Al Jazeera America anchor: We never hear from Qatar

WASHINGTON — We never hear from Doha.

That was the assertion by Joie Chen, Washington anchor for Al Jazeera America at Monday’s CCLP Washington Communication Leadership forum.

“I have never been to Doha,” she said, “and I haven’t heard from anyone in Doha.”

Rejecting criticism that Al Jazeera America is an instrument of the government of Qatar, which funds the new network, Chen said Al Jazeera America should be compared to the BBC or NPR, not to the VOA or Russia Today.

“We are not in the public diplomacy business,” said Chen. “We are in the journalism business.”

Chen, who anchors the nightly hour-long news magazine “America Tonight“, described her program as news that the rest of the networks don’t carry.

One reason is that Al Jazeera America has reporters and bureaus in places other networks do not, including New Orleans, Nashville and – would you believe Lincoln, Nebraska? Lincoln, she said, is the jumping-off place for reporting on energy, providing stories from North Dakota down to Oklahoma.

Chen declared her program was a [Justin] “Bieber-free zone.”

To their surprise, she said they have begun to attract an audience of 20- to 30-year olds, perhaps at least partially because of the program’s social media commitment. Four of the show’s 55 staff members – “all journalists,” she said – are for the program’s social media production.

“But maybe we have all underestimated them,” Chen said of younger viewers, adding they may be more interested in long-form video journalism than is generally believed.

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Chen presenting at the Communication Leadership Forum in DC.

Monday’s CCLP Washington Communication Leadership forum was part of a monthly series of First Monday lunch forums presented in partnership with the Public Diplomacy Council.

Upcoming forum speakers and topics are here.