Al Jazeera America taps top US executive to lead network

Prominent ABC News executive Kate O'Brian to be the network's president.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel in Doha. (KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)
By Reuters
Tue 23 Jul 2013 10:02 AM

Al Jazeera America announced its leadership team on Monday, about a month ahead of its U.S. launch, tapping longtime ABC News executive Kate O'Brian to be the network's president.

O'Brian will report to Ehab Al Shihabi, the head of Al Jazeera's international operations, who was also named interim chief executive of the US channel. The network is due to launch on August 20.

O'Brian, who was a senior vice president at ABC News, will be based at Al Jazeera America's headquarters in New York City starting in August and will oversee editorial strategy and programming, the company said in a statement. O'Brian spent 30 years at ABC, where she started as an intern.

Al Jazeera bought Al Gore's Current TV in January to compete with U.S. news networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News . Terms of that deal were not disclosed, but analysts estimated it was worth as much as $500 million.

Al Jazeera faces an uphill battle to build a loyal US audience, given it is under the patronage of the government of Qatar. The network has said its model would be based on the BBC, which is funded by the UK but independently operated.

The network will at first be available in 49 million US households, about half the reach of CNN. When Current TV was acquired, some cable operators dropped the channel.

A hiring spree has brought several high-profile reporters to the network, including CNN's business journalist Ali Velshi. It will have bureaus in 12 US cities and focus on domestic news.

The network rounded out its leadership team with David Doss and Shannon High-Bassalik, who will join from CNN as senior vice presidents, and Marcy McGinnis, a former journalism associate dean who worked at CBS News.

Al Shihabi said at the end of June that Al Jazeera had hired 650 employees and planned to air 8 minutes of commercials per hour, which is below the industry standard of about 15 minutes.

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