Journalist Q&A: Marcy McGinnis, Al Jazeera America

Marcy McGinnis, SVP, newsgathering, for Al Jazeera America, talks to Diana Bradley about the news organization's grand plans to stay afloat, after its slow start in the ratings last summer.

Marcy McGinnis

SVP, newsgathering

Al Jazeera America
Preferred contact

Marcy McGinnis, SVP, newsgathering, for Al Jazeera America, talks to Diana Bradley about the news organization's grand plans to stay afloat, after its slow start in the ratings last summer.

How does Al Jazeera America intend to compete in a market with established mainstream rivals such as MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN?
MSNBC and Fox are in a category where they are either leaning toward the left or right wing. We intend to be a channel that provides unopinionated news.

We are going to give the viewers the news as the evidence presents and provide in-depth coverage, so it is something they hopefully are not getting anywhere else.

In November, it was reported that Al Jazeera America had attracted fewer than half the viewers who tuned into its predecessor, Al Gore's Current TV, since the network's August launch. Have there been changes since then?
Each week, the ratings go up a bit. When you start a new channel, the most challenging thing is making sure people know it exists and where to find it in a sea of hundreds of channels. Most startups don't go into the ratings pool until years later, but we started right away.

Our hope is that, as word spreads and as more people begin to view it, they will like what they see, keep coming back, and ratings go up.

Al Jazeera's news harbors anti-American bias, according to critics cited in an American Journalism Review article from 2012. How do you counter this opinion?
We are not unaware of this perception, but we are countering it by producing great content. We are determined not to show any bias, are completely independent in our editorial mission, and not controlled in any way by the government of Qatar.

Al Jazeera America is totally run by Americans in the US. The president of the organization is former ABC News executive Kate O'Brian.

Despite the network's slow start in the ratings, Al Jazeera America will open more US bureaus, hire additional staff, and create more original programming. Tell me more about that and the decision behind it.
We want to be everywhere, because when you have your reporters on the ground you can find out how the news is affecting the people living in that region.

We have opened bureaus in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

We have plans to open a bureau in Atlanta, and we are going to increase personnel in existing bureaus so we can do more coverage throughout the US.

Overseas, we have access to more than 70 bureaus that belong to our cousins at Al Jazeera English.

We are probably going to open a new London office at some point, and we are talking about possibilities in South America and Asia.

I had a career at CBS News for 35 years, and we were shrinking our bureaus - for reports overseas, people would fly out to where the news was. Al Jazeera America wants to be able to cover the news from where it is happening.

We don't just want to say, "This is what happened." We want to bring the perspective of the people who live there and are affected by this news to the American audience.

The people we are hiring know the cities and know the regions they are reporting from because they have been there most of their lives. That is something different from broadcast networks.

What is the best way to pitch you?
The most important thing for people to understand is that we are journalists and are after interesting, important stories and ideas.

We don't want opinions in terms of political left and right. We are Interested in experts who can talk to the issues that are top of mind for Americans right now.

If there are PR agencies that represent specific experts, we would want those firms to understand where we are coming from, what our product is about, and to watch our channel before pitching us.

What are your objectives for 2014?
In terms of newsgathering, we have two missions: to cover the news as it happens and to stay longer to find out why it happened.

We are also looking into adding branded content to the channel. We would produce the content on the editorial side, and the sales department would help us sell it to advertisers.

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