stories from places that our competitors will not be able to.”

We will see in the coming weeks and months how the new network will differentiate itself from other cable news channels. There already is one notable difference. In addition to O’Brian,  Al Jazeera America has hired several women for key positions including Marcy McGinnis as senior VP of news gathering, Shannon High as senior VP of documentaries and programs and Kim Bondy as senior executive producer of the network’s flagship prime time news magazine show “America Tonight”.

Stay tuned…

Madam President

Kate O’Brian, President Al Jazeera America / photo: Donna Svennevik/ABC

Deborah Turness, President NBC News / photo: NBC News

I remember the media coverage in 2006 when Katie Couric was named the first female solo anchor of an evening newscast at CBS. A few years later Diane Sawyer took on the same job at ABC which was also met with similar excitement. Everyone talked about the significance of two women taking on jobs that had traditionally been held by men.

A similar scenario is now taking place but with a lot less fanfare. This week Kate O’Brian a senior VP at ABC News was named president of news for the soon to be launched Al Jazeera America. This announcement comes just two months after NBC named Deborah Turness  president of its news division. As someone who is in the business I feel these two hires are just as significant as Couric and Sawyer yet they seem to be missing the “oh wow” factor. Yes, I know the anchor position is the face the public sees but let’s think about it. O’Brian and Turness are now in charge of their respective news operations, determining editorial strategy and influencing what gets covered each day. An even bigger challenge for both women will be shaping the future of broadcast news in the world of new media.

What do you think about these recent hires? Big deal or not?

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