Credit: Image courtesy of ajplus.net

Getting audiences involved and engaged in stories is at the very centre of AJ+, the new digital offering from Al Jazeera launched last September.

But instead of using a website, the "startup within the Al Jazeera network" publishes straight to specific platforms, making sure stories are specifically tailored to that space.

"It's not the same content, it's content unique to those places," said Jigar Mehta, head of engagement at AJ+, speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia yesterday.

Learning how to publish separately to social networks like Instagram, Medium, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, as well as iOS and Android apps, has not been an easy process. But AJ+ have started to develop key editorial production processes that they have found a continuing success.

Real time

Reacting quickly to breaking stories is important to any news organisation, and AJ+ teams aim to add context and conversation to a story rather than just piggy-backing on its popularity.

One example came in the shocking assault on Indian grandfather Sureshbhai Patel by a police officer in Madison County. Video footage from police dashboard cameras captured the events and AJ+ added text from the call and subsequent encounter to help viewers quickly understand the story.

Another example came when the assault of a woman in Kenya for wearing "indecent" clothing was captured on camera, immediately sparking the #MyDressMyChoice campaign. AJ+ producers posted the video across their platforms leading to huge levels of engagement around the topic, said Mehta.


"This section of AJ+ is primarily host-led and personality driven," said Mehta, combining pieces to camera, vox pops and animations to give background to relevant stories.

The important aspect of contextualising the news is that these pieces can be evergreen, he said, "so they can be resurfaced around topics rather than tied to particular events".

A piece asking "When is it ok for a police officer to use deadly force?" has been republished a depressing number of times in recent months as more unarmed black Americans are killed by police, and Mehta said the comments and conversations that arise are just as important as the story itself.

Mobile journalism

"We not only want to create content for the device but with the device," Mehta said, and as 2014 was "big for street movements" – in Ferguson, Hong Kong and Turkey – there was ample opportunity to test the possibilities of mobile journalism.

AJ+ journalists would tap into networks of freelancers and citizen journalists on the ground, "taking raw video from the streets and producing it" but also embedding with protest groups and filming their own footage.

The "power of constraint" is important in helping journalists explore new angles, he said, but also the fact that a mobile device will help reporters get the kind of access they would not be able to with bulkier, more noticeable equipment.

"Two reporters were [in Ferguson] three times in three months," he said. "They were able to understand the story and were deeply embedded in that and you can't put a value on that."


Short, 12-minute documentaries have come to play a prominent role in how AJ+ tells stories, producing 45 films in 28 countries with 39 film-makers since launch.

A documentary's popularity relies largely on an understanding of the audience though, said Mehta, in identifying who they are, what "power lines" are going to resonate most around a story and covering those angles well.


"I think we all understand the power of information-based jokes to bring in audiences," he said, and working with comedians and comedy writers to explore the angles is a new feature at AJ+.

The hilarious GreekStarter video, wryly encouraging viewers to crowdfund Greece out of its economic blackhole, has been a stand-out success but not every joke has got the laughs expected.

"It's really interesting to see what hits and what misses," he said, "so that's one of the things we're learning from as well."

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