The Case for BET Nightly News and Black Media in General

We messed up. When we err, we need to admit it and move to correct the wrong. Black folks have been complaining about BET programming for ages when, in actuality, they’ve been checking it out on the “down low.”

Listening to the negativity over the years, even I was shocked to find out there were so many closet watchers secretly hooked on BET Nightly News. I’ve gotten calls and emails from people all over the country upset about BET’s decision to cancel the program. Many of them say that BET is their only real connection to the Black community, and, for many organizations it is often the only TV coverage they receive.

It’s not just the over 40 crew tuning in each night for an update on what’s happening in Black America, young people of all nationalities are aware of current events in the Black world thanks to BET Nightly News.

After constant criticism of BET programming, the Black community was incensed when Robert Johnson made a savvy business move and sold the company to Viacom. As many people predicted, the nightly newscast hit the chopping block.

If we do not want all of Black media to fold or get sucked up by mainstream conglomerates, we must recognize that news is a product governed by the laws of supply and demand. The more we watch our own news, read and subscribe to our print publications and praise the work, the more that business can flourish.

Since slavery Black publications have been consistent advocates in our community and are still the first people called when there’s a problem. Unless it’s celebrity driven or blood ridden, mainstream press does not address our issues until there’s sufficient buzz created in the Black press.

For example, recently several stories appeared in the Black press about the lack of concern for missing Black women. Those stories resulted in coverage in mainstream media including USA Today. And, no one can deny the impact George Curry’s article on Kemba Smith had on her case and the criminal justice system as a whole.

For those of you who believe Black media has out-lived its usefulness, Richard Prince’s Journal-isms recently reported that The New York Times Co. is starting a Black newspaper in Gainesville, Fla. I’m not mad at the New York Times for their efforts to increase revenue by targeting the Black market; I’m sad that we do not recognize our own value and repeatedly take our struggling media institutions for granted.

There are Black publications – like the 100 year-old Chicago Defender – that have served as the voice of the community for years. Among those already in Florida are the Broward Times, Weekly Challenger, Westside Gazette, and Jacksonville Advocate; why would New York Times start their own Black newspaper in Florida?

Here’s a clue. Katherine Stapp of Inter Press Service recently reported that the first nationwide assessment of foreign-language and other ethnic media found that ethnic radio, television and newspapers in the United States now reach 64 million people. However, the article adds, Sandy Close of New California Media says “only three to four percent of the 145 billion dollars spent on U.S. advertising goes to ethnic media.” With these figures we can expect to see more profit-oriented mainstream publishers setting up shop to get a piece of the lucrative “ethnic” market.

One might mention the quality factor. It is true that budget limitations prevent Black media from providing the glitz and glamour comparable to that of mainstream press. Don’t criticize, take action.

Start by subscribing to a Black publication today. If your cable station does not offer TV One or the Black Family Channel, make a request to your cable provider. If they don’t respond, this is your opportunity to complain. For those of you with, or in charge of advertising budgets, make sure Black media is a major line item in your campaign. We need to be proactive, not reactive.

What if public relations professionals would not service Black media if a client only spent adverting dollars with mainstream? What if, instead of refusing interviews with Black press, publicists granted exclusives to Black media for A-list clients? Imagine the impact if Will & Jada, Denzel, Halle, Jamie, Usher, Nelson, and Rev. Al only spoke with Black Media. Blacks are a driving force internationally, leveraging our power for just one week would position Black media across the globe. It’s time for Black America to put up or shut up.

As the end nears for BET Nightly News I urge you to stop complaining and take a minute to plead the case for the newscast. If you would like to see BET continue to provide their excellent coverage of Black news and events send a note to BET explaining why it is important to keep the show on the air. Email, fax, or send your message in a bottle, but let them know that we do support the work that BET is doing for the community. For those who don’t watch the newscast, stand up for those who do.

The “look what they did to us now” approach is ineffective in the new millennium. It’s time for Black folks to come out the closet and demonstrate a little “Black Pride.”

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