Storytelling in 60 seconds: AJ+ managing director discusses rise of digital news

As managing director of AJ+, which was launched in September 2014, Khatib oversees one of the largest and fastest-growing news outlets in English, Arabic, and Spanish.

Dima Khatib, managing director of AJ+, a digital 'news and beyond' platform based in San Francisco and Doha, spoke at Northwestern University in Qatar, discussing her career and how the digital approach used by AJ+ has revolutionized storytelling. 

Khatib joined Al Jazeera Network as a broadcast journalist in their first Doha newsroom and advanced quickly to a news producer where she gained visibility for her management of the channel's coverage of the Iraq War. She became the first female bureau chief for Al Jazeera, setting up bureaus in China and Venezuela. During her 19 years with Al Jazeera, Khatib has reported from more than 30 countries.

As managing director of AJ+, which was launched in September 2014, she oversees one of the largest and fastest-growing news outlets in English, Arabic, and Spanish. During the past two years, it has grown its audience to more than 7 million fans on Facebook, and more than 230,000 subscribers on YouTube.

“Dima is a bold and passionate journalist and her experience–starting as translator and now as manager of the fastest growing digital news outlet–is an inspiration to our students. Her role with AJ+ is also an example for our students on how news content is shifting to online platforms, which allows for a broader platform to tell their stories to the world,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO.

“Although we are shifting towards a digital approach to share news, the basics of reporting and journalism are still the same. Staying true to your ethics, asking the right questions, and reporting fairly are still the core of good journalism.” -Dima Khatib, Managing Director, AJ+

AJ+’s strategy is to build audiences directly through social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and the AJ+ mobile application. Through the creation of brief, informative, compelling videos with concisely written captions that efficiently and effectively tell a story, AJ+ more than doubled its followers within one year. 

The session at NU-Q was moderated by Mary Dedinsky, director of the NU-Q journalism program, and attracted a roomful of students eager to hear from the successful journalist.

“Although we are shifting towards a digital approach to share news, the basics of reporting and journalism are still the same. Staying true to your ethics, asking the right questions, and reporting fairly are still the core of good journalism,” said Khatib.

Dedinsky asked Khatib about the important role AJ+ plays in telling the Middle East’s stories to the world. “AJ+ takes people’s personal stories,” she said, “as well as major conflicts and war, then simplifies them into short, 50-second videos that inform people about ongoing issues. We also try to focus on positive stories, and stories with human interest angles that people would like to watch, share, or react to. With the growing impact of AJ+, we have more power to tell stories to the rest of the world about this region, from this region.” 

“We receive tons of proposals for stories all the time. We just have to listen to people and open our eyes to see what’s around us. We also have ‘engagers’ based around the world who keep us updated on major occurrences or trending stories that we should focus on. For example, our engager based in Algeria would be responsible for monitoring the local print and digital news to alert us of important topics to cover. We also rely on other news agencies for stories, footage, and fact-checking,” Khatib said.

Khatib studied English literature at Damascus University. Fluent in eight languages, she holds a master's degree in translation from Geneva University, Switzerland, and has a published poetry collection in Arabic.