For days now, I’ve spent every spare minute glued to just about every media source I can find, looking for the latest news from Egypt. It’s an amazing story, and it’s no real surprise that the Arabic TV network Al Jazeera has been all over it from day one. Unlike most Americans, I can actually watch Al Jazeera English on TV–Comcast carries it in the DC area. My guess is that many more people have been watching the live stream online. As Howard Kurtz wrote in the Daily Beast, “this is unquestionably Al Jazeera’s moment.”
Lest anyone doubt that, the Egyptian government did its part to confirm it. Officials closed down the network’s offices, and arrested six Al Jazeera English correspondents. Their equipment was confiscated before they were released.
American viewers who didn’t have access to Al Jazeera on cable or online still benefited from their coverage. The network released its content for use by all comers through a Creative Commons license, so the pictures were on just about every channel.
The broadcast TV networks were behind the curve on this story and it’s taken them a while to catch up. None of the broadcast networks has a single correspondent based in Egypt. When NBC’s Richard Engel tweeted on Thursday afternoon that he had landed in Cairo, CNN’s Ben Wedeman shot back, “What took you so long?” ABC’s Christiane Amanpour arrived on Saturday. Tonight, NBC’s Brian Williams anchored from Cairo and CBS’s Katie Couric tweeted that she’s on her way there.
Network coverage wasn’t just hampered by staffing alone. There was a little matter of news judgment to contend with, too. While NBC and ABC led their morning newscasts on Friday with Egypt, CBS led with the weather. Snow in January in the United States trumped one of the biggest international stories in years. Seriously?
Seven days into the crisis, the TV networks are on top of the story. How can you tell? They’ve all given their coverage a name. On CBS, it’s Egypt in Crisis. On ABC, Crisis in Egypt. And NBC chose the alliterative Rage & Revolution. That means it’s a big story, now, right? Al Jazeera knew it all along.