A former Denver newsman on why America should give Al-Jazeera English a chance

Categories: Media

a photo of gabriel elizondo.jpg
Photo by Charles Steck.
Gabriel Elizondo circa 2005.

"New Gig," an October 2005 Message column, introduced readers to Gabriel Elizondo, who decided to leave his job as an assignment editor at Channel 7 in favor of an opportunity to join Al-Jazeera International, a new English-language spinoff of the controversial Arabic network. Over three years later, the operation is still struggling to establish itself in the U.S., as noted in a National Public Radio story about the service, now called Al-Jazeera English, that was broadcast this week. The report opens with the story of correspondent Josh Rushing, who wasn't exactly welcomed by locals when he set up camp at a Golden watering hole around the time of last fall's Democratic National Convention. "We reported live from the bar, but it meant having police snipers on top of the buildings, undercover cops around me," Rushing recalled.

For his part, Elizondo has been based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for the past two years -- and he continues to see Al-Jazeera English as a worthy and credible news organization that's been unfairly demonized in the American press. The net is attempting to change its reputation via a website called IWantAJE.com, which provides viewers with an opportunity to sample its fare and to demand that it be made more widely available. Elizondo is fully supportive of this goal, as he makes clear in a wide-ranging e-mail update accessible below. Also included: two complete reports from Elizondo, reporting in recent weeks from Brazil and Venezuela.

Click "Continue" to get the scoop on Al-Jazeera English from an enthusiastic insider.

What have I been up to?

I have been based in Sao Paulo, Brazil for AJE for a little over 2 years now. In August of 07, I was in Lima, Peru editing a documentary when a huge earthquake hit Peru. It was immediately an international story. I started reporting on-air, and continued reporting from Peru for several days. Within 24 hours, I was live from the epicenter of the quake in the town of Pisco. After this terrible event, I returned to Sao Paulo and have pretty much been reporting ever since. I mostly cover Brazil. It's a huge country (about as big as the US) and an important country (largest economy in Latin America), so I am on the road a lot. I spend a lot of time in the Amazon region of Brazil, and recently did a series of stories from the Amazon related to our coverage of the World Social Forum, which was held in Belem, Brazil last month. One of the stories can be seen here:

I was in Venezuela for the constitutional referendum Feb 15. So far this year, I have spent only about 6 days in Sao Paulo. Next week (March 1-7), I go back to Peru for several stories, and then to Doha, Qatar for some training before coming back to Sao Paulo.

Lack of availability in the U.S.A.

When I left Denver, in late 2004, to move to Washington DC to work for Al Jazeera English a lot of people told me it could turn out to be career suicide. It's been just the opposite for me. The channel has developed into one of the premier English language news channels in the world. The channel is received in over 120 million homes around the world. It's too bad most people in the U.S. still do not have that ability. People in places like Denver, Colorado should not be obligated to watch Al Jazeera English, but Coloradoans should at least have the freedom to watch Al Jazeera English on their television. Every time I go to the U.S., I flip through the channels and I am amazed at all the junk on cable TV. The bad, mind-numbing television outnumbers the good programming 3 to 1. There are endless channels devoted to home improvement and reality TV. Those channels are fine, too. But being able to watch AJE's serious journalism from underreported corners of the globe is still not available, which is sad given all the space on cable devoted to other arenas I would deem less important to understanding issues around the world that affect the U.S.

AJE Continues to Grow

I am very fortunate right now, because as media organizations cut back on global newsgathering, AJE continues to show a commitment to expansion and covering important stories around the world. This is not lost on me. Now, more than ever, it's critical that people see AJE. Just to give you an example, on Feb. 15, Venezuela held a constitutional referendum that would allow Hugo Chavez the ability to run for office again. Given the strained relations between Venezuela and the U.S.A., I would think this would be an important story for people in the U.S. But Venezuela is an expensive country to do journalism. But that did not stop AJE. My bosses wanted to show in-depth coverage that went beyond the soundbites. So we had one correspondent in Caracas and another one (myself) far outside of Caracas in a different state reporting for an entire week. There were two producers from Washington DC, two cameramen, and even a web editor from http://english.aljazeera.net/ reporting for the web site from Venezuela.

One of my Venezuela reports can be seen here:

This is just one example, of many, of the coverage AJE provides.

I look back at that story you wrote in 2005 and there was a lot of unspoken speculation about what Al Jazeera English "wanted" to be, or what it "strived" to be. That was to be expected, as at the time it was an unproven entity. But that is no longer the case. There are over 7,000 videos uploaded to the AJE You Tube page and hundreds of articles on our web site. My friends who travel abroad a lot often e-mail me saying stuff like, "Hey, when I was in XYZ country, I got AJE on the TV and saw your story about this or that." The rest of the world is watching. If I was living in Colorado right now, I would be asking myself, "Why can't I?"

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