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Kate O'Brian, President of Al Jazeera America, Speaks at #ComMtalks

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ – Built upon the pillars of equality—both religious and cultural—the United States has effectively served as the melting pot of cultural assimilation. Nestled in between its mountains, prairies and spacious skies, acculturation has woven an intricate conglomeration of ideals and practices that can be seen in the diversity of its 300 million inhabitants. In America, culture is both welcomed and celebrated…at least, for those not hailing from the Middle East.
Nearly 14 years have passed since the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11. The dust has settled, the debris has cleared and monuments commemorating those that lost their lives have been built in wake of the tragedy; however, in the mouths of many Americans, there is still a very bitter taste.

Kate O'Brien shares her experience at #ComMTalks.  Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Bahrenburg
Kate O’Brien shares her experience at #ComMTalks. Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Bahrenburg

In an effort to combat that notion, Al Jazeera America president, Kate O’Brian, has been traveling throughout the country putting together panel discussions and presentations to better voice Al Jazeera’s mission. On March 30th, O’Brian attended Monmouth University’s #ComMtalks presentation and better explained the intentions and makeup of the organization to well-over 150 students and faculty.
Al Jazeera America is an American subsidiary of the Al Jazeera Media Network of Qatar. The news company’s mission is to provide captivating content to the world that informs, inspires and entertains. The organization aims to bring journalism back to its roots by deep-diving into underreported stories, producing 17 hours of live news a day. Sadly, even while possessing so much journalistic integrity, many Americans refuse to tune into the station based rigidly off the misconception that the station is in support of terrorist, Islamic organizations. According to Forbes Magazine, “…some Americans may not want to get their “news” delivered by an operation…known to carry water for Islamic jihadists, especially at a time when Islamic jihadists may pose a bigger threat to America than at any time since 9/11.”
“Our editorial independence is something that we at Al Jazeera America hold very dear,” O’Brian said in response to those who believe some of the news reported may contain some influence from the governing body if its namesake.
Al Jazeera America prides itself on the diversity of not only the company (Al Jazeera America has sister stations in innumerable countries) but on the type of news they report. Reporters are urged to cover any topic they find captivating so long as the editorial is correct, compelling, and culturally and socially relevant. It is that very diversity and journalistic freedom that provides Al Jazeera with the depth of content it possess.
“All of the stories that we do are high quality, well shot, well produced, and from all parts of the globe.  And thats what sets us apart from other news organizations,” said O’Brian.  “We have the amazing luck to be supported to do this kind of editorial work…we’re not a public company so we don’t have to worry about shareholders expectations.  You just have to worry about making sure we have the editorial right.  And that’s a gift, in this day.”
But even with so much variety being aired, there is still an excessive competitive gap in ratings and viewership spanning between Al Jazeera and its primary competitors in CNN and Fox; Al Jazeera has tens of thousands of viewers, while CNN and Fox possess millions. But, according to O’Brian, “We don’t judge ourselves on ratings because we’re trying to do something different” and that has been made incredibly apparent.
The phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” frequently gets thrown around the world of journalism, and that is correct according to most accounts. Viewers are drawn to sensationalized, colorful journalism for its novelty—it’s the turn of a head at a car accident our human condition cannot resist. Big corporations such as CNN and Fox are ultimately concerned with the viewers they have and the money they bring in, justifiably so, but in focusing so narrowly, they are beginning to lose sight of what journalism is all about.
Al Jazeera is the black sheep of the heard, creating engaging content that isn’t meant to simply play off of the human psyche. By avoiding the mundane and redundant content many news organizations seems to create and cookie cut, Al Jazeera is pushing the envelope and returning the integrity of journalism to where it should be. And though conceived by the many as an Islamic station with ratings that reflect that notion, the organization is moving leaps and bounds beyond its competitors as far as content is concerned.
For example, Al Jazeera has also avoided airing even a single propagandized piece of content created by ISIS. O’Brien went on to explain that the company “…did not want to be a part of the propaganda of any organization”. Even as it pertained to Jim Foley’s execution, a fellow journalist,  O’Brien stated, “I felt strongly that covering the story was playing into the hands of a propaganda organization,” while explaining why the videos distributed by ISIS were not aired.  In avoiding coverage of ISIS’s assassinations, Al Jazeera is thwarting terrorism entirely.  Terrorism is a form of propaganda, through and through, that inspires individuals to act out of fear. If terrorist organizations are not given the opportunity to inspire said fear, they are simply wasting their own time.
Monmouth University's MOCC, the host of #ComMTalks.  Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Bahrenburg.
Monmouth University’s MOCC, the host of #ComMTalks. Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Bahrenburg.

The #ComMtalks event, hosted by the MOCC and the Monmouth University Communication Department, with sponsorship from the Communication Council, was held in the Wilson Hall Auditorium.  Monmouth University students and professors filled the auditorium to listen to O’Brian speak.
“I would work for someone like this,” said senior Communication major Anna Butts.  “It’s not liberal, it’s not conservative, it’s about getting down to the truth.”
In addition to dispelling false perceptions of the news network, O’Brian shared some of her own experiences working in the field of journalism.  O’Brian also took questions from the audience, candidly answering questions ranging from her views on women in the media, to how Al Jazeera America handles reporting difficult stories.  Peppered with personal anecdotes and years of industry experience, O’Brian offered a unique and intriguing peek into the world of Al Jazeera America.
“It was inspiring to meet someone who recognized the important of finding the truth and reporting it around the world and in doing so without pandering, without focusing on celebrities, without all the fluff that we normally see in the news,” said Professor Eleanor Novek.  “This is a person who has dedicated her life to journalism and im very impressed with the quality of Al Jazeera America from what ive seen.”
While the future success of Al Jazeera America remains to be seen, the organization’s dedication to journalistic integrity is unwavering.  It is through the work of O’Brian and the Al Jazeera team that American has been given back something that so many of their competitors have stayed from: real journalism. We can only hope the country will be receptive to the change.