Al Jazeera Reporter Visits FSSA Journalists
UN award-winning journalist and Al Jazeera reporter Kristen Saloomey visited FSSA last Wednesday, to speak with senior journalism students on her profession, and the subject of news as a whole. However, it did not take long for the conversation to veer into the battle over “fake news.”
Al Jazeera, a Qatari-funded news source, based in the Middle East has not been exempt from controversy. Despite Al Jazeera’s frequent assertions of its editorial independence, the broadcaster has oft been criticized for political bias, a liberal-leaning agenda, and allegedly being Qatari state TV. Ms. Saloomey, a mild-mannered and eloquent speaker, was quick to quell any sense of distrust in the room.
“I would just tell people to watch our product,” said Ms. Saloomey, in response to Al Jazeera’s allegedly anti-American stance. She went on to note that the news source has won the trust and respect of the journalism community, winning numerous awards, regardless of the hostile attitude that some detractors have labeled the station with.
Still, she acknowledged that as a foreign news source, they have been known to offer different perspectives on topics than the U.S. media does. She noted, for example, that Al Jazeera was uniquely willing to show the effects of American actions on Middle Eastern people.
It was Al Jazeera’s willingness to show footage like that, however, on top of being the first network to air tapes of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin-Laden, that first mired the broadcaster in controversy. It became caught in the crossroads between a liberal-minded niche that valued the fresh perspective Al Jazeera had to offer on timely topics, and a more old-fashioned patriotic crowd that chose to abandon trust in the network.
Indeed, the distrust of media that has recently plagued the American public, became a prevalent topic in Ms. Saloomey’s conversation. She acknowledged that in this new era of media, political bias is unfortunately abundant in almost every single news source. That should not be a reason to despair however, as, even if a journalist is skewed in her writings, it does not mean she is disreputable.
Ms. Saloomey singled out The New York Times as an example of a print publication that has come under fire by President Trump and his Republican cohorts for being a significantly left-leaning source. And while in some respect it is true that the paper contains a Democratically-leaning bias, Ms. Saloomey was quick to point out that there is a fine line between editorial impartiality, and all-out fake news.
“[The New York Times] has more resources, and more history, and more vetting than probably any other publication in the world,” said Ms. Saloomey.
Papers such as The New York Times however, can often get lost in this day and age, amid the heap of much more accessible 24-hour cable news shows, and even more recently, news via social media. Despite this, Ms. Saloomey was clear in pointing out the chief importance of print publications against the digital jungleland that has engulfed them in 21st century society.
“They go for ratings. Their format is to put the right against the left, and they yell at each other, and they don’t talk to a lot of real people about how the issues affect them,” Ms. Saloomey decried when speaking of cable news networks such as CNN or Fox.
Still, despite this volatile atmosphere that has bedeviled modern media, Ms. Saloomey manages to remain hopeful. She cited a recent statistic that has revealed that a greater percentage of Americans have begun to trust the media, and looked to the roomful of young, aspiring journalists before her as a cause for reassurance. And she left them with some wise words to meditate on- the importance of actually talking to people.
“[Some] people write stories without ever leaving their desk. It’s really different if you meet people up front and you find out that, if you meet them in person and appreciate it, there’s a lot more nuance,” she said.
It seems that this notion has been at the heart of all of Kristen Saloomey’s journalistic efforts. Cut past the usual bitterness and banter. Offer different perspectives from people who are actually affected by the issues. And never, ever forget about the importance of the human connection.
Kristen Saloomey is a New York-based correspondent for Al Jazeera who has been honored by the United Nations Foundation for her investigative work. She has been writing for Al Jazeera’s American branch for nearly 12 years, starting back in February of 2007. She was given an award from the United Nations Foundation for her outstanding investigative work on Haiti.
– by Alec Inagamov ’20