It’s monumental that for the first time in history, a cable news channel has launched solely focused on reaching Black people. Regardless of your personal beliefs or politics, it is trivial and remedial to think that Black Americans are monolithic, but a network seemingly focused on telling our stories, speaking to our experience and channeling Black energy has never been more needed. After following the news of the network launching for the last several months, seemingly in tandem with the launch of our own (non-affiliated) network, I decided to take a deeper look into the launch and who was behind it.
On the surface, the Black News Channel (BNC) looks to be a welcome addition and needed change to the cable news landscape, which was initially spearheaded by Ted Turner in 1980 with the creation of CNN. Today, Fox News leads the industry with viewership that topples any competitor. While opinion journalists have become the face of the Fox News Network, it’s often criticized for it’s right-leaning rhetoric and alternative facts presented as factual news by it’s hosts. Until 2017, the network even used the motto ‘Fair and Balanced’, which was likely dropped due to the staunch support of Donald Trump. Noting the statistics, reach and success of Fox News is important, because culturally, it’s never connected with Black viewers. Enter Black News Channel.
The founder of BNC, J.C. Watts, is a former Canadian Football League player and Republican Congressman. Fox News reports that Watts has been working on the channel for over a decade and has even attempted two other false starts (Nov 15th 2019 and January 6th 2020). In an interview with Fox News, Watts said “I have traveled around the country participating in interviews, serving on panel discussions, and sharing BNC’s mission and commitment to telling a more complete story of the African American community. There is growing interest and anticipation about the Black News Channel, as well as a palpable level of excitement about our launch.” I believe this is true. The BNC website says, ‘Black News Channel will offer original programming “created by people of color for people of color.”‘ Initially, the channel will be available to nearly 100 million homes through Spectrum, Xfnity X1 and Dish, with plans to add Sling, Vizio Smart TVS, Xumo and Roku. Comcast and Dish describe their offering of BNC as a “subscription video-on-demand service.” Sounds exhilarating.
Digging a little deeper, there were a few things that raised my left eyebrow-then, my right one. Who else is leading this network? Is this the answer we’ve been looking for, after BET, the ‘premiere’ network for Black people has been hijacked by “Martin” repeats and every “Madea” movie known to man? Where has our collective voice been in the newsphere? I’ve had this conversation many times within my circle and hoped that I’d find solace with BNC. I’m not so sure.
While I have no issues with white men in senior or key leadership positions, mostly because it’s been the norm since the inception of this nation, I have serious questions about launching anything Black in the honorable year of our Lord 2020 with white people in the most senior roles. While there are sprinkles of Black male faces in the senior leadership team, who wouldn’t question a Black republican co-founder and two white males at the helm of a new network poised and positioned to tell the “true Black story?” Bob Brillante, CEO and co-founder, is a media veteran from Florida who partnered with Watts to create this venture. The Chief Operating Officer, Jim Zerwekh, is also a media veteran with over 25 years of industry experience.
I am a realist. When launching a new venture of this magnitude, I imagine you’d be looking for the best, regardless of skin color or political affiliation. In that same vein of realism, in such a divided time, when creating a venture targeted at a specific group of people, that have not only been marginalized by a nation but often disparaged and disrespected in media coverage, how important are optics? I’ve shared news of this network many times, prior to it’s launch, with my circles, both personal and professional. Each time, I watched eyes illuminate with hope and excitement, until I subsequently shared the leadership team.
Have we been had? Was no one else available? Where are the Black people and why are we seemingly invisible?
“The launch of Black News Channel will be not only historic, but also transformational,” CEO and co-founder Bob Brillante said. “We will shed more light on the stories that demonstrate our commonality, rather than those that highlight our differences.”
It’s fair to say that I am not even on the fence about my feelings. I know that after peeling back just the first layer, I don’t trust this. I could also be wrong. There is an abundance of Black talent and skill within the Black community that could’ve aided this venture, if the point of it was to truly inform and uplift. Any wise Black advisor would’ve made it clear to the board or leadership that optics matter. Being Black and proud is not divisive, it’s necessary. It is in fact, very white, to focus on our ‘commonality’ while so many blatant inequalities have plagued our people for centuries. Time will tell what this truly is…
BNC’s programming lineup includes a weekly news show with 60 Minutes alum Byron Pitts, sports shows focused on basketball and combat sports, and a weekly focus on historically black colleges and universities.