Khaled Desouki | AFP/Getty Images
“Almost 50 percent of traffic to our livestream is coming from the US.”
Five years ago, which news outlet would you assume that quote’s from?
I doubt it would have been Al Jazeera. The Arab news network was branded “anti-American” and “the mouthpiece for al-Qaeda” during the Bush Administration. But the protests in Egypt are challenging that, and now Al Jazeera English is cashing in on its rising popularity with its promoted (read: paid) trending topic on Twitter: #DemandAlJazeera
#DemandAlJazeera is exactly what it suggests: Demand your cable/satellite company to carry Al Jazeera English. The NYT says only Washington, D.C., Burlington, Vt., and Toledo, Ohio, currently carry it and there’s many who think Al Jazeera will succeed.
Like what the quote says, Al Jazeera is gaining a massive audience because of its thorough coverage of Egypt. Its success comes from establishing connections before the protests with reporters, producers, camera teams, and a network of bloggers and citizen journalists — something that any U.S. outlet could do (and did to an extent) with the right allocation of funds.
But how appropriate is it for a news outlet to take advantage of a crisis by plugging itself with a promoted TT? Is it any different from Kenneth Cole’s tweet advertising his spring collection by including the #Cairo hashtag?
Al Jazeera English said it thought about using promoted TTs before but couldn’t decide when would it would be right and what it would promote. Egypt turned out to be an opportune time. The crisis held everyone’s attention, Al Jazeera was the only consistent media there, and its promoted TT was to make sure viewers had access to its coverage (read: product).
Kenneth Cole had a product to sell, saw #Cairo as hugely popular, and decided to cash in. It’s the kind of thing anti-capitalists love to hate.
But the biggest difference is that Al Jazeera’s product is something people really need. It tells more of the story that allows others, including world leaders, to make informed decisions that affect everyone. Kenneth Cole’s product is not. It’s a luxury, not a service.
You also could argue intentions. Al Jazeera English wanted to inform people and ensure they could watch its coverage from their television instead of computer. Kenneth Cole simply wanted to make money, and what better way to do that than use a TT many were sure to watch. But if you’re debating motives, you have to say that Al Jazeera’s wasn’t purely altruistic. If DirecTv, Comcast and Time Warner Cable do pick it up, obviously Al Jazeera will make major bank by entering one of the largest markets in the world.
I’m not entirely comfortable with a news outlet focusing more on business than journalism even though you can’t ignore the business component. It’s far too easy to put money before reporting and we’ve all seen how well news is covered when that happens.
So the question is, just how ethical was Al Jazeera English’s promoted TT?