(Poster by Matt Jones on my office wall)
After 7.5 years at Al Jazeera, I’ve decided to move on to explore further opportunities. Having worked at the intersection of media, technology and entrepreneurship, I’m interested in exploiting the structural changes in the media industry to build solutions at internet scale.
My time at Al Jazeera has been nothing short of epic. Together with many co-conspirators, we’ve accomplished much. As the Head of Online at Al Jazeera English for the past three years I’ve led the team that produced the award winning coverage of the Arab revolutions in 2011. Prior to that I founded the New Media group at Al Jazeera, which built some of the most innovative products in the space.
Arriving in Doha in 2004 I started banging on doors talking about how blogging and online video was going to change the way we do journalism. I had the naivety of someone who had not worked in the media industry but the determination of someone who had been building stuff online for over a decade.
It was out of this that Al Jazeera’s New Media group was born. I recruited and led a scrappy group of geeks who started building and playing with tools and techniques that are now commonplace in the industry. We were contrarian in our outlook – while other media companies were suing YouTube, we were uploading everything. We built mobile reporting toolkits for our journalists years before the iPhone was released. We instinctively started using Facebook and Twitter as a means to connect and converse with our audience. And we became the first broadcaster to launch a Creative Commons repository using the most permissive license.
It is hard to think of a more exciting job in the media industry than leading a New Media group that was free to build, deploy and iterate constantly. I was offered just such a position in 2009 when I was asked to run online for Al Jazeera English. We were a young channel that was producing exceptional journalism but did not have the quantity of viewership to match the quality of our product.
I took over a website with a remarkable group of journalists and editors. Since 2009 my team has constantly impressed me with their dedication and commitment to our audience, always putting them at the heart of what we do.
It would not be an overstatement to say that since then, we have moved from a fledgling news website to a major online player. The Online News Association recognized us for General Excellence in Online Journalism for a Large News website and judged that we provided the best breaking news coverage of 2011.
Our audience during the last year grew at a ridiculous rate. Through this time we’ve built up a sizable audience in America, with at least 40% of our traffic US based. According to my friends at Chartbeat, for a point in time during the Egyptian revolution we were the most important news website in the world.
Over the last three years we’ve dramatically increased the number of online journalists we deploy into the field, built a new opinion section that featured world-class analysis and comment, introduced open source technology, pioneered new forms of micro-journalism through always-on liveblogs and brought social media into the heart of our journalism. Most importantly, we covered the stories that mattered.
I cannot think of a more exciting place to have spent the last seven years. We operated with the swagger of a startup and built something that millions of people have come to rely on.
Now its time for me to move on to build the next big thing. Follow me on Twitter and you’ll be the first to know the details.