CNN’s Brian Stelter and Tom Kludt pen a must read on the last days of Al Jazeera America…
The newsroom had turned a corner, but the business had not. Costly mistakes made at launch in 2013 were adding up fast while ratings were not growing fast enough. The channel’s distributors were dissatisfied. And falling oil prices were testing the patience of Al Jazeera’s parent, the oil-rich emirate of Qatar. Al Jazeera Media Network director general Mostefa Souag had to reduce costs in a serious way.
Souag singled out AJAM. Doha — that’s the way the channel’s employees refer to its owner, by naming Qatar’s capital city — “decided that it was not going to continue to write checks for hundreds of millions of dollars,” a senior executive said.
The decision was handed down to AJAM’s board of directors meeting shortly after the New Year’s holiday. The directors gathered for an emergency meeting on Monday, January 11; some huddled at an attorney’s office in Manhattan while others, like Souag, joined via video conference from Doha.
The last time they’d met, in late August, the directors heard an optimistic pitch from new AJAM CEO Al Anstey about the channel’s next five years. This time Anstey spoke briefly, then left the meeting. The channel’s president Kate O’Brian, who usually spoke about editorial matters at board meetings, was not invited.
The question before the board was how, exactly, to unwind the channel, given that the cash spigot was shutting off. Several alternatives were talked about, including a possible conversion to a lower-cost streaming TV channel for cord-cutters. Someone even joked about giving the channel back to Al Gore, who had profited handsomely by selling the channel that became AJAM three years earlier.
But the board members concluded that there was only one viable option: a complete shut-down.