The rise and fall and plateau of a controversial media outlet’s attempt to penetrate the American market.
This well-researched but lackluster account of media conglomerate Al Jazeera’s attempts to make inroads to Western audiences started as a graduate school dissertation and largely still reads like one. Youmans (Media and Public Affairs/George Washington Univ.) tracks the burgeoning media network from its launch of Al Jazeera English in 2006 through the abrupt shuttering of Al Jazeera America in 2016. The author opens with an examination of the enormous regulatory and administrative hurdles the Qatar-backed channel had to overcome just to broadcast in the first place as well as the deep-rooted philosophical bias against the Middle East–based outlet in the wake of 9/11. Youmans argues that the best way to understand the arc of Al Jazeera is by diving into its distinct operations in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco, breaking down its mechanics at the local level in order to understand how it analyzes and affects the world. “The awkward portmanteau ‘glocalization’ refers to the co-occurrence of ‘universalizing and particularizing’ forces in the movement of global goods, people and services,” he writes. Unfortunately, for readers who are not media analysts, it doesn’t get much more exciting than this, barring a couple of exceptions. Youmans does take a bracing deep dive into the 2011 emergence of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East, as Al Jazeera finally freed itself of the negative associations of the Gulf Wars and became a real presence on the global stage. Late in the book, the author also portrays the intriguing contrast between the now-defunct Al Jazeera America in New York City and its more daring digital startup, AJ+, which is still flourishing in the innovative media aquarium of San Francisco.
An interesting but very academic history of a polarizing media presence.