ABC News Veteran Kate O’Brian Named President of Al Jazeera America

By Alex Weprin 

Al Jazeera America has filled one of the top two roles at the channel, as it adds ABC News veteran Kate O’Brian as its president. In her new role O’Brian will be responsible for leading AJAM’s newsgathering and programming. Even without a president, the channel has been staffing up and slating programs, so O’Brian will be joining a channel in progress.

AJAM is also on the market for a CEO, who will lead the channel’s business affairs. For the moment, the channel’s interim leader Ehab El-Shihabi will serve as CEO of AJAM. O’Brian will report to Al-Shihabi, and will eventually report to whomever gets the role full-time.

O’Brian’s hire was first reported by Brian Stelter in the NY Times.


AJAM also named CNN veteran David Doss senior VP for news programming, CBS News veteran Marcy McGinnis senior VP of newsgathering, and MSNBC veteran Shannon High-Bassalik as senior VP of documentaries and programs.

“While we will miss Kate’s insights, judgment and humor, we know that she is stepping into an important role and we wish her very best with this new challenge,” ABC News Ben Sherwood wrote in an email to ABC News staff today.

As TVNewser reported earlier this month, the channel will launch on August 20.

Sherwood’s note, and AJAM’s announcement, below.

Al Jazeera America Names Its Interim CEO, President, And Senior Editorial Leadership

Ehab Al Shihabi and Kate O’Brian Will Provide Strong Leadership to New U.S. Cable News Channel
Along With SVPs David Doss, Marcy McGinness and Shannon High-Bassalik

New York (July 22, 2013) – The Acting Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr. Mostefa Souag, announced today that Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director for international operations, has been named (till further notice) as an interim chief executive officer of Al Jazeera America, and ABC News veteran Kate O’Brian has been named its president. Dr. Souag also announced that the groundbreaking American news channel is scheduled to launch on August 20, 2013.

In addition, David Doss has been named senior vice president for news programming; Marcy McGinnis has been appointed senior vice-president, newsgathering; and Shannon High-Bassalik will serve as senior vice-president, documentaries and programs.

Al Shihabi, one of the network’s leading American senior executives, has effectively participated in and been in charge of developing Al Jazeera America. Al Jazeera America will be headquartered in New York City and have 12 bureaus in key cities around the U.S.

Al Shihabi is a five-year veteran of Al Jazeera who has overseen the network’s more than 70 bureaus around the globe – the largest footprint of any news gathering organization in the world. In addition to Al Jazeera America, he has participated in the creation and launch of Al Jazeera’s Balkans and Al Jazeera’s Turkish channels.

Prior to his joining Al Jazeera, Al Shihabi spent 12 years as a senior management consultant at Arthur Andersen, Andersen Consulting and Deloitte. Al Shihabi holds an M.A. in Leadership from Georgetown University.

O’Brian is joining Al Jazeera from ABC News where she was senior vice-president for news. Since 2007, O’Brian has been responsible for all ABC News’ newsgathering operations, including all ABC News bureaus worldwide, business, law and justice, medical, and investigative units, NewsOne, ABC News Radio and affiliate relations.

A 30-year ABC News veteran, O’Brian has won an Alfred I. duPont Award as part of the “This Week with David Brinkley” team, an Emmy Award for the 2000 Millennium coverage, and Alfred I. duPont and a Peabody Award for September 11 coverage.

As president, O’Brian will be based at Al Jazeera America’s headquarters in New York City and will have full responsibility for defining and implementing the editorial strategy and operations across the network, including news, documentary and all other programming.

Acting Director General Souag stated, “We are delighted that Kate O’Brian will be joining Al Jazeera America as president. Kate’s arrival speaks volumes about what we intend to do and how we intend to do it. She is a highly experienced and award-winning journalist who fully understands what Americans want to see and hear when they watch the news. Kate has the vision, tenacity and integrity to ensure that Al Jazeera America will quickly become the success we expect it to be.”

O’Brian’s journalism career is both long and storied. She began as a television desk assistant in New York and then joined the staff of “This Week with David Brinkley” when it launched in 1981. O’Brian has also been general manager of programming for ABC News Radio responsible for editorial content; overseas field producer in Rome and London; producer for “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings,” both in Washington DC and New York; and manager in talent development.

O’Brian said that the chance to lead Al Jazeera America’s news and editorial efforts was an incredible opportunity. “Al Jazeera America will demonstrate that quality journalism is alive and well in the United States,” she said. “Working alongside the talented journalists at ABC News has prepared me to take this step and I am deeply grateful for thirty years at that outstanding organization. As I bring everything I learned to this new role I’m looking forward to showing the Al Jazeera viewers that there is a strong demand for the type of in depth reporting for which Al Jazeera is so well known.”

Senior Vice President David Doss, who will also be based in New York City, comes to Al Jazeera America from CNN where he was senior executive producer for “Anderson Cooper 360.” He was also an executive producer for both ABC and NBC News. His work has been recognized by the journalism profession for its excellence including 14 national Emmy Awards, 1 national sports Emmy, 3 George Foster Peabody Awards, 2 Alfred I. dupont Awards, and 1 George Polk Award.

Doss said that AL Jazeera America will provide him with the opportunity that every serious journalist looks for. “It’s impossible not be impressed by the journalistic standards Al Jazeera demands of its reporters and producers,” he said. “We will report the news that isn’t seen every night elsewhere and will do it with strict adherence to the principles that have won Al Jazeera so many awards from the profession. I joined Al Jazeera America to be part of that culture.”

Senior Vice-President Marcy McGinnis, who will be based in New York City, was most recently associate dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Prior to Stony Brook, she spent more than three decades at CBS News where she held several executive roles including senior vice president of news coverage. McGinnis was at the helm of the CBS newsgathering operation during coverage of 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, and Hurricane Katrina. She was one of the primary architects of CBS News’ award-winning coverage of the war in Iraq.

McGinnis also served as London bureau chief for CBS News, where she managed the channel’s day-to-day newsgathering and news coverage in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. She received three Emmy Awards for coverage of the death of Princess Diana. Before she was assigned to London, McGinnis held a variety of producer positions with CBS News including executive producer.

“I am very excited to be part of the Al Jazeera America team,” McGinnis said. “My many years of network news experience will help make sure that our news, documentaries, and investigative reports maintain Al Jazeera’s already high standards and bring Americans the news and information that really matters to them. This is what you live for as a journalist.”

Senior Vice-President Shannon High-Bassalik, who will also be based in New York City, is coming to Al Jazeera America from CNN. Before joining CNN, Shannon was executive producer of development for NBC Peacock Productions, vice president of daytime program development and several other senior positions at MSNBC, and held senior news positions at local stations around the United States.

High-Bassalik has won numerous awards for her work including a National Murrow Award for breaking news; multiple regional Murrow Awards for best newscast, breaking news, and feature news; and a regional Emmy Award for investigative journalism.

High-Bassalik said that working with Al Jazeera America means that she will be able to use the experience she has gained during her career to report the news that currently is not being broadcast. “I know from my work in local and national cable news that many important stories are going unreported,” she said. “Al Jazeera America’s commitment to reporting those stories is one of the most important reasons I was so interested in joining the team.”

Sherwood’s memo:

I’m writing with exciting and bittersweet news: Kate O’Brian, our good friend and colleague, is leaving ABC News to become President of Al Jazeera America, the new cable network launching next month.

More than 30 years ago Kate started at ABC News as a 20/20 intern, and her career has taken her from This Week with David Brinkley to World News and from London to Atlanta and around the world.

For many years Kate served as the VP running NewsOne, and her leadership helpedexpand the relationships between ABC News and the affiliates, a vital resource for our newsgathering operations.

In 2007, Kate was named senior vice president for News, overseeing our global newsgathering operations, including the Washington Bureau, NewsOne, ABC News Radio and affiliate relations. Kate, along with many of our talented colleagues, managed every imaginable story – and many unimaginable – including the Gabby Giffords shooting, the Arab Spring, the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Aurora shooting, Superstorm Sandy and the tragic events in Newtown.

Kate has won every important award for excellence in journalism. Among them, an Alfred I. DuPont Award as part of the This Week team, an Emmy Award for the 2000 Millennium coverage and a second Alfred I. DuPont and a Peabody Award for 9/11 coverage. Kate was particularly proud when the newsgathering team andentire division were recognized over the past year with the Peabody award for Superstorm Sandy coverage and the Edward R. Murrow award for coverage of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Kate has been a mentor and role model to scores of young people across the news division. On a personal level, I’m deeply grateful to her for helping steer the division through the complex transitions of the last several years. And I will miss the sound of her voice, urgent and measured, calling in the middle of the night, when news is breaking somewhere around the world. In moments of crisis and every day, two principles always guide her: The safety of our people and the excellence of our work.

While we will miss Kate’s insights, judgment and humor, we know that she is stepping into an important role and we wish her very best with this new challenge.

David Reiter and Jon Williams will continue to oversee domestic and foreign coverage reporting directly to me.

We will let you know soon when plans are made to celebrate our dear friend.

In the meantime, please join me in thanking Kate for more than 30 years of contributions to ABC News. And let’s all congratulate Kate on her new presidency.