Questions swirl about Al Jazeera America ahead of staff meeting

The future of Al Jazeera America is in question heading into an all-hands meeting with staff on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday’s 2 p.m. meeting was to be preceded by a meeting of senior staff.

The mood inside the newsroom ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s meeting was gloomy, with employees expecting the worst.

“There are executives here in tears,” said on senior staffer. “Doom and gloom.”

An Al Jazeera spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

News of the all-hands meeting raises any number of possibilities. The channel could be reorganized, downsized, or closed altogether.

Al Jazeera America has been lauded for quality reporting and commentary, but its ratings have remained anemic since launch.

In prime time the channel only averages between 20,000 and 40,000 viewers on a typical day.

The reason for the channel’s suddenly questionable future appears to be the plunging price of oil, which dropped below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time in 12 years. That’s significant because Al Jazeera America is owned by Al Jazeera Media Group, which in turn is owned by the government of Qatar.

Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 after its parent company in Doha bought Current TV from Al Gore and others for $500 million. The channel was billed as a more sober alternative to the rancor and sensationalism that typifies other cable news outlets.

“Viewers will see a news channel unlike the others, as our programming proves Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news,” the channel’s former CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said around the time of the launch.

But from the beginning, Al Jazeera America has been beset by lousy ratings and internal strife.Two former employees filed lawsuits last year against the company with charges of anti-Semitism and sexism in the newsroom.

Al Shihabi, who was named as a defendant in one of the lawsuits, was ousted in May and replaced by Al Anstey, who had previously served as managing director of Al Jazeera English.

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