I am in a state of mourning, accented with anger.
I was heartbroken and mortified to learn late Friday afternoon that the Black News Channel (BNC) was ceasing operations immediately due in large part to financial failure. The network was a bold and much needed effort, which started two years ago, around the time the world first began to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
I watched and studied the network closely and had become quite fond of its content. BNC, as it was called, delivered news and commentary around the clock in a manner that put Black America front and center. Its news anchors and various commentary show hosts explored topics of importance to all people, but especially those that needed to be explored with emphasis on how our communities were being impacted. The network regularly featured highly competent experts of all hues but drew heavily from the African American community.
As a former professional journalist who migrated from the newsroom to the classroom to help mentor and prepare future journalists, I found BNC to be pure joy on so many levels. I discussed with network officials ways to engage students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I often gave students assignments to watch and write reports about what they saw. To my pleasure, one of the students in my department had managed to secure an internship for summer 2022 after the network held a national competition and selected four students from HBCUs.
There had been some signs that the network was making a rather slow climb into the consciousness of the masses, but I was in total shock when the news of its sudden closure was confirmed Friday by the National Association of Black Journalists and a report in the Los Angeles Times.
I mourn because if ever there was a time when Black Americans need informed sources of information that pay particular attention to the ways in which our communities and people in them are portrayed, that time is now. I mourn because I will miss starting my day with funny, smart and skilled journalists who kept me informed about everything from politics to weather to sports. I mourn because I will miss watching evening commentary shows that explored law and justice, news and deeper textures of Black culture. I mourn because, unlike other platforms featuring Black journalists, this one did not treat issues that were important to us as footnotes or occasional special features. We were front and center, all the time. And the work of journalists and commentators featured on the network was done at a level that debunked any myths about our inability to perform at the highest levels.
BNC was a quality product, even as it was evolving. At its height, the network employed roughly 250 professionals, who were largely Black. But according to some news reports, the network never found a stable or significant audience. I’ve seen some numbers estimating some shows attracted 3,000 to 10,000 viewers. In contrast, FOX News, which is increasingly known as a conservative propaganda-driven machine, continues to be the leading cable news network. Recently, it averaged roughly 1.8 million viewers during its nightly broadcasts.
That both scares and angers me.
It is scary because so many people are turning to a network that often ignores facts and creates alternate reality. We can see the fruits of this in our nation’s political arena, where all sense of good will has been lost because facts no longer matter but feelings do. In a free world, however, people are entitled to make choices.
And that is where my anger begins to brew. I am angry, but I don’t exactly know where to aim my anger. At least not fairly. I don’t know all the facts about why the Black News Channel failed. One report said the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars football team, who is not Black, invested roughly $50 million in the channel and apparently pulled out because he was not seeing a return on his investment. The network was based in a state-of-the art facility in Tallahassee, Florida, but it had various correspondents stationed across the nation.
The question that looms is why didn’t more people—and Black people in particular—tune into the network?
There are, by some estimates, about 48 million Black Americans. We were the target audience, although others were welcome to watch. But clearly not enough of us knew about the network or cared enough to find time during the day to watch programming that was designed to inform and lift us.
I am angry to think that we did not care about the work this network was doing on our behalf. I am angry to think that millions of us follow every act or episode of celebrities’ lives, which arguably have no real meaningful bearing on our well-being. That, in my mind, is reason for shame, and I believe we all should be ashamed. I am angry that none of the truly wealthy among us came to the rescue with endorsements or investments that might have expanded audiences and revenues. I know it’s their time and money, but for all the complaining Black Americans sometimes do about how we are portrayed, how could we not collectively have pushed harder to get those numbers up to a respectable level that would have demanded greater advertising revenue? Or was it that BNC simply was not savvy enough to make itself known to us?
I know there are no simple answers to these questions. But I plan to do a more in-depth study to try to help unpack just what happened here. Meanwhile, I will continue to mourn the loss of this gem, and I will work to channel my anger into a positive resolve that might help the next group of Black journalists figure out a way to revive the concept and make it last forever.
Therefore, may the idea of the Black News Channel not rest in peace.
Dr. Robbie R. Morganfield is the Janice Bryant Howroyd/News & Record Endowed Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at North Carolina A&T State University.