Al Jazeera America taps ABC News’ Kate O’Brian as president
In advance of its much-anticipated debut next month, Al Jazeera America has unveiled a senior management team made up of former ABC, CBS and CNN news executives.
Kate O’Brian, who has spent 30 years at ABC News, most recently as a senior vice president of news-gathering operations, will be the first president of Al Jazeera America.
Joining her at the start-up cable news channel are David Doss, most recently a senior executive producer for CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” and Marcy McGinness, a former top executive at CBS News who most recently worked in academia.
Doss was named senior vice president for news programming, and McGinness will serve as senior vice president of news-gathering. Shannon High-Bassalik, another CNN producer, has been tapped as senior vice president of documentaries and programs.
Al Jazeera America, set to launch Aug. 20, also said that Ehab Al Shihabi, the Al Jazeera executive who has been overseeing the business operations for the channel, has been named its interim chief executive.
Al Jazeera executives have said the channel will focus much of its efforts on hard-news coverage of the United States. In an interview in June, Al Shihabi said Al Jazeera America will “elevate the mainstream voice.” The network is building a staff of about 800 and has opened bureaus in several major U.S. cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans.
The network has also promised to steer clear of lots of the political debates, murder trials and celebrity gossip that fill other cable networks.
In a statement, O’Brian said “Al Jazeera America will demonstrate that quality journalism is alive and well in the United States.”
Al Jazeera acquired Current TV this year for about $500 million, planning to convert it into Al Jazeera America.
However, not all TV distributors are on board with the change. When Al Jazeera America premieres, it will be in only 50 million households, less than half of all pay-TV homes. Some distributors have expressed concern that carrying the network could alienate their subscribers.
That was the case with Al Jazeera English, an English-language version of Al Jazeera. Owned by the government of Qatar, Al Jazeera has been accused of having an anti-American and anti-Israel bias in its coverage. That baggage made getting broad distribution a challenge.
Al Shihabi has said the negative opinions come from people not familiar with Al Jazeera’s product and that the perceptions have been changing.
“There is a bucket of resistance but it is changing,” he said. The negative opinions, he added, tend to come from people unfamiliar with Al Jazeera’s product.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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