‘Arab Spring’: A Test for Journalism and the Rise of Al Jazeera in the West

middle east flags

Much of the attention of the world has been focused on the Middle East this spring between the riots, revolutions, and breaking news across the region. From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and most recently, the death of Osama bin Laden, important changes have been taking place in the Middle East that directly affect people all over the world.

While there’s been a lot of talk about how social media has been used to communicate information about these events, most of the world still looks to mainstream media sources for breaking news. The only problem with this is that most major news sources in the U.S. don’t have enough of a presence in Middle Eastern countries to get a full picture of what is happening on the ground. Fortunately, this is where the English version of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based world news network, has stepped in to fill the void. It’s pretty clear from the unique visitor graph below–showing the past 24 months–that seemingly for the first time, Americans were engaged with news from the Arabic world more than ever before, and were desperately seeking the most comprehensive coverage of the events available, namely from the English version of Al Jazeera.

uvs english al jazeera

As an embedded news source in the Middle East, Al Jazeera is able to give people all over the world the opportunity to watch events as they unfold, live and directly from the source. Most of the American media was caught off-guard by the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution and had no time to get reporters in the country. And while their efforts to cover the Egyptian protests were admirable and drastically improved–at least they had reporters in Cairo–they were still no match for the holistic coverage that Al Jazeera could offer.

You can get a clear picture of the significant daily events in the Arab world just by looking at the daily reach and attention charts for the English version of Al Jazeera and seeing where the spikes are.

daily reach english al jazeera

daily attention english al jazeera

Despite the drop in unique visitors for the month of March, it’s easy to see that Al Jazeera is continuing to reach a much larger American audience than ever. Another interesting way to visualize this is by looking at the monthly visits per person. We can see a drastic increase since January, and even when uniques declined in March, it seems the visitors they did have were more engaged, returning to the site more often for updates.

visits per person english al jazeeraFrom all this data, we’re left with some interesting questions about the future of Al Jazeera, at least as a source of news for mainstream America. Can Al Jazeera hold on to these added American visitors beyond the events of this spring? Will Al Jazeera’s American audience continue to grow as their reputation for informative journalism spreads or decline to previous levels? Or will their American audience level off and become another source for mainstream America to learn about all major world events? Let us know what you think in comments! Have you been following Al Jazeera this spring?

About Jared DeLuca:
Jared is currently the Associate Digital Marketing Manager at Compete (Millward Brown Digital). He is a graduate of Northeastern University, having achieved his B.A. in Communication Studies. If you like what you read, you can connect with him on Google+, Twitter, or on LinkedIn.