Media Matters: Al Jazeera, Google, Dankner make big strides

Some media news stories worth keeping an eye on:

The first story is this good piece taken from the Niemen Journalism Lab about how Al Jazeera English is circumventing reluctance on the part of major US Cable corporations to grant it a license to broadcast on American TV by seeking audiences online.

The article states that: “For years, some in the Bush administration and the American media spoke of the Arabic Al Jazeera channel (AJ) as a spreader for enemy propaganda in Afghanistan and Iraq. This association proved robust in American political discourse. It was one reason Al Jazeera English had such a tough time getting into the American market when it launched in late 2006. Even today, only cable systems in Washington, D.C., Burlington, Vermont, and Toledo, Ohio currently carry the channel in its entirety.”

If Al Jazeera English, with its unique slant on Middle East issues and US policy in the area, becomes more of a regular feature in the American news cycle, and reaches more Americans on a regular basis, the question to be asked is whether that could have an impact on the attitudes of Americans towards the Mideast. This is especially true of young Americans, who spend a lot of time online. With studies showing a serious decrease in the amount of time Americans watch foreign news on TV, AJE’s migration to the web and its savvy deployment of its resources on social networks shows it is keeping an eye on this trend. It will be interesting to see over the coming years if and how AJE influences American public opinion on the Middle East, especially when it comes to US policies and support of Israel.

An interesting statistic quoted in the article above says that Al Jazeera English’s YouTube channel is the third most popular news channel watched on YouTube. If this trend continues, AJE may not even need to get on US cable [although I'm pretty sure it still wants to].

Here’s a good example of strong reporting on the ground from Libya on AJE English Youtube channel:

This from Pew: The migration to the web also continued to gather speed. In 2010 every news platform saw audiences either stall or decline — except for the web. Cable news, one of the growth sectors of the last decade, is now shrinking, too. For the first time in at least a dozen years, the median audience declined at all three cable news channels.

Which brings me to the next story I want to highlight: The New York Times on How Google is Evolving into a Media Company.

“Nowhere has Google’s growing media proficiency been more apparent than on YouTube, which is a platform that is looking more and more like a network for a postbroadcast world.”

It seems Google may be moving from ‘just’ a technology company which distributes other people’s content to a content creating behemoth that already owns YouTube, amongst other online assets. There is good news and bad news in this. The good news is that with Google’s entry into the content-creation market, it should bring with it a fresh way of looking at content, not the same fare [no matter how creative] from traditional media companies. It might also provide independent artists and creators with new outlets and tools to create and showcase their material. When it comes to news, traditional media outlets are being beaten hands down by citizen journalists – people on the scene of an event. I see this as a natural evolution of news production and dissemination. Only problem is, when activists in Egypt upload pictures onto Flickr and YouTube, those media companies are then saddled with legal, political and ethical issues that they perhaps will determine without recourse to traditional journalistic practices. And why should they?

And who decides on an issue like this?

Jpost: “Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday asking him to make sure that a page calling for a third Palestinian Intifada be shut down. Nearly 230,000 people have expressed support for the group since it was launched less than a month ago.”

The bad news is that, like with everything else it does, Google tends to dominate. Traditional media companies, especially newspapers, might suffer even more than they are now.

This Pew Report shows what happens when Google enters the news business:

“In the digital space, the organizations that produce the news increasingly rely on independent networks to sell their ads. They depend on aggregators (such as Google) and social networks (such as Facebook) to bring them a substantial portion of their audience. And now, as news consumption becomes more mobile, news companies must follow the rules of device makers (such as Apple) and software developers (Google again) to deliver their content. Each new platform often requires a new software program. And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases also control the audience data.”

NYT on Google: “The company has also tweaked its vaunted search algorithm to point toward new, real, trusted content and away from link-bait generic content cranked out by so-called content farms. Even if it is a machine doing the executing, the company’s push for one kind of link over another is fundamentally an editorial exercise.”

So if Google is increasingly the only way to look for and view content, you better be on their good side. And if you’re an activist fighting for freedom and publishing stories and pictures on Facebook, YouTube, or Flickr, you should think about protecting yourself from all sorts of consequences, because these ‘media’ companies aren’t going to protect you.

On the Israeli front, IDB Holdings, one of the largest business concerns which owns dozens of companies and employs over 40,000 people, has bought a controlling share in floundering Maariv, a newspaper that until a few years ago was the country’s number 2 daily. Nochi Dankner, head of IDB, owns several communications companies, but this venture is his first into the news content arena, and it brings with it some serious concerns. Israel’s economy is super-concentrated in the hands of a few industrialists, of which Dankner is one of the leading examples. While there is a very vibrant and aggressive free press in Israel, there is some concern that publishers are increasingly pressurizing editors to stay away from critically reporting on the business and political interests of their friends, the wealthy industrialists. On the other hand Dankner’s purchase of Maariv, a reported four days before the paper totally ran out of money and would have had to stop printing, allows this newspaper to continue operating and bringing its unique reporting and opinion to the Israeli national dialogue. Will Maariv’s new lease on life

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