Auto industry cited in Al Jazeera’s decision to open Detroit bureau
- By Oralandar Brand-Williams
- The Detroit News
Detroit — Al Jazeera, the Arab-owned international cable and Internet broadcast network, plans to open a news bureau in Detroit, a spokesman for the network’s new broadcast channel said Thursday.
The new channel will be called Al Jazeera America and Detroit will among 12 cities across the country where the new channel will have bureaus.
“We expect the channel to be up and operating by September,” said Stan Collender, a spokesman for Al Jazeera America.
Collender said Metro Detroit’s demographics — the region has one of the largest concentrations of Arabs and Muslims outside the Middle East — did not play a role in its choice as an Al Jazeera bureau.
Collender said the city was selected because it is home to the U.S. auto industry.
“We couldn’t cover the Midwest and the base of the auto industry without being in Detroit,” Collender said Thursday. “The city is still too important to news about the economic recovery of the auto industry. We wanted to be on the ground there.”
Collender said the channel will target American audiences and will carry news directed at “all Americans … all demographics … all ages.”
“It will not be a channel about Arab Americans,” said Collender.
But the news of a local Al Jazeera bureau has still created a lot of buzz in the Metro Detroit’s Arab American and Muslim communities.
“It’s a great thing for the Detroit community and for this region, which has the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East,” said Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, the Arab community center.
“And it’s an amazing thing for the local Arab American community, too, which has already been turning to Al Jazeera for international news. It will give them closer access to this news outlet, and a greater opportunity to stay in tune with what is going on in their local community.”
Collender said the network will not ignore news about the local Arab American and Muslim communities but, “we’re not going to be focusing on it.”
Detailed plans for the bureau are expected to be announced May 2 at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon. About 200 people are expected to work at the 12 bureaus. Collender said the location of the bureau has not yet been determined but the office will be in Detroit. He said the number of reporters, writers and producers is still being worked out.
Al Jazeera America has received about 21,000 resumes from people hoping to snag a job at one of the bureaus, Collender said.
Since the late 1990s, Al Jazeera has gained popularity with American viewers for its coverage of developments and other news events in the Middle East.
During the Arab Spring uprisings in several Middle East nations, Al Jazeera was a primary source of information and news for television and Internet viewers around the world.
Al Jazeera, which once broadcast mostly in Arabic, now has an English-speaking partner called Al Jazeera English, which might also pick up some of the Detroit stories from Al Jazeera America, said Collender.
The network, which has 70 bureaus around the world, has drawn fire from critics who argue that it lacks independence; some have called it a propaganda tool for terrorists.
Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, added:” It will be interesting to see how Al Jazeera covers the news. We know that some distinguished American journalists have left the organization citing a lack of objectivity by the network.”
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he’s pleased the network is coming to Detroit.
“It makes sense that Al Jazeera would open an office in Detroit given this metro area being the epicenter for Arabs and Muslims in America,” Walid said Thursday. “I’ve been in communication with Al Jazeera for years and have already given them story ideas regarding our region.”