BLACK NEWS NET
CHANNEL SET FOR EARLY '09 WITH EX-REP. AT HELM
By DON KAPLAN
Former Rep. J.C. Watts is not giving up details like financing or the names of anchors.
May 27, 2008 -- FORMER congressman J.C. Watts is behind a major push to launch an all-news channel for black people.
The network, tentatively called Black Television News Channel and slated to launch in early 2009, already has an agreement with Comcast cable to be carried in several cities with large black populations including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Baltimore.
As yet, there is no deal to carry the channel in New York.
"I'm not so sure that you see anything on CNN or Fox News that specifically targets the African American community," Watts told The Post.
According to recent U.S. census figures, nearly 81 percent of Detroit's population is black, while Baltimore is 64 percent, Atlanta is 61 percent, D.C. is 57 percent, Philly is 46 percent and Chicago is 37 percent. That means each city is a major potential market for the new channel and advertisers.
At least one news report on the new channel called Watts the "black Ted Turner," after the founder of CNN.
There has been a gap in black-targeted news on TV since Black Entertainment Television cancelled its "BET Nightly News" in 2005.
Watts says his goal is to push the news coverage beyond the usual crime stories.
"Our community features millions of people with all kinds of backgrounds. There's a much broader segment of the population than what we see in mainstream news," he says.
Watts is, so far, not giving any details about who is backing the channel, how much the initial financing will be or who will run it.
"Certainly [this channel] could cover issues from a different perspective," says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and one of the authors of its respected annual report, State of the Media.
There has been no shortage of major news stories directly related to the black community, he says, including the public falling out between Presidential hopeful Barack Obama and his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the recent civil rights flash point, the Jena Six case.
"The question is, could it work on a regular basis?" asks Jurkowitz.
Tom Dolan, a news industry staffing expert, believes it will take Watts at least six months to staff a new channel, under the best circumstances.
"And that doesn't include anchors and reporters who you may target," he says. "Many times, they are still under contract with someone else."
Cable news is a big money proposition. The rule of thumb is that each hour of original programming costs about $7 million annually, once everything else is in place.
Industry sources believe starting a cable news network would cost at least $100 million.
Watts said only that he and "two cable industry vets" whom he declined to identify are bankrolling most of the start up. A list of private equity partners will be "released at a later time," he says.
Watts, the lone African American Republican in Congress until 2003 when he quit to start his own business, is a frequent commentator on both Fox News Channel and CNN. He is also on the board of radio giant Clear Channel.
Now, on the SURFACE...who could be against this?
Ah, but the devil's in the details.
Now, if it's truly a place where a divergent set of opinions will be able to be heard, from left to right, I could get on board with that.
BUT, if it's just going to be him, and the likes of Steele, Blackwell, You know the Dark Sith will weasel his way onto it, Star Parker, Shelby Steele, etc.
I'm gonna have to say a big NOPE to that.
There is an entire list of Black folk that I would love to get political analysis from - on the left and the right. The truly thinking right, the part that actually IS on the ground, dealing with 'The Community' is NEVER EVER seen on television, and I find that part of right wing sham. I know all of us could come up with a list of intelligent, respected educators, political professionals, PhD's, and journalists that we'd like to see on this channel. I'm just having a hard time believing I'll ever see a tenth of this list on this channel, because these folks are known for ' telling hard truths', if you know what I mean. It's why I get pissed when I see frauds like Mr. Horn-Rimmed Glasses and the likes of Stephen A. Smith on MSNBC, and DON'T see folks like, well,
Melissa Harris -Lacewell
International reports from Charlayne Hunter-Gault and any other Black journalists living abroad.
Well, you get the gist of what I'm talking about. Heck, I'd want some of our true firebrands, like the Brothers and Sisters from BlackCommentator and BlackAgendaReport to be on there too.
But, there are things that make me raise the eyebrow: no telling of the backers, and Watts is on the board of Clear Channel. These are RED FLAGS. But, we'll keep a skeptical eye on his progress.