• A novel degree of access to the Al Jazeera news organization over a five year period

    • Provides a definitive account of Al Jazeera's globalization to the US through its English, America and AJ+ channels

    • Re-directs attention to the localized geographies of new media production, emphasizing the overlooked importance of place in the networked age.


In 2006, the Al Jazeera Media Network sought to penetrate the United States media sphere, the world's most influential national market for English language news. These unyielding ambitions surprised those who saw President Bush lambast it as "hateful propaganda" in his 2004 State of the Union address. The world watched skeptically yet curiously as Al Jazeera labored to establish a presence in the famously insular American market.

The network's decade-long struggle included both fleeting successes, like the sudden surge of popular interest during the Arab spring, as well as momentous failures. The April 2016 closure of its $2 billion Al Jazeera America channel was just one of a series of setbacks. An Unlikely Audience investigates the inner workings of a complex news organization fighting to overcome deep obstacles, foster strategic alliances and build its identity in a competitive news industry.

William Youmans argues counter-intuitively that making sense of Al Jazeera's tortured push into the United States as a national news market, actually requires a local lens. He reveals the network's appeal to American audiences by presenting its three independent US-facing subsidiaries in their primary locales of production: Al Jazeera English (AJE) in Washington, DC, Al Jazeera America (AJAM) in New York, and AJ+ in San Francisco. These cities are centers of vital industries in media-politics, commercial TV news and technology, respectively. As Youmans shows, the success of the outlets hinged on the locations in which they operated because Al Jazeera assimilated aspects of their core industries. An Unlikely Audience proves that place is critical to the evolution of multi-national media organizations, despite the rise of network technologies.

Mining data from over 50 interviews, internal documents, and original surveys, the book offers a brisk and authoritative account of the world's most recognizable media-brand and its decade-long ingress into the United States.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: The Obstacles to Al Jazeera in America

Chapter 2: From Media Capitals to Ports of Entry

Chapter 3: In the Beltway Before the Spring: The Rise of Al Jazeera English, Except in America

Chapter 4: Al Jazeera English's 'Moment' in the Media-Politics Capital, Washington, DC.

Chapter 5: Al Jazeera America: The Defunct New York City Broadcast Channel

Chapter 6: AJ+: Al Jazeera's Digital Start-up in San Francisco


Advance Praise for An Unlikely Audience

An Unlikely Audience makes a major contribution to global media studies. With its meticulous account of the rise and decline of Al Jazeera America, it focuses attention upon the centrality of an understanding of materiality, place and culture to transnational broadcasting, and the risks associated with overly focusing upon global technologies or cosmopolitan audiences.”

—Terry Flew, Professor of Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

“Al Jazeera has emerged in the past decade as an important player in the global news sphere. Yet despite its international profile, the network has not succeeded in the resolutely ethnocentric US television news arena. In this richly detailed and convincingly argued book, William Youmans provides the reasons for this failure. A commendable contribution to the literature on international journalism.”

—Daya Thussu, Professor of International Communication, University of Westminster, London

It is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book sellers. Listen to a half-hour WNYC radio interview about the book. Watch a presentation on C-SPAN 2's BOOKTV.