Black News Channel, a cable network launched to provide news for and about underserved communities, has ceased operations.
Two staffers contacted Urban Hollywood 411 on Friday and said they received phone calls from their immediate supervisors saying today would be the last day of live programming for the network. The employees initially learned about the channel’s demise after reports leaked online that a shutdown was imminent.
“It’s upsetting that we found out about all of this online and via other sources instead of from our president who hasn’t even addressed us personally,” one individual said, referring to BNC President and CEO Princell Hair. “We have extremely talented, dedicated journalists who deserved better.”
The individual, whose last day was Friday, added: “A lot of people are crying.”
Sources said about 200 people were let go.
Hair later sent out an internal memo saying, “Unfortunately, due to challenging market conditions and global financial pressures, we have been unable to meet our financial goals, and the timeline afforded to us has run out.”
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) said it is committed to helping those affected by the closure.
“The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has independently confirmed through sources that, effective immediately, the Black News Channel (BNC) has ceased operation and has aired its last show,” the organization said in a statement. “We have learned that plans are in the works to develop a solution to provide employees with their last three weeks of pay.”
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News of the BNC shutdown came a day after the company’s human resources department sent out an email saying employees would not be paid as scheduled on Friday.
“The March 25 payroll deposit will be delayed. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” said the email from human resources VP, Nicole Collins. “We are actively working to resolve this matter quickly, and will advise you with an update as soon as possible.”
It was unclear if or when staffers would receive their paychecks.
Since December 2021, BNC has had multiple rounds of layoffs. The network launched in February 2020 in honor of Black History Month, but it has struggled in the ratings.
Based in Tallahassee, Florida, BNC was founded by former GOP congressman J.C. Watts and broadcast executive Bob Brillante. Shad Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the principal investor.
In November, the Los Angeles Times reported Khan had poured $50 million into the channel. Yet, insiders told Urban Hollywood 411 that little to none of that money was spent on marketing and few people even knew the channel existed.
BNC was also hit with a class-action lawsuit filed by 13 former and current female employees alleging discrimination and a “sexist” workplace.
A Nielsen ratings analysis compiled by TheWrap found of 124 cable news channels in 2021, BNC came in 123rd with an average of 4,000 viewers on any given show. Fox News was #1 with an average 2.361 million primetime viewers each evening.
BNC’s on-camera talent included Laverne McGee, Sharon Reed, Mike Hill, Marc Lamont Hill, Charles Blow, Yodit Tewolde, and longtime Washington, D.C. news anchor Del Walters.
READ PRINCELL HAIR’S FULL MEMO BELOW:
From: Princell Hair
Sent: Friday, March 25, 2022 1:54 PM
To: BNC Staff
Subject: Network Update
Dear BNC Colleagues,
A little more than two years ago, the lights on BNC’s cameras flipped on for the first time. Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, we launched a groundbreaking mission to inject positive change into a news landscape that, for far too long, had underserved and overlooked Black and Brown people.
During the past few months, we have endured very painful workforce reductions at all levels of the network as we worked to achieve our financial goal of a break-even business. This has forced all of you to do more with less, and your contributions have been remarkable.
Unfortunately, due to challenging market conditions and global financial pressures, we have been unable to meet our financial goals, and the timeline afforded to us has run out.
It’s with a broken heart that I am letting you all know that, effective immediately, BNC will cease live production and file for bankruptcy. We are saddened and disappointed by this reality and recognize the stress that this puts on you and your families.
With the nation on the verge of a social justice reckoning not seen in this country since the Civil Rights era, we’ve been hard at work building our presence in the marketplace with unprecedented speed. Through a continuous run of distribution agreements on both linear and streaming platforms, BNC’s accessibility has grown to reach more than 250 million touchpoints.
Since rebranding and relaunching the network a year ago, we have developed a 17-hour daily block of live programming and a lineup of shows that are outstanding. Every day we present stories, context and viewpoints that illuminate and celebrate the Black experience in a way that no other network has since the dawn of television.
We have hired more than 250 Black journalists and Black production personnel, and all your hard work and dedication has lifted this network to incredible heights. There have been countless wins along the way, including gavel-to-gavel coverage of several trials that gripped our community, A-list guests throughout our dayparts and exclusive coverage of The Congressional Black Caucus’ first-ever response to the President’s State of the Union address. Just this week we set an all-time viewership record for the network during wall-to-wall coverage of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
I understand that this surprising and unfortunate news will naturally generate a lot of questions surrounding next steps. Our leadership team and human resources will be in touch to address them over the coming days and weeks.
Please know that I am very thankful for all of your hard work and deep commitment to our mission. We have differentiated ourselves, and your achievements over these last two years should be an immense source of pride that you will carry throughout the rest of your careers.
In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and each other, and remember that we built something great here. BNC, or something very close to it, will surely return at some point, because the world needs it, and all of you have proven it can be done.
P R I N C E L L H A I R