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2016 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Newsroom winner

AJ+

Judges comments

This site has influenced the entire industry through the creation of what is known now as “social video.”

About the Project

AJ+ is Al Jazeera’s digital-only offshoot, launched in September 2014 to build a new kind of media outlet for people who don’t watch traditional news networks on TV. In a big bet on distributed content, AJ+ traded a website for an editorial strategy centered on building audiences directly on Facebook and other social media platforms by creating custom content for each social network.

AJ+ became one of the biggest video publishers on Facebook by creating custom videos optimized for the emerging video platform. Through the creation of brief, informative, compelling videos that use the eye candy of motion with concisely written captions to efficiently and effectively inform an audience, AJ+ videos were watched more than 2.2 billion times in 2015 for a total of 134 million engagements and a total reach of 7.4 billion for 2015.

In a time when many video news publishers use Facebook to repurpose TV footage or push their followers to their websites, AJ+ pursues a strategy that focuses on Facebook as its own product and makes custom content with an eye for what works on the platform. AJ+ purposely didn’t build out its own website, trying to find new users in their social streams instead. AJ+ engages with its audience of global-minded American millennia’s on Facebook by creating a wide range of high-quality journalism, from short animated explainers to live coverage of events and short documentaries that show a different perspective on world news.

AJ+ output, which is largely focused on social issues, is created with mobile Facebook newsfeed viewing in mind — which is to say short, shareable, and made so that it can be viewed with the sound off on a small screen. AJ+ specifically produces videos for Facebook to both find the right message for that audience and tweak the clips for their viewing behavior. That includes making videos work without sound, since Facebook automatically plays all videos muted. AJ+ clips often take striking images and combine them with short captions that provoke thoughtful engagement with viewers.

AJ+ often tells great human stories from all walks of lives. Its extensive network of video journalism enables AJ+ to cover stories of people who are making positive changes to their communities all over the world. “Ghana’s Eco-Friendly Bamboo Bikes” and “Japanese Students Clean Classrooms to Learn Life Skills” are two examples of such uplifting stories.

For its recent coverage of the Cop21 Climate Conference in Paris, AJ+ created news updates, animated explainers, and even sent a deployment team that took advantage of the new Facebook Live feature in an unprecedented way. These broadcasts told the human stories of the events that played out in Paris and enabled conversations between live viewers from around the world. Viewers were able to actively learn about the conference by watching on Facebook Live while AJ+ reporters on the ground interviewed protestors at the conference.

Since its official launch in 2014, AJ+ has grown its audience from scratch to over 4.6 million fans on Facebook. AJ+ videos regularly reach far beyond their core audience due to the emotional resonance they have with their audience. AJ+ videos received over 2.2 billion views, 134 million engagements, and a total reach of 7.4 billion in 2015. The reception to AJ+ content has been so strong on Facebook that AJ+ has recently expanded to AJ+ Español and AJ+ Arabic, which are quickly growing engaged fan bases as well.