Blogging from the inside of the hottest media startup around - Al Jazeera International.
Friday, November 10, 2006
And Shiulie waits for me...
Sorry for not posting in a while but we have been really busy lately in preparation for our launch next week. I thought I'd give you a quick update on Shiulie Ghosh (from "Is this the way to Al Jazeera" fame) who has been piloting lately and is really doing a fantastic job.
Apart from being great talent, she also seems to be a bit of an eBay addict :-)
To launch or not to launch - is there even a question?
Our launch date is one of those things that no one in the company likes to talk about publicly. It was supposed to have been six months ago and then a month ago and now in about a month or so (whew!). Or at least, that is what our Nigel (our MD) likes to think.
On Thursday we had a staff meeting and Nigel was talking about how we were almost ready to go on air 24/7. Now even though I'm just a small cog in a big machine, I know that even thinking that requires a stretch of ones imagination since we still have lots of issues to resolve before launching. Nigel seemed oblivious to this...but that was all about to change.
During the meeting a few brave souls took the plunge and openly questioned his reading of the situation and then started telling him exactly why we aren't ready and: from our bureaus not being online to a severe shortage of resources, from not having our editorial act together to not having enough packages.
Now Nigel has always seemed a bit detached and aloof but I never expected him to be so out of touch with what was going on downstairs.
As someone joked after the meeting
"Either he's is smoking something really dodgy or else he's been here so long that he's beginning to sound like the guys who do our paperwork and answer any query with "Don't worry - Inchallah it will all be ready tomorrow"
I just hope that Thursday has caused Nigel to actually find out how ready we really are before deciding if we are ready.
These last few days have really been eventful - I've got so much to write about but have been so busy between our (almost) 24/7 pilots and my social life. Hopefully I'll be able to write some more this weekend.
Yesterday was an interesting day! We had a suprise visit from Wadah Khanfar, the Director General of Al Jazeera who did a walk-around in our newsroom. As I said in my last post, we don't know too much about him. Actually, all I really know is that he used to be the Managing Director of the Arabic Al Jazeera.
Yesterday he seemed nice enough though - very pleasant and full of smiles. It was good of him to come and meet us (very Jack Welch) - especially given the uncertainty around what being part of a "Network" actually means.
If that wasn't news enough, later in the afternoon he returned with the Chairman of Al Jazeera (or "The Sheikh" as he is affectionately known).
In a previous post I mentioned that we're not sure what we're going to be called yet. Well, it seems that it will be AlJazeera English. About a week ago our new Director General (who we don't really know much about yet) sent out an internal newsletter referring to the impending launch of "Al-Jazeera English".
And before you get the wrong idea, we're not being called AlJazeera English because we are all English. It's because we will be broadcasting in English!
The Muslim month of Ramadan has just started. I've had Muslim friends who fasted before but have never been in a totally Muslim country where nearly the whole country is fasting. The place seems to take on a new atmosphere and becomes more laid back. A while ago the local newspapers had reported that people in Qatar would only be required to work for 6 hours due to the fasting. We thought that we had really scored until Nigel (our MD) sent out this message:
Please note, that whatever you may or may not have read in the newspapers, it has been decided that Al Jazeera employees will follow the company’s own regulations (ie you are not considered a government department in this respect) and that regular working shifts will continue to apply during Ramada
Poor us! At least we're getting free meals in the evenings during Ramadan when the fast ends which is a really nice touch. And our canteen has been screened off so we can eat normally without making the locals feel hungry! Of course, the locals being hungry is not a good thing - Nigel also warned that
...when driving, extra care should be taken on the road during the fasting period, some of those around you might be feeling light-headed, or have a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel.
Khalid Amayreh (another AlJazeera Insider!) has just written a scathing article about his manager, Russell Merryman who is the Chief Editor of AlJazeera.net (English). In it, he accuses Russell of being pro-Israeli and of trying to sideline anyone who writes about Israeli attacks on Palestine.
Poor Russell! While Steve was able to hire in whoever he wanted, Russell inherited all the old staff from the English language website and has been having a tough time getting rid of them. It's a pity that he is purging people like Khalid - they were the ones that gave a bit of character to our AP/Reuters sourced website.
Yay! We finally got a sign put up on the front of our building. I have to say that we have the most beautiful logo - no other news company logo comes even close! One thing though - our new sign isn't the same as the one above. The words AlJazeera seem lonely - its as if someone forgot to put up the "International" part. Everyone inside is wondering if management is reconsidering "AlJazeera International" for "AlJazeera English". It seems that some of our colleagues across the road are feeling a bit offended by us saying "AlJazeera International" - they argue that the Arabic channel is already international in scope.
By now I'm sure everyone has heard about the video made by our friends over at the Beeb about Simon joining AlJazeera International. The leaving videos are supposed to be fun and for laughs but unfortunately this one just re-enforces the very stereotypes that AlJazeera International was supposed to be dispelling.
I'm actually feeling really embarrassed about that video. I've been in Doha for a while now and that video captures the bias of many Western journalists towards the Arabs. And that's why it's so sad - as AlJazeera International we have such an opportunity to make a difference and try to change perceptions. Take for example the ITN reaction to the video
It's amazing no one's thought of that one already, really - here at ITN we've seen more than a dozen staff decamp for Doha over the last year, even though Al-Jaz English hasn't started broadcasting yet. As for the video, you can decide for yourself whether it's offensive. I'd say the words are quite funny, but the singing's a bit ropy, and I'd like to think our Channel 4 News leaving vids are a bit slicker in the production department.
But we have every sympathy for the staff whose joke for internal consumption was leaked to the world at large by some disgruntled colleague - breaching the long-standing code of secrecy surrounding the leaving video.
This is typical of our English "impartiality". We like to claim that we don't have any bias and that we are honest observers. The problem isn't that we have these bias. The real problem is that people shouldn't find out about them!
The video actually reminded me about how some of my collegues would privately mock the Qatari's about their national dress, the white dishdasha by calling them "spooks" or "ghosts". Not exactly the stuff of open minded journalists...
So, I suppose this is an apt time to say welcome Simon - you'll fit right in at AlJazeera International!