25 June 2015
Back from the excitement of the summit in Barcelona last week, GEN caught up with Mohammed El-Haddad - senior interactive producer with Al Jazeera English Channel - who contributed to the GEN Summit panel session, "Building the best data journalism team for your newsroom". Mohammed Haddad works on telling visual stories with data as the head of the interactive department at Al Jazeera: one of the GEN Summit's strategic partners. Find out what Mohammed thinks about Al Jazeera's news perspective, network expansion, editorial standards and digital development in this interview with GEN.
Q. Al Jazeera initially launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel and has since expanded its coverage to America and the Balkans. Are there plans for further expansion?
Al Jazeera grew from a single channel in 1996 to a major global media network, comprising of; Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Mubasher, Al Jazeera Balkans, Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera Turk Digital and AJ+. In the foreseeable future, the Network will focus on its existing flagship channels and entities.
Q. What can Al Jazeera’s perspective bring to these regions?
With its expanded Network of channels and over 70 bureaus around the world, AJMN continues to cover global stories with the human being at the centre of the news agenda. Al Jazeera has one of the most diverse newsrooms comprising of over 55 ethnicities. This puts us in a unique position to tell stories from the ground and to reflect the voices of under reported regions.
Q. What are some of the challenges the network faced when it expanded to different locations, and how did you overcome them?
Al Jazeera is dedicated to providing comprehensive news and live debate, while reversing the news flow from north to south, thereby reflecting the diversity of our audience and cultures. With our wide footprint of channels reaching over 130 countries and six continents, the network is getting ever closer to the audience and the source of the stories we cover. With continuous expansion there are always challenges, be it bureaucracy, culture or language. The strength of diversity, global reach of the channels and the experience we have harvested, allows the network to overcome such challenges. We continue to strive towards excellence and maintain high work ethics and professionalism.
Q. How does Al Jazeera apply and coordinate the same editorial standards across its various global arms?
Since the birth of Al Jazeera almost two decades ago, we continue to challenge established narratives and give our global audience an alternative voice. With the expansion and new channel additions, AJMN continues to transfer its DNA to new entities while maintaining the independent and pioneering spirit that has defined the Network's character.
Q. Al Jazeera accepts user-submitted photos and videos about news events through a “Your Media” page, and this content may be featured on the website or in broadcasts. What criteria do you use to vet posts?
Content verification is a very important skill for all journalists. Al Jazeera utilises the industry's best practices when it comes to reverse image search and metadata matching. We also make sure to use our the wealth of knowledge across our bureaus to dig deeper into stories.
Q. With the increased diversity of news platforms and the proliferation of technological tools and services, how does Al Jazeera as a broadcaster create and satisfy demand?
We strive to deliver compelling content to people wherever they are. To do this we utilise technology to both broadcast our message and to listen to the voices our audience. Al Jazeera has pioneered the use of live blogs, user generated content, and open platforms such as Creative Commons to ensure we reach a deeper and broader audience.
Q. What have been the main successes of the Al Jazeera Data Journalism Unit?
Al Jazeera's data journalism unit uses the latest advancement in data journalism to tell the untold stories that can be found in data sets. The department was recently awarded the Online Media Award's best digital team of the year for its innovative work on a network wide project called Palestine Remix. The unit also focusses on long-form storytelling and rich multimedia explainers to immerse our audience in the stories that we tell.
Q. Last year saw the launch of the Al Jazeera Plus channel. One year on, how has the channel progressed?
AJ+ can attribute its phenomenal growth to its focus on community engagement. The channel has produced a variety of video explainers to explain complex issues to our younger audiences. With most people turning to the web for all their news, AJ+ is well positioned to continue to grow.
Q. And, finally, your views on the 2015 GEN summit?
GEN brought together the best thinkers in the field of journalism. It's not often that you can speak so openly to content producers and editors from all around the world. Some of the big takeaways were in the fields of data journalism and immersive storytelling. Sharing experiences as to how this works in the real world was a great takeaway from the summit.