FAMU’s journalism school will soon make history with the first 24-hour news network that is both African American-owned and operated, and geared toward an African American audience.
This week, the Tallahassee-based Black Television News Channel (BTNC) announced a multi-year agreement with Charter Communications to premiere the news network in 14 of the digital cable television service’s top African American markets in the country, including New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit, Boston, Tampa, Orlando, Cleveland, Charlotte, Birmingham, Norfolk, Raleigh-Durham, and New Orleans.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Tallahassee Mayor John Marks at a ribbon cutting for the station on Friday (Feb. 24) as he wiped his eyes. “I really feel so proud to be a part of what I know is going to be revolutionary as well as evolutionary.”
BTNC co-manager and former congressman J.C. Watts says they estimate an audience of 33 million people at its planned Feb. 2018 launch.
“We think we can be educational and informative not just to the African American community, but to the nation,” Watts said. “There’s a whole lot of different ways to report the news … a lot of different perspectives … and I think the perspective of the African American community hasn’t been told.”
The BTNC aims to serve African Americans much like Univision and Telemundo serve the Hispanic community. Another goal of the network is to dispel negativity and stereotypes, and as Marks put it, tell “the rest of the story.”
“You’re talking about the unemployment rate for African American males being like 15%, but guess what the employment rate is about 85%. You don’t hear from that perspective,” Marks said.
BTNC co-manager Bob Brillante explains the logistics: “Our 30 minute and hourly news wheels we’ll produce out of this set,” he told local news channel WCTV of the Tallahassee headquarters, adding bureaus in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles will all come on line at the same time as the Tallahassee network operations center.
“We really don’t have the luxury of phasing in, because if on day one we’re not every bit as good as a CNN and a FOX News, then viewers will tune you out,” Brillante said.
All this will be headquartered at the FAMU School of Journalism and Graphic Design where students will have a chance to work side by side with professionals. In 2014, FAMU entered into an 11-year agreement with BTNC to house the network there.
“For it to be owned by African Americans and then cater to African Americans, that’s just big for me alone,” FAMU student Nathan Vinson said. “We will speak and you will hear us. It’s definitely something major for the African American community as a whole.”
According to a study by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, the BTNC will create more than 100 jobs in Tallahassee and earn more than $30 million annually in economic stimulus for the region.
It could also be the first network to broadcast in high resolution 4K.
FAMU’s Interim President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., said in a press release, “As we get closer to the launch date of this groundbreaking network, the University remains excited about the opportunity to play a key role in bolstering the nation’s African-American news offerings, reporting the cultural achievements of the African-American community, and developing the next generation of minority journalists.”