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The hiring spree of media companies targeting millennials continues: Al Jazeera’s new mobile-centric AJ+ venture just hired digital journalism heavyweight David Cohn, who had been Circa’s Chief Content Officer ever since the launch of the news app a little over two years ago. The hire is a big get for AJ+, which itself just launched its app a month ago, and comes just days after millennial-focused cable outlet Fusion nabbed Alexis Madrigal away from the Atlantic.
Cohn left Circa in early October, and word at the time was only that he had taken “a job at a broadcast network.” That’s true — but not really: AJ+ is part of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera media network, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do with traditional TV news. AJ+ launched an iPhone app in September that comes with a cards-based UI, and mixes infographics, explanatory video reporting, news quizzes and audience engagement. It’s an attempt to grab the attention of a user base that’s more comfortable with Facebook, Instagram and Vine than with CNN, MSNBC and Al Jazeera’s own U.S. cable network.
Cohn, whose official job title at AJ+ is Executive Producer, told me Friday that taking Al Jazeera beyond broadcast was exactly what excited him about the job. “Broadcast TV does not have to compete with the web today,” Cohn said, arguing that millions of people still get their news from local broadcast affiliates. He continued: “But they will eventually.” Cohn went on to say that cord cutters and young audiences that eschew traditional TV are “not an outlier” but “a growing trend.”
AJ+ is definitely one of the bolder attempts to reinvent the news for a mobile-centric audience, and Cohn seems to be a pretty good fit: Circa has already been experimenting with a more modular approach to news, delivering short updates to a news story, but also letting people follow topics to dive deep over time, something my colleague Mathew Ingram recently called “one of the first real attempts to rethink and/or innovate around how we consume news.” AJ+ is building on some of those same ideas with its stacks of cards around topics, and Cohn acknowledged that there are some parallels between the two apps: “There is some similarities in the idea that stories live on,” he said.
However, the audiences targeted by both apps are very different, and Cohn also said that Circa was more focused on breaking news, whereas AJ+ focuses more on understanding the underlying subjects. “There is similarities, but the tone is very different,” he added.
Cohn’s hire comes just days after Fusion, another cable network that is looking to target millennials that may not actually watch all that much cable TV, hired the Atlantic’s deputy editor Alexis Madrigal, which was just the latest of a string of high-profile hires for Fusion. If nothing more, the hires show that some broadcasters are willing to spend serious money to prepare themselves for a digital future.
This story was corrected at 1:44pm. A previous version of this story identified Cohn as Chief Product Officer of Circa, whereas his actual job title was Chief Content Officer.