Al Jazeera: the model of news media 2.0

Since the terrorist attack of September 11th, Al Jazeera has been growing as one of the biggest news channels worldwide. It has become especially important when looking for political or war news coming from the Middle East and Arab countries. Other than being the alternative to mainstream news providers such as CNN by positioning themselves as a media free from economical and political influences from the US and other Western countries, the success of Al Jazeera in English is largely based on the use of technologies and web 2.0.
I though it would be interesting to compare the two media (Al Jazeera and CNN) to see the differences on how they are adapting their online channels to the new social web environment, and why Al Jazeera is winning this race.
Websites’ Homepage The homepage (http://english.aljazeera.net/) shows a perfect understanding of what users want in a website: constantly updated multimedia information. Rather than long text menus or big paragraphs, Al Jazeera focuses on images and video, including a live stream channel in a central position of the layout (top-right).

Meanwhile, cnn.com is filled with text titles and links that make the website harder to read at first glance because of smaller fonts and over-drowsed information. Even though there is a main part dedicated to video news, there isn’t a live streaming channel. Funny fact: Where Al Jazzera places their live streaming player, CNN displays an ad.

But to be honest, this isn’t a fair comparison. According to Wikipedia, CNN launched its website back in 1995, while Al Jazeera English wasn’t born until 2006. Those eleven years can make a huge difference in planning the layout and the strategy of a mass media, and the only fair reading we can really do is that Al Jazeera did a great job five years ago, while CNN has been riding the bullet of online breaking news for more than a decade.

So let’s look at something they both started with around the same time…

Web 2.0

On Al Jazeera’s website it’s really easy to find links to their Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as links to syndicated content, podcasts or blogs. Again, big icons and open space make a big difference. On CNN’s website, it looks like they knew they should have links to web 2.0 channels, but they used small images as if they weren’t aware of how important it is.

While reading articles on Al Jazeera’s website it’s difficult to miss the buttons to share it by e-mail or social networks, whether the content is text or multimedia. There is even a button to “send feedback” to the website, which I find really interesting and makes me wonder what kind of feedback they get. In CNN’s articles there are less sharing options, and what I find worst is that multimedia content is missing sharing buttons… Don’t they want users to tweet the link to their videos? The “Recommend” Facebook button really isn’t enough!

As for the comments, CNN has a very restrictive policy: even though most articles are open to comments, you have to register in CNN’s website to post your opinion. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, seems to only allow comments on blogs posts but not on news articles, although you can use your own profiles from various networks (Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, OpenID…). Personally I find both strategies quite annoying. I believe every content in a news media website should be open to comments from readers, and not only should you be able to post using your different profiles but also by writing your name/url, since it’s the fastest way and the only option which doesn’t give any problems (because it doesn’t have to connect or synchronize to anything).

The cherry on top of the cake for Al Jazeera was releasing their coverage of the revolution in Egypt (videos and photographs) under a Creative Commons license, reaching a greater public through traditional offline media as well as Internet users. If web 2.0 is about sharing, Al Jazeera definitely takes advantage of that.

Social Media

Finally, lets analyze how both are using social media. I focus on Twitter because there are plenty of free tools for analyzing purposes, and also because I find Twitter is currently the best social media for news publishers. Note that all this data were taken on February 25th 2011, and I’m only considering the corporate account and not considering the journalists using Twitter for each media.

In terms of followers/fans, Al Jazeera is not as big as CNN (around 240,800 people follow @ajenglish, with over 1,650,000 users following @CNN), thus it’s easy to assume that @CNN will reach more people. But a slightly deeper analysis of the two accounts gives us a completely different picture. It looks like CNN is just bigger as a brand, but isn’t actually doing a better job on Twitter:

  • Looking at the number of tweets, it seems CNN’s community manager team has been a bit lazy: while both Twitter accounts were created in spring 2007 (@CNN in February, @ajenglish in April), Al Jazeera English has posted more than 31.000 tweets, while CNN doesn’t even reach 20.000.
  • According to Twitalyzer.com, @CNN gets a 77% “impact score”. @ajenglish, with seven times less followers, has an “impact score” of 67.3% and growing, only 10% below CNN’s score.
But if there is something that really shows how well Al Jazeera understands social media, that is their use of promoted tweets for the searches #egypt, #iran, #yemen, #algeria and other hashtags related to the events in the North African and Arab countries:
Screenshot of Al Jazeera’s promoted tweet for the search #egypt back in February 1st.
The days of the revolution in Egypt until Mubarak finally left, updates for the searches #egypt and #jan25 were so fast that it was literally impossible to read the tweets as they where coming in, so the posts got lost in the vast amount of comments. It may have happened the same at any moment searching for any of the other countries mentioned before. Thanks to the promoted tweets, the first result in the search wass ALWAYS an Al Jazeera’s post linking to their live stream channel to follow ”the latest developments”, or to the latest news concerning each country. This promoted tweet represents the model of web 2.0 advertising:
  • Perfect target group: People interested in what is going on in the countries that are living social revolutions at the moment.
  • Perfect timing: People interested at this very moment in what is going on in these countries right now.
  • 100% relevance: The link to a live stream is more than interesting for people searching for live information via Twitter.
  • Viral message: People not only retweet Al Jazeera’s tweets, but also post the link on their Facebook profiles or write comments on Twitter about what they are watching on the live stream or reading on Al Jazeera’s website.

I think in the future news media in the Internet will look more like Al Jazeera English does than like CNN. Not only the development of better and faster Internet connections, but also the penetration of gadgets as tablets or smartphones, define a need for information that is easily read and understood, and multimedia is definitely going to be more important for users. As they say, an image is worth a thousand words, and it’s worth even more when it has been shared by a friend.

4 thoughts on “Al Jazeera: the model of news media 2.0”

  1. @Isa: Gracias por el enlace😉 Sería muy interesante ver la verdadera relación entre el gobierno de Qatar y Al Jazeera, pero sea cual sea esa relación desde luego el negocio de la información lo tienen muy dominado.

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