All photos by Chantelle D’mello
In a new experiment, the Al Jazeera Media Network has opened a concept cafe at Katara Cultural Village.
The nearly two-decade-old network, which is funded largely by the Qatari government, has made plenty of waves for its coverage of global issues, but isn’t necessarily very accessible to people on its home turf.
In that regard, the restaurant, which held an opening ceremony last week following a soft launch in April, is attempting to “humanize” the news network to a local audience, officials said.
Speaking to Doha News over the weekend, manager of enterprise and merchandise Mohammed Al Rumaihi said:
“It’s a very interesting project for Al Jazeera. (We’re) known as a news channel, and news channels are usually (viewed) as being very serious. We wanted to reach out to our audience; we didn’t want to be the ‘typical’ channel who reaches out to its audience through social media or TV.
We wanted to have a direct physical interaction with our audience in a softer (environment). If people want to visit Al Jazeera, you need to get a permit…and a reason why you need to visit. It’s a long process that we want to cancel. We want people to come here and experience the news-making process and interact with our stars.”
The idea, he said, took about two years from concept to realization, and includes a full-fledged cafe, an interactive media studio, a live broadcast unit and a small museum exhibit.
The interactive media studio is one of the main highlights of the cafe, and includes an anchor desk, teleprompter and editing station, where cafe visitors can shoot and edit short videos of themselves reading the news, which can then be sent to their email.
In September, other components of the cafe like the broadcast studio and a glass-paned production gallery will be open and available for booking, and will be used to shoot live telecasts and shows.
Additionally, Al Jazeera anchors, media personalities and members of management are scheduled to hold meet-and-greet sessions at the cafe.
“It’s a cafe plus a media experience…People will be able to see how the producer interacts with the presenter, and how the presenters are off-air. (They) will be able to see the gallery, how the cameramen work, everything,” Al Rumaihi said.
History on display
Though officials stressed the accessibility of the cafe to the public, some patrons may balk at the pricing of the food items, which can add up to a bill of hundreds of riyals. The menu includes several healthy, organic options, some of which contain produce from some of Qatar’s own farms.
Customers can order beverages, meals and dessert via an iPad app, which also streams live broadcasts and news from Al Jazeera’s website.
News updates can be also be observed on a wall of framed flatscreens that stream the network’s television channels and digital ventures.
Meanwhile, the cafe’s atrium hosts several glass cabinets with network artifacts, including remnants of the Arabic channel’s Afghanistan bureau, which was hit by a missile.
There’s also a camera that filmed the channel’s first news telecast in 1996 and clothes worn by Sudanese journalist Sami Al Hajj, who was detained for six years at US prison Guantanamo Bay.
“We want to showcase our history. We’re a 19-year-old news channel. We’ve passed through several struggles…and have lost some of our own. This is our way of celebrating our key stars, who have made Al Jazeera successful by their sacrifice,” Al Rumaihi said.
Plans are underway to franchise the concept and create similar cafes in major cities around the world, including London.
The cafe is located in Building 4, behind the Qatar Society of Al Gannas, and is open from 8am to 11pm daily. Breakfast options are available from 8am to noon.