While in Austin last month -- on, as it happens, a pre-Spring Break road trip -- I was with my friend Patrick wandering around Waterloo Records, and in thumbing through magazines I rarely get to read in person, I came across Adbusters' latest issue. Prior to this encounter I only knew Adbusters by links and word of mouth, never firsthand, so I slowly made my way through the creatively organized and well-written articles.
The article that most stood out to me -- apart from the intriguing piece on Zizek -- was the eye-catching "Broadcaster of the Year: Al Jazeera." I did a double take; Al Jazeera the broadcaster of the year? How radical was Adbusters? Did I miss something? All I knew of Al Jazeera was that they always seemed to have a direct pipeline into Middle Eastern terrorists' communications with the wider world; and the implications of this apparent fact, combined with the organization's placement and spoken language, all seemed to point in the blanket, simple direction of a corrupt, or at least highly problematic, mouthpiece for Islamic extremist groups and nations in a hotbed of violence and instability. And to repeat: these were unthought assumptions; I had never given serious, or much of any, thought to Al Jazeera; why would I have?
Well, I was wrong.
I won't belabor anyone's time; the Adbusters article lays the case out better than I can. But in short, Al Jazeera has at once become a bastion of old-school, on-the-ground journalism and the fastest growing and most reliable source for news around the world -- particularly in third world nations.
So upon returning from Austin -- having spent a few months away from reading the news on a daily basis -- I decided to run a little informal experiment. I added to my Google Reader both the New York Times World News Feed and the same from Al Jazeera English. I wanted to see, in the coming weeks, what it was like to read each simultaneously -- which reports made it to both, which only made it to one, how the reporting functioned, how anti- or extra-American events were viewed by Al Jazeera over against the Times.
After a month's worth of the experiment, I have no categorical evidence one way or the other (mainly because it would be a task of substantive research and publication to do so). But what I can say is that Al Jazeera offered (and offers) a perspective utterly unlike what I found in journalistic sources within the States, or even the West. Similarly, many events that happened in smaller nations or in the Middle East were covered that didn't even get press in America. Overall, due to the growing resources and coverage on the part of Al Jazeera, compared to the diminishing popularity and finances of the Times (along with every other newspaper or old school journalistic enterprise in America), Al Jazeera's net of reportage was wider, deeper, and strikingly different than the Times'. Moreover, in many ways, to this young person nostalgic for the days of reporting before I was born and desiring of truthful news through the eyes of the powerless and those on the outside, this discovery has been entirely refreshing and invigorating.
I welcome other views or experiences, either with Al Jazeera, the Times, or other sources for news in America or outside it. But for now, my unquestioned prejudices have been thoroughly rebuked, and I happily commend it to others in search of something similar.