What Al Jazeera English Online did right


Last Friday the social networks were atwitter -- pun intended -- about Al Jazeera's coverage of the Egyptian uprising. And their web traffic showed the effects of that conversation. There was a feeling in the ethers that Al Jazeera Online was in a moment not unlike CNN was during the Persian Gulf War.

Mohamed Nanabhay, the Head of Online at Al Jazeera English, tweeted: "Nearly 45% our of current web traffic to our @AJEnglish Egypt coverage is coming from America." And Brian Stelter of the New York Times tweeted, "Today marks the heaviest-trafficked day ever to Al Jaz English's live Web stream, @mohamed says. 200x its normal traffic."

Granted, Al Jazeera's is perceived by many in the U.S. as not an ally in the War on Terror. It has, as Robert Kaplan noted in The Atlantic, "overt prejudices." From Friday's The New York Times:

[Al Jazeera] is accused of tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals. Its reporter in Tunisia became a leading partisan in the uprising there. And critics speculate that the network bowed to the diplomatic interests of the Qatari emir, its patron, by initially playing down the protests in Egypt.

Also, many of the tweets and retweets on my twitter stream about Al Jazeera's coverage were coming from internationally-minded media insiders on the left and right coasts. That having been said, Al Jazeera is a hugely influential and popular force within the Arab world and is shaping the narrative of the uprising on the Arab street. And they have thus far shown the most compelling coverage -- that includes CNN International and the BBC -- of the riots that may ultimately bring down the Mubarak regime.

Here are a few thoughts on what publishers can learn -- whether or not one agrees with their editorial bent --from what they have done right:

Effective use of social media

Social media is a large component to the Egyptian uprising story, which captured two of the Top Ten Twitter Trend positions on Friday. Even Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State, took the unprecedented step of publicly warning the government in Cairo -- an ally in the War on Terror-- against tampering with the social media options of Egyptian citizens.

Al Jazeera English did many things right by social media that publishers can learn from. For example, they asked, through Twitter, for people to keep them updated on whether or not the Egyptian government was tampering with their social media. Smart. There was also a lot of retweeting going on, which is always a good strategy. It creates community. Mayor Cory Booker, who set the standard for the political use of social media during the post-Christmas snowstorm, retweeted a lot as well. Finally, Al Jazeera advocated Meetups to discuss their coverage.


The Qatar-based channel is aggressive in its coverage. But more than an almost relentless live stream of incredible video footage and pictures of the burning of the ruling party headquarters, Al Jazeera effectively utilized liveblogging.

Liveblogging is often used by digital publishers to drive pageviews during special events like the Academy Awards or, as seen earlier last week, the annual State of the Union address. Al Jazeera English, however, did an effective job with in liveblogging an international crisis, adding context to their top notch video coverage. The images on the liveblog were constantly updated, keeping it fresh. And their video was embeddable.

Releasing some of their footage

There is no doubt about it: Al Jazeera does not have a good reputation here in the United States. They are, of course, aware of that. To that end, Al Jazeera released some of Friday's Egypt footage under a Creative Commons license on cc.aljazeera.net. While that does nothing to mitigate the cold hard fact that Al Jazeera has taken a side in the Palestinian dispute directly opposite that of the United States, it does buy them some credit as journalists.

Publishers using video might also want to consider that releasing exclusive footage under a Creative Commons license goes a long way in disseminating one's brand. It doesn't hurt to share when you have a good thing going.

Promoting their brand

Al Jazeera will never get a better opportunity to grow their controversial brand. The head of online at Al Jazeera tweeted on Friday, "If you're in the U.S., you probably want to tell your cable provider that you want Al Jazeera."

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