Al Jazeera America's debut underwhelms television critics

The early reviews are in for the first day of programming on Al Jazeera America.

If there's a consensus, it's that the new network, which has pitched for months itself as an unbiased alternative to opinionated and sensationalized cable news shows in the U.S., delivered quality journalism at the expense of entertaining television.  

The debut of AJAM, which replaced Al Gore's Current TV on Tuesday, opened with a hourlong rundown of the network's mission statement, in which it made its pitch to Americans, or at least those whose pay-TV providers carry it.

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The channel may be delivering on its promise of news without gimmickry, reported fairly and responsibly, but the tradeoff appears to be a lack of entertainment value.

Lloyd Grove, editor at large for the Daily Beast, was among the harshest detractors. "While AJAM’s debut was competent and relatively glitch-free, the pace was slow, the production values were plodding and predictable, and the presentation relied heavily on yakking, and more yakking, straight to camera," he wrote in a review.  

The panel discussion program "Inside Story" -- which featured a measured chat about the dangers of climate change -- took much of the heat from critics.

"It's tough to make a half-hour of truly informed conversation about climate change interesting," wrote Los Angeles Times' television critic Mary McNamara. "It's almost impossible if you're going to rely on three talking heads and some fairly banal graphics."  

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As for the journalism, according to Washington Post writer Paul Farhi, the channel "if anything, was behind the curve," airing a story about the detention of reporter Glenn Greenwald's partner in London a full day after other outlets broke the story, for example.

Shows such as "Fault Lines," which included an investigation of Wal-Mart's use of subcontractors in Bangladesh, went over much better. McNamara called the programming, overall, a "welcome addition" to the nation's news diet. 

Even Grove noted that he is rooting for the network. "[I]n an age of media belt tightening, when once-imposing journalistic institutions are being shuttered or sold for a fraction of their historic value, it is heartening that a Gulf-state emir, of all people, is willing to spend hundreds of millions, and probably billions, of dollars to field a serious news organization in the United States."


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