Cable and network television news programs have often been chided for their lack of adequate coverage of issues and topics most important to African Americans. That could soon change. Last week, Black Television News Channel (BTNC) announced plans to launch the nation’s first all-news cable network dedicated to the African American community. Based in Washington, D.C., BTNC is the creation of J.C. Watts, the former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. The launch is part of a multi-year carriage agreement with Comcast Cable. Distribution is expected to begin in early 2009 in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Baltimore.
A black cable news network will be a welcome addition to the media world. This is particularly the case given that BET cancelled BET Nightly News in 2005, replacing it with news briefs throughout the day. At the time, network brass cited a desire to meet the demands of its mostly 18- to 34-year-old demographic audience as the reason for the cancellation. Black-owned TV One also only offers news briefs throughout its programming schedule.
Steve Pruitt, a senior partner at BTNC, told Multichannel News, the industry trade, that BTNC will be formatted very much like CNN and the Fox News Channel as it relates to news and special programming. The difference, of course, will all be in the perspective. BTNC will bring news from an African American point of view. That means black people will not only be on-air talent but will be making the important behind-the scenes editorial decisions on what stories actually get covered.
With serious issues still facing black America—from unemployment to poverty to inadequate education to HIV and AIDS—and the prospect of an African American in the White House, a network solely focused on daily news content from a black perspective is a welcome reprieve from a black television landscape largely dedicated to entertainment.
African Americans watch more television than other ethnic groups, however according to Nielsen, TV is the only arena where solid, broad news representation of the black community has not been achieved in any meaningful way. Watts hopes to change that. “Our unique and vast content partnerships with African American newsmakers will provide our viewers live access to the stories and people in whom our viewers have a special interest,” he said in a statement.
But notwithstanding the nearly nonexistence of black television news, black people heavily engage in news matters of most interest to them. The presidential campaign and the Jena 6 controversy are two such examples. Last week’s debate between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton broadcast on ABC ranked third in black households for the period running from April 14-20, ranking only behind American Idol and Dancing With The Stars.
Further, the poignant and conscience-raising discussions on popular black radio shows like The Tom Joyner Morning Show and The Michael Baisden Show suggest that African Americans clearly want to hear about critical issues affecting their lives.
But is there an appetite for 24/7 television news? I’d bet my money there is. “Absolutely there’s an audience,” argues Alesia