A month ahead of Al Jazeera America’s planned launch, the forthcoming international news channel is finally lining up its top executives.
Former ABC News senior vp Kate O’Brian has been tapped as president, while Ehab Al Shihabi, a five-year veteran of Al Jazeera, has been named interim CEO. Additionally, David Doss has been named senior vp for news programming; Marcy McGinnis has been appointed senior vp for news gathering; and Shannon High-Bassalik will serve as senior vp for documentaries and programs. The forthcoming news channel, funded by the Bedouin oil billionaires of Qatar, will bow Aug. 20, with a cadre of recognizable faces anchoring coverage, including Soledad O’Brien, Ali Velshi and Sheila MacVicar.
As president, O’Brian will be based at Al Jazeera America’s New York City headquarters and will have full responsibility for defining and implementing the editorial strategy and operations across the network. She joins the news channel after 30 years at ABC, where she has been in charge of the news division’s newsgathering since 2007.
“Kate’s arrival speaks volumes about what we intend to do and how we intend to do it. She is a highly experienced and award-winning journalist who fully understands what Americans want to see and hear when they watch the news,” acting director Dr. Mostefa Souag said in a statement announcing the news Monday. “Kate has the vision, tenacity and integrity to ensure that Al Jazeera America will quickly become the success we expect it to be.”
Added O’Brian: “Al Jazeera America will demonstrate that quality journalism is alive and well in the United States. Working alongside the talented journalists at ABC News has prepared me to take this step and I am deeply grateful for 30 years at that outstanding organization. As I bring everything I learned to this new role I’m looking forward to showing the Al Jazeera viewers that there is a strong demand for the type of in-depth reporting for which Al Jazeera is so well known.”
For his part, Al Shihabi will serve as CEO until further notice. In recent years, he has overseen the network’s more than 70 bureaus around the globe, active in such launches as Al Jazeera’s Balkan and Turkish channels. Both Doss and High-Bassalik join the channel from rival CNN, while McGinnis comes by way of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, where most recently she was associate dean. Prior to that, she spent more than three decades at CBS News, where she held several executive roles including senior vp news coverage.
As THR previously reported, the cable channel will enter the already crowded news landscape with one thing that its U.S competitors lack: benefactors with seemingly bottomless pockets who claim to be unconcerned about turning a profit. Al Jazeera Media Networks already spent more than half a billion dollars — sources tell THR that the number could be as high as $600 million — to purchase Current TV from Al Gore and his partners earlier this year. The pricey push continues as the net hires some 800 staffers across 12 bureaus in key cities around the country and puts the finishing touches on a 14,000-square-foot-plus headquarters.