The Black News Channel is a 24-hour television news channel that launches on Monday. NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with the networks co-founder and chairman, J.C. Watts.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Tomorrow, Americans will have a new TV channel they can turn to for news.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You’re watching…
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: …BNC Morning Edition…
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: …Weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m..
MARTIN: The Black News Channel, or BNC, says it will bring news and educational programming that is, quote, “culturally specific to the African American community,” unquote. The channel will be available on some cable networks and streaming online, starting with its first broadcast at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow. Former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts is the co-founder and chairman of BNC, and he is with us now from Norman, Okla., to tell us more. Congressman Watts, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations.
J C WATTS: Michel, thank you. Thanks for having me on.
MARTIN: I understand that you have been working on this for some time now, nearly a decade. So that would have to make it a passion project for you. What gave you the idea? What need do you see that isn’t being met with the existing offerings?
WATTS: In mainstream news, you have nothing that is culturally specific to the African Community community. And MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, they will have black faces on their shows, but they’re never talking about, when it comes to wellness, talking about sickle cell, talking about historical black colleges and universities. By and large, it’s nothing speaking to us. And so I think there needs to be a more comprehensive story told about the African American community, and we’ll have a venue to do that.
MARTIN: There have been efforts at serious news publications or shows aimed at an African American audience before that haven’t been sustainable. I mean, I’m thinking about, like, Roland Martin’s show. I’m thinking about Emerge magazine. How do you determine that there is a sustainable market for a 24-hour black news channel?
WATTS: Our demographic, African Americans, they are more loyal. They buy more subscription television than any other demographic out there. They rely more on television for their news. There’s some cultural things that’s going on, some political things that’s going on that’s giving news sort of a resurgence, if you will, when you look at the advertising dollars and look at the money that’s being spent trying to speak to certain people on those news shows. It’s higher today than it was 10 years ago. I think that we are coming into the marketplace at an ideal time.
MARTIN: One of your top news executives, Gary Wordlaw, he said in one interview that the target audience for BNC is likely to be majority female. I can’t help but notice that most of the top leadership, most of your executive team is male.
WATTS: Of our four top management people, one of them is an African American female. So that’s 25%. You know, we’ve got to continue. When you look at what we are doing today and look at where we’re at 12 months from now, we’re probably going to look differently in our infrastructure and our programming and even our management teams.
MARTIN: So the obvious, you are a conservative. One of your high-profile hires, Larry Elder, is conservative. Is it your hope that this will be an outlet for more conservative views?
WATTS: Not at all. We’re not looking to be liberal or conservative. 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.
MARTIN: Just this week, in his State of the Union, President Trump tried to appeal to African American voters, talking about increased funding for historically black colleges and universities, HBCUs, about record low unemployment among African Americans. Have you thought about how BNC will handle coverage of President Trump, given that he drives so much of the news these days, but according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll, 8 in 10 African Americans view the president as racist? Do you see that as a challenge?
WATTS: Well, it’s a challenge for the administration. It’s not a challenge for the news network. If, in fact, there’s been increased funding for HBCUs, we have no problem reporting on that.
MARTIN: What about the other side of the scoop, the demeaning language directed at black people like Baltimore, the…
WATTS: Well, we’ll be allowing the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, to tell their side of the story. We’re not looking to be a mouthpiece for anybody. But we want to be a venue that, if there are issues impacting the demographic that we serve, we want people to know about it. And if we can do that, I think we’re going to be just fine.
MARTIN: That is J.C. Watts, co-founder and chairman of the Black News Channel, or BNC. It launches tomorrow. Mr. Watts, thank you so much for talking to us.
WATTS: Thank you very much, enjoyed it.
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