Video: Leading member of AJAM launch team shares insights on network’s entry into the US at NU-Q speaker series

September 25, 2013

Carlos Van Meek, head of output for Al Jazeera English, was invited to kick-off this fall’s Al Jazeera Speaker Series at NU-Q. The series brings students, professors and alumni together to engage Al Jazeera’s leading media and communications experts.

Van Meek’s career in television news has spanned over 20 years, including the launch of Fox News and the opening of its bureaus in Iraq and Afghanistan. At Al Jazeera English he opened the network’s Athens bureau, which covered Greece, the Balkans and Turkey, before moving to Doha to assume his role as head of output. Soon after the purchase of Current TV, he was asked to take on a leadership role in the creation and launch of Al Jazeera America.

Van Meek explained to attending students and faculty that the network’s leadership chose the purchase of Current TV as its gateway to American audiences. Buying an established outlet such as Current TV guaranteed Al Jazeera America an initial distribution of 40 million households. [Read transcript.]

“When you’re on that scale, everybody is watching,” said Van Meek, who said that advertisers had asked Al Jazeera management if they would consider changing the station’s name to avoid the stigma associated with it in some parts of America.

“We said no […] We are exceedingly proud of what we’ve done to give coverage to stories that are under-reported on other stations. This is a legacy started by Al Jazeera Arabic, and has been taken on by Al Jazeera English, and will be continued by Al Jazeera America.”

Directing the conversation was Khaled Hroub, professor in residence in NU-Q’s liberal arts program, who asked Van Meek about Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy and the concern that the station might “fall into the trap of sensationalizing news, a trap many American channels have already fallen into.” Van Meek responded that the editorial team takes these questions seriously and addresses them head-on.

“That is a debate that takes place every day in the Al Jazeera America newsroom,” Van Meek responded. “But whether it’s internationally focused or local, news will always win. The best story of the day should have more air time.”

NU-Q worked with the network’s leadership during the formation of Al Jazeera America, conducting strategy workshops on the development of the channel in sessions in both Doha and New York with the participation of NU-Q faculty and staff. Al Jazeera America also chose Northwestern University in Evanston as its first venue to introduce and explain the channel to an American audience in the lead up to its launch.

Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, said, “It was exciting and fascinating for us as a media school to be involved in the creation of this ambitious enterprise,” adding that the talk was part of “an ongoing series of conversations with and about Al Jazeera, stemming from our proximity to and special relationship with the network.”