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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

Why The Black News Channel Closure is Such a Disappointment

Charles Blow, Marc Lamont Hill, and Yodit Tewolde
BNC Prime host Charles Blow, left, BNC Making the Case host Yodit Tewolde, BNC President and Chief Executive Princell Hair, and BNC Black News Tonight host Marc Lamont Hill. (Credit: Black News Channel)

The Black News Channel, also known as the BNC, was a network devoted to reporting the news Black Americans wanted and needed to hear. The once-thriving network was in 50 million homes across the country. Unfortunately, the network closed due to a lack of funding after only two short years. The Black News Channel started with many promises but became a huge disappointment. Although it can be debated whether a 24-hour Black cable news network was financially feasible in an era when most people are cutting the cord, the Black News Chanel was too short-lived and is sorely missed because Black people need Black media more than ever.

Black media is responsible for reporting on issues important to Black people and more so than the mainstream media. Black media covers important topics such as race, social justice, health, finance, and voting access. Additionally, Black families in the mainstream media are often inaccurately represented as broken, especially compared to White families. Unfortunately, these inaccuracies can lead to stereotypical views of Black people. According to a recent joint study by Color of Change and Family Story, the following results were presented:

  • News and opinion media overrepresent Black family poverty by 32%, while White family poverty is underrepresented by 49%.

  • Black families represent 60% of welfare recipients in news and opinion media but comprise just 42% of welfare recipients.

  • Black fathers are often misrepresented as absentee fathers and Black mothers are often misrepresented as making poor family decisions.

  • News and opinion media are 1.32 times more likely to associate Black family members with criminality than White family members.

  • News and opinion media are nearly 1.5 times more likely to represent a White family as an illustration of social stability than a Black family.

However, the Black News Channel was important because the network countered the narrative that Black families are dysfunctional by presenting Black people and Black families fairly and accurately. The Black News Channel was also important because the network provided Black perspectives on stories important to Black Americans.

For example, the Black News Channel had a morning show called Start Your Day, co-hosted by Sharon Reed and Mike Hill. When former ESPN television host Rachel Nichols’ private conversation about Maria Taylor and diversity at ESPN was leaked to the public, Sharon Reed used her cohost platform to comment on the situation. Unlike the mainstream media, which focused on the dispute between Nichols and Taylor, Reed focused on ESPN’s role in the situation. “ESPN is the latest example of what is out there every day that every Black man and woman who has entered the workforce has been victim of, okay,” says Reed. “I just think they are extra slimy or maybe they are on display because it’s the worldwide leader in discrimination and sports.” This was a bold accusation by Reed, but only a network like the Black News Channel would permit an anchor the liberty to voice that opinion.

Start Your Day also allowed Reed to host a regular panel of three Black women called Sharon’s Table, where the panel discussed issues impacting Black women worldwide. Mike Hill also hosted a regular panel of three Black men called “Mike Check” where issues affecting Black men and the Black community were discussed. For example, when Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, was arrested for mistakenly being a bank robber, Hill led a panel consisting of a licensed Black therapist, a Black political strategist, and a Black civil rights attorney. The panel discussed in detail what factors led to Coogler being mistaken for a bank robber.

After Start Your Day, the network aired a show called D.C. Today, hosted by veteran news anchor Del Waters, dedicated to covering Washington politics. Then BNC Live followed D.C. Today, where various anchors and correspondents covered live breaking news and highlighted stories of interest in the Black community. The network also had a show called The World Tonight, co-hosted by Kelly Wright and Nayyera Haq, which was dedicated to covering international news and world events.

The Black News Channel’s prime-time lineup was led by Black personalities Marc Lamont Hill, Yodit Tewolde, Charles Blow, and Aisha Mills, who provided perspectives and commentary for their respective shows.

Marc Lamont Hill is an academic, author, and TV personality who was the host of Black News Tonight. Hill’s primetime show covered stories and issues impacting Black people in America, but also impacting Africa and the Diaspora. “On any given night, you’ll hear me talking about the Derek Chauvin trial, you’ll hear me talking about this reboot to “House Party” that they’re doing, to the COVID-19 death toll in Brazil, particularly as it relates to Afro Brazilians, you’ll see my interview with Big Freedia, or LeVar Burton, or, you know, or whoever, talking about not just their new projects, but other things that they care about. I’m trying to do it all and do it well,” said Hill in a recent interview with The Philadelphia Tribune.

Maybe the best aspect of Black News Tonight was Hill’s consistent coverage of controversial topics. For example, Hill’s interview with Christopher Rufo, an activist against critical race theory, went viral and is among the most viewed videos on the Black News Channel’s YouTube page. Hill also used his platform to criticize the international community for being hypocritical in supporting Ukraine. There are currently ongoing conflicts in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet none of these countries have received near the coverage that Ukraine has from the mainstream media.

Yodit Tewolde, the host of Making the Case, is an accomplished prosecutor, defense attorney, and legal analyst. Making the Case discussed the criminal justice system and provided a nuanced analysis of justice cases that are important to Black people. For example, Making the Case provided an in-depth analysis of the R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, and Jussie Smollett court cases. The show extensively covered the courtroom police trials of officers Daunte Wright and George Floyd. The show covered the trial of Armaud Arbery's killers and the shooting of Breonna Taylor due to a no-knock warrant.

In 2021 the story of a white missing social media star named Gabby Petito exposed how missing white women may be covered differently than missing Black women. Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, hosted Prime for the Black News Channel. On Prime, Blow used his platform to address this disparity and the “missing white woman syndrome,” which is a term coined by the late newscaster Gwen Ifill that describes how cases of missing young, upper-middle-class white women receive more media coverage than missing Black women who were of lower social classes.

Tewolde even appeared on Prime and discussed how systemic issues in the juvenile justice system led to misperceptions about missing Black girls. “Adults see juveniles as less innocent; they see them as more adult-like than their white peers, and instead of giving Black girls the protection of childhood innocence, what they do is they think of them as more adult-like, more knowledge about sex, more independent,” Tewolde said during the interview. According to Tewolde, these misperceptions follow Black women into adulthood and can lead to the media seeing Black missing women differently than missing white women.

The Black News Channel also provided exclusive coverage of the Congressional Black Caucus’ first-ever response to the State of the Union Address delivered by Texas Congressmen Colin Alred. The mainstream media networks did not cover this live response, however. The network even had a panel of Black and Brown news correspondents provide their critical opinions on whether President Biden’s speech lived up to the promises that he has made to Black America.

The next day, the Black News Channel interviewed Colin Alred about the Congressional Black Caucus’ response to President Biden’s State of the Union Address.

In addition to news coverage, The Black News Channel was important because the network provided job opportunities to Black professionals. According to 2012-2016 American Community Survey data, 77% of newsroom employees were non-Hispanic whites. News directors for local newsrooms are responsible for managing the newsroom, including the entire staff, yet Black news directors make up only 6% of local TV newsrooms. The Black News Channel, however, employed 250 employees before shutting down, many of whom were Black reporters, editors, photographers, and videographers. The Black News Channel even had an HBCU Journalism Project, a paid internship program for four students. The summer interns were to begin in the summer of 2022 before the network closed.

Even Making the Case was an example of the Black News Channel giving opportunities to Black professionals. According to attorney and legal analyst Monique Pressley, Making the Case was the first prime-time legal show with a Black host since Johnny Cochrane hosted Johnny Cochrane Tonight on Court TV in 1999. Pressley also claimed that Tewolde was the first-ever Black woman to host a legal show.

The irony about the closing of the Black News Channel is that the network received its highest ratings during its live coverage of the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Now that the network no longer exists, Blacks need to support existing Black media more than ever. Black media opposes stereotypes of Black people that are sometimes presented by mainstream media. Black media provides historical context and perspectives that are often overlooked in mainstream media, giving a deeper understanding of issues such as health, racism, voting access, policing, and mass incarceration.

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1 Comment

Khris Fields
Khris Fields
May 09, 2023

It is clear that you are an exceptional writer. You wrote a thoughtful post, which I appreciate. It would have been nice if you hadn't called them disappointing.

You could have been far more optimistic and inspirational with your thesis and your context. Be careful not to discourage people who worked diligently to keep the Black News Channel alive and those who believe in the vision by writing a statement like "Why the Black News Channel Closure is Such a Disappointment." It's not that I'm affiliated with this company or that I have heard of it; rather, I was discouraged by your word choice. Rather than publishing such hard headlines, please lift up the community instead. I understand. I empathize…

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