- The channel aims to fill a "void" in mainstream media by telling stories and covering issues that matter to African Americans, according to the channel's website.
- BNC will feature all-black on-air talent, and it aims to be nonpartisan.
- Some have questioned how African Americans will respond to the channel, which launched Feb. 10.
American TV news channels may feature black hosts and commentators, but the programming rarely centers on uniquely African-American experiences. The Black News Channel wants to change that.
Recently launched on February 10, the 24-7 news channel’s purpose is to “be a news organization that gives voice to the varied experiences, issues, points-of-view and priorities that matter to African Americans,” according to a statement on its website. “BNC will not just tell a story, but the network will tell the entire story.”
BNC was founded by former Congressman J.C. Watts, a Republican from Oklahoma, and Bob Brillante, a cable TV entrepreneur based in Florida. The channel will feature all black on-air talent, and plans to hire from historically black colleges and universities.
In an interview with NPR, Watts said that BNC aims to be nonpartisan.
“We’re not looking to be liberal or conservative,” he said. “We want to provide a venue for African Americans to have a voice, to be a part of the dialogue that’s going on in the country, be it incarceration reform or impeachment.”
In addition to news programs like “BNC News Live” and “BNC News Prime Live,” the channel plans to air culture and lifestyle content like “Being a Woman,” “Getting Ready with Jane: Today’s Teen,” and a personal finance show called “My Money.” Other programming will cover sports, weather, and will include docuseries and “daily vignettes of encouragement and inspiration.”
Watts said there’s long been demand for a black news channel.
“Today, information is so targeted to groups,” he told NBC News.” Every demographic out there has a venue that they can access for news information, culture, wellness, etc. Except for the African American community.”
BNC will conduct original reporting and build upon reporting from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association of more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers across the country. The association’s president, Benjamin Chavis, said mainstream news outlets tend to marginalize black news and focus on the more negative aspects.
“The mainstream media covers the pathology of black America. They don’t cover the sociology of it,” Chavis told NBC News. “The success stories are important for our community, to see black Americans striving for and achieving excellence.”
Market researchshows that African Americans watch more TV than any other group. In recent years, legacy networks have been trying to capitalize on that by offering more shows created and headlined by black creative talent.
“Across TV, SVOD, and film, Hollywood is waking up to the excellence of black creators and the power of black audiences, something we have done for the past 40 years,” Connie Orlando, BET’s head of programming, told IndieWire.
An uncertain reaction
Still, even though cable channels like MSNBC attract a relatively large African-American audience, there’s long been a lack of news programming designed exclusively for the demographic.
“We’ve been really pushing for diversity and inclusion in the broadcast space and cable space and it’s because we live in a multi-racial civil society,” said New York Rep. Yvette D. Clarke. “For far too long, our media didn’t speak to that and today still doesn’t speak to that diversity. The Black News Channel will fill a void in many spaces.”
However, some have questioned whether BNC will resonate with its target audience, considering that Watts is a Republican, and his co-founder is a white TV executive.
“Sometimes when people outside of the culture design something for us. You can smell that,” Angela Ford, founder of the Obsidian Collection, which archives African-American owned newspapers, told Mashable. “The black community is quick, we are very protective and instinctive. It’ll take like two hours to see if this is us or not. […] Because America is so challenging we have an instinct about whether we’re safe or not or what the agenda is.”
Of course, that’s assuming the black community will have a homogenous response.
“African Americans are not monolithic,” Orlando told IndieWire, in an interview about the rise of black-focused entertainment. “There’s room for all of us in the ever-changing content landscape, and other networks creating African-American content opens the door to more opportunities for African-American content creators, actors, and producers.”
BNC will first premiere in majority African-American markets like New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, and hopes to expand in the near future.