Al Jazeera America is closing its doors, CEO Al Anstey told staffers on Wednesday in an all-hands meeting. The small broadcast channel, which has operated on the periphery of U.S. broadcast media since opening up in 2013, will cease to exist on April 30.
"[O]ur business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the U.S. media marketplace," Anstey said in a memo circulated to staff. “The decision that has been made is in no way because AJAM has done anything but a great job. Our commitment to great journalism is unrivaled.”
It's a harsh blow to a staff that only months ago had declared victory over an unsympathetic management that refused to voluntarily recognize a union of its digital employees. Organizers at AJAM kick-started an election administered by the National Labor Relations Board and won with an overwhelmingly majority. “Every employee in the office I work in put a ballot in,” said National Editor Gregg Levine.
Levine, among others, told International Business Times that the union fight was another example of the dysfunction coming from the top of the company. “You’d think that Al Jazeera America management would understand where the 21st century is going. But instead they chose to behave in the way they have behaved in general, which was what made it really easy to organize in the first place.”
“They don’t give you a straight answer, they delay and defer, pretend it’s somebody else’s decision,” he added.
Winning the vote wasn't enough; the company's management then attempted to chop down the size of the bargaining unit by nine people and disputed who qualified as management and who did not.
Unlike its contemporaries that voluntarily recognized their union drives, Al Jazeera's management dialed up the services of DLA Piper Global Law Firm, which self-advertises as a union busting firm. After IBT reported that management had refused to recognize the union voluntarily, a spokesperson for AJAM said that the company was hosting an "ongoing conversation" with staffers about their union drive.
On that front, it remains unclear whether all AJAM, bankrolled by the Qatari royal family, will retain any of its employees as the mothership promises to expand its digital operations in the US. Politico reported that the company is doling out separation packages allowing for 90 days on payroll with benefits.
The announcement, first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by IBT by employees within the company, comes only days after a blockbuster story by AJAM alleging that Denver Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning, along with other NFL stars, was entangled with doping. Despite the pushback from Manning, the NFL and various critics, if the story proved to pan out, it might have been the scoop to finally put AJAM on the map.