New York: Al Jazeera America signed on with a brisk hello from anchor Tony Harris before he got down to business with his network’s first stories: continued turmoil in Egypt, shots fired at an Atlanta elementary school and more wildfires in the west of the country.
With that, the network entered the local cable-news fray long dominated by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Media Network launched its US outlet only eight months after announcing the new venture, which on Tuesday replaced Al Gore’s Current TV in more than 45 million TV homes.
An hour before settling into its regular schedule at 4pm. (2000 GMT), the network aired a preview of its programming and goals. “We are here to tell the story the way it happens, as it happens,” said anchor Antonio Mora as the preview began.
At the same time, the Al Jazeera English network was suspended. It had been available since 2006 online and in a smattering of cable systems.
Headquartered in New York, Al Jazeera America has vowed to provide unbiased, in-depth domestic and global news.
The network hired a number of veterans of US television, including Harris, an alumnus of CNN, and Mora, previously at ABC News. Other familiar faces include Sheila MacVicar, Soledad O’Brien, Joie Chen and John Seigenthaler.
Scheduled programmes include a nightly newscast anchored by Seigenthaler” “Consider This,” a current-affairs hour hosted by Mora” “America Tonight,” a newsmagazine described as the network’s flagship telecast anchored by Chen” and “Real Money” with Ali Velshi.
Besides New York, domestic bureaus are located in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Seattle, Nashville, Tennessee, and New Orleans.
The new network will also draw from the 70 bureaus parent Al Jazeera operates globally.
Al Jazeera Media claimed an instant US foothold with its $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) purchase of Current TV and the cable distribution of that little-watched network. Al Jazeera America is also available from satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network.
Thanks to the deep pockets of its parent, the new network commands considerable resources with no urgent need to turn a profit, as evidenced by a stated policy to air just six minutes of commercials each hour, less than half the usual time devoted to advertising by most commercial networks.
The channel also has challenges ahead. It will have to win over viewers to the serious newscasting it promises to deliver, as well as overcome suspicion some Americans may feel for a news organisation controlled by a foreign government or even see as anti-American.
But Kate O’Brien, a former ABC News executive who is now president of Al Jazeera America, has voiced confidence in the new network, saying it’s something “the American people are looking for.”