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Al Jazeera America cuts dozens of staffers

Al Jazeera America cuts dozens of staffers
Al Jazeera America, whose shows include "America Tonight" anchored by Joie Chen, is cutting staff. (AFP/Getty Images)

Al Jazeera America is laying off dozens of employees as well as a large number of freelancers less than eight months after the news channel made its debut.

In a memo to staff, Al Jazeera America President Kate O'Brian said the planning for and launch of Al Jazeera America last August required "considerable resources" and now that the network is up and running, "we are bringing our staffing levels into alignment with our long-range plan as per our original business case."

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The cuts were across the entire network. Among the areas hardest hit were the new network's sports department and the staff of the television show "The Stream," a program about social media that is being cut from five days a week to one day.

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The sports group was pretty much eliminated as Al Jazeera America executives realized few viewers were coming to the network for scores and highlights.

Al Jazeera America declined to provide a specific number of layoffs but a person with knowledge of the matter who wasn't authorized to speak for attribution said a few dozen layoffs were planned. Another insider put the total around 60. The number of freelancers cut loose is believed to be higher.

A unit of Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network and funded by the government of Qatar, Al Jazeera America has access to deep pockets and has spent hundreds of millions on the network.

Launched last August, Al Jazeera America is available in about 60 million homes. While its ratings are tiny, the network has gotten some critical acclaim for its low-key approach to hard news. The network steers clear of tabloid fare and political shouting matches. Its look is different as well because it doesn't fill its screen with graphics the way other news channels do.

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In her memo, O'Brian noted that Al Jazeera America still has more than 800 employees and "we have built a channel that it took other networks years to do." She added that the cuts come as the network sets "our sights on new goals, requiring different levels and areas of investment and resources." She added that the network's relationship with distributors and advertisers "are strong."

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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