through some twitter magic, i was able to make an unplanned visit to Al Jazeera. truth be told, this was one of the main draws of Doha for me, although when i was planning this trip i didn’t think i could make a visit happen so it got filed in the “oh well, it wasn’t meant to be” bin.
cut to yesterday morning. a twitter friend and i were discussing something i was wondering about and he suggested i ask his relative who lives here. who just so happens to work at Al Jazeera English! i got in touch with him and we got to talking and he asked if there was anything he could help me with sightseeing-wise and…
Oh, and if you wanna see Al Jazeera, let me know. That’s easy to arrange.
whaaaa?! i tried to contain my excitement but jumped at the chance. it took a while for my guest pass to be processed (about a day), so i was over at Mathaf (the Arab modern art museum) this morning when i got notified that it was ready. didn’t matter that i paid for a cab ride out to the (relative) boonies where the museum is located, or admission to (a very cool) exhibit — i went straight to the front desk to have them call for a car.
sidebar: getting around Doha
you do that a lot here, either you call or a friend calls or someone calls for a car. hailing a cab in many locations is an exercise in futility. it’s best if you have the number of a reputable private car company because otherwise it might take four hours for the official cab company [warning, sound] to come get you, which was what they quoted as the wait time for a ride back to the hotel after i was done with Al Jazeera — luckily my inside man called someone who was able to be there in 10 minutes.
i was told to give the car driver the following destination: “Al Jazeera TV at the TV Roundabout” (there don’t seem to be well-defined addresses in Doha — everything is referred to by intersection or landmark — like, i always tell cab drivers my hotel is at the Electricity Intersection at one corner of the Msheireb site).
the TV Roundabout! Al Jazeera TV! i was imagining some sort of tall 30 Rock-ish skyscraper in the urban jungle of the West Bay. but no. it looked more like…well, a compound. no flashy gleaming tower or visitor center (you can’t just pay them a visit), just a huddle of utilitarian buildings and a parking lot. yep, from these humble, low-slung, slightly worn exteriors comes Al Jazeera. unfortunately i couldn’t take pictures (my camera was confiscated at the security checkpoint) and i didn’t want to whip out my phone lest i get myself or my host into trouble.
there are two main buildings, one for the Arabic-language station and one for the English. my host gave me a great tour of both. it’s actually really casual in there: no visitor badges or tons of security and actually, the headcount was a lot smaller than i expected. it seemed like everybody knew everybody, quite a nice atmosphere. (this is my opinion as an outsider looking in; could be very different as an employee!) we just walked around and popped into different sections, including the newsrooms on both sides and the control room on the Arabic side (maybe it was just me, but you could feel the stress/energy in there — the only place where it was really palpable). someone posted a picture of the English newsroom to wikipedia, if you’re interested. i’ve always wondered how the anchor could be in the same room as people who are on the phone with newswires trying to nail down a story and typing away at their computers, but as long as you use a soft inside voice, you’re totally ok! (some employees left a meeting room using their loud inside voices and the anchor — i think it was David Frost(!) — yelled at them when he wasn’t on the air hehe.)
i’m totally grateful i was able to get a tour of one of the big international news channels — big thanks to my host (who i don’t want to name so people don’t bother him). this totally made my trip!