There are plenty of reasons why the brand new entity Al Jazeera America will have a hard time winning over a skeptical television audience in the United States -- and they all have to do with the quirks of Americans' viewing habits.
But if Al Jazeera is as steadfast and smart as it seems to be, slowly but surely, the upstart will make its presence felt. It will take time, for sure.
In a post 9/11 America, the natives don't automatically trust anything with an "Al" in its name. Larry David lampooned and properly ridiculed this prejudice hilariously in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Even if viewers don't WANT to like Al Jazeera, they could be won over by the network's presentation. We fear what we don't know. The more Al Jazeera becomes a constant presence in our lives, the easier it will be for the network to come across as a TV news operation, and not some vague sort of Arabic news operation.
We Don't Like Foreigners:
Many years ago, Bill Murray, appearing as a newsman on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update segment, dismissed the Oscar nominations of Brits by saying ridiculously and smugly, "They're foreigners -- and we don't like them!" It got a lot of laughs, but there is a thread of truth in the joke, too. Al Jazeera should celebrate the difference in its style and approach to the U.S. news networks. It should not worry about assimilating and joining the crowd. Let the crowd join it.
News. News. News.
Yes, it's true that lots of Americans care more about Lindsay Lohan than Joe Biden. But, hopefully, a good number also want informed, serious, unfiltered news, too. This is the audience that Al Jazeera needs to please. Netflix has demonstrated the wisdom of targeting a certain audience and focusing on reaching it (so, for that matter, has the Fox News Channel). Al Jazeera has the deep pockets and patience to find this group of viewers and come up with ways day after day to keep it hooked and happy.
SOME Pizzazz, Please:
We are, ultimately, Americans. We crave a little fun with our daily diet of vegetables and vitamins. So, by all means, have fun in the way you give us the news. Don't make every story seem to have the gravity of, say, the Nuremberg trials.
Don't Listen to Critics!:
Al Jazeera is going to go under the microscope. Every slip-up, foible and mistake will be magnified because it is the new kid on the block and people like to find fault with newcomers. The company must continue to follow its mission of presenting news in a clear, straightforward manner. People will catch on. Be patient. I worked for USA Today in its earliest days -- and this was an all-American product, remember. Yet, it, too, was greeted with tremendous suspicion. Now it is a mainstay. These things take time.
Ultimately, Al Jazeera has a prime opportunity to make its mark. It probably won't flourish overnight because Americans' viewing habits are rather embedded. But good work has a way of being rewarded.