Al Jazeera Exclusive : Interview with Senior Producer Laila Al - Arian

What is Al Jazeera? It’s a news media network that launched in 1996. It now streams to more than 300 million households in over 100 countries with 80 bureaus around the world. The network has more than 3,000 highly experienced staff from over 70 nationalities, making their newsrooms one of the most diverse in the world. I spoke with Laila Al AL-Arian award-winning investigative journalist, senior producer and documentary filmmaker. She is currently focusing on in-depth, long-form reporting. Some of her past experience includes writing and producing news packages, including breaking news, and launching a television news talk show who currently works with the Al Jazeera English branch.

Here’s a look into her professional journalist experience and what its like to work with the Al Jazeera media network.

Her Campus: What is the main advantage of working for Al Jazeera?

Laila Al-Arian: One of the main advantages of working for Al Jazeera English, as opposed to many other news organizations, is its focus and dedication to covering the “global south.” You wouldn’t necessarily see stories from many parts of Africa or Asia on other global news organizations, or covered with the depth and nuance that AJE brings. Al Jazeera also often employs journalists from specific regions to cover their own countries because they bring the background and understanding to truly cover them with accuracy. AJE is devoted to covering stories that other news organizations wouldn’t necessarily cover and to give voice to communities that often find themselves under-covered in the mainstream media. The staff of AJE is also one of the most diverse in the world, and that shows in its coverage.

HC: In your opinion, how is Al Jazeera different from other news organizations?

LA: As I mentioned, the diversity of AJE’s staff is pretty unique. The channel also covers stories that you wouldn’t necessarily see elsewhere, and unlike many other cable or satellite news channels, it doesn’t cover the same four stories over and over again. If you watch a typical AJE newscast, you will see a number of news stories from all over the world. The sheer number and diversity of the stories, both in topic and geography, stands out.

HC: Who is your main audience? Do you know the active amount of followers Al Jazeera has?

LA: It’s hard to say for sure. Al Jazeera is available in more than 300 million households in over 100 countries. Al Jazeera English is followed by more than 10 million people on Facebook and 4.7 million people on Twitter. More here:

HC: What event covered by the Al Jazeera network is this organization most proud of?

LA: I can’t speak for the organization, but I’m proud of the channel’s coverage of the so-called “Arab Spring” protests of 2010-2011 and the Gaza war of 2008-2009. During the Arab Spring, AJE was often the first (and in some cases only) channel reporting from certain locations, and we heard it was widely followed from the State Department to the people on the ground protesting publicly to make their voices heard. I’m also proud of the work my show Fault Lines does, from investigations into garment factories in Bangladesh used by Gap and Walmart, to sexual abuse by the UN in Haiti, to the aftermath of an oil refinery explosion in Anacortes, Washington, to protest movements against police shootings in Baltimore and Ferguson, our show produces award-winning in-depth, investigative documentaries.

HC: What are the main challenges that Al Jazeera is currently facing?

LA: Again, I’m not speaking for the channel because I’m not authorized to, so this is my personal analysis. I think like all news organizations in 2018, one of our biggest challenges is to retain audiences. There is so much content saturation, that it can be difficult to get your work seen and noticed. It’s a challenge in the “information age” to get people to see your work and to make an impact.

HC: Your organization is primarily funded by the government. What effect does that have on the overall content being reported?

LA: While AJE is funded by Qatar, the government does not interfere in our editorial decisions.

HC: What obstacles have you had to endure and or overcome throughout your career?

LA: I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had in my career. I would say one of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to overcome is some people’s assumptions that I am somehow biased because I’m a Muslim woman who covers, or having to explain to people that AJE is a professional news organization, since the channel was demonized in the past. Some of the prejudices continue. Now that there’s a lot of mistrust of journalists, we sometimes have to convince people to talk to us and that we are fair and professional.  

HC: Have you ever had to deal with censorship? If so, how did you personally and or your organization go about it?

LA: I have never had to deal with censorship at Al Jazeera English.

HC: How do Al Jazeera journalists identify credible sources in the era of the information explosion?

LA: Like any journalists, we identify credible sources by asking a lot of questions and getting corroboration.

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