Black News Channel reloads with talk focus, morning show

This image released by BNC shows Mike Hill, left, and Sharon Reed posing with Black News Channel president & CEO Princell Hair. The Black News Channel, nearly invisible upon its launch last year, is revamping to take on a new look starting Monday. It is adding a four-hour morning show with Hill and Reed and will be emphasizing commentary and analytical news coverage moving forward. (BNC via AP) (Uncredited)

NEW YORK – Four hours of morning television is a lot of time to fill, but new Black News Channel hosts Mike Hill and Sharon Reed don't expect to run out of things to say.

Their new program, which debuts Monday at 6 a.m. Eastern, is the centerpiece of Black News Channel's relaunch to emphasize commentary and a more analytical approach to the news. Nearly invisible when it debuted last year, BNC is methodically becoming more available to viewers.

“This is when I need my voice to be heard and I want my voice to be heard,” said Hill, who has worked at Fox Sports and ESPN. “So much is happening in our country.”

His co-host on “Start Your Day with Sharon and Mike" has anchored the news at CBS' Atlanta affiliate for the past five years and been a reporter in New York, Miami, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Cleveland.

Founded by former GOP congressman J.C. Watts, BNC has been run on a day-by-day basis since last summer by veteran television executive Princell Hair, who has worked at CNN, Comcast and NBC Sports.

BNC was available in only 2.5 million homes via cable or satellite when it started, and is now up to 52 million, or a little more than half of those available, Hair said. It started with access to 50 million Internet-connected devices and is now up to 180 million.

For the most part, BNC has aired straight newscasts, but surveys revealed a desire for more depth.

“We're going to be presenting the news of the day, but we're going to present it with more context and more perspective,” he said.

BNC says it will soon be featuring programming with Charles Blow, columnist at The New York Times; Marc Lamont Hill, a Temple University professor, book store owner, author and commentator; Adrienne Lawrence, a former legal analyst and anchor at ESPN; and Yodit Tewolde, a lawyer and Court TV host.

Emphasizing talk over newsgathering is often a way to save money. But Hair said BNC is adding correspondents, and will have two in New York and Washington and others stationed in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles with more on the way.

BNC is covering how COVID is affecting the Black community and closely following the start of President Joe Biden's administration, Hair said. The reporters frequently break stories missed by mainstream outlets, such as the current lack of pharmacies in Black neighborhoods in Chicago, he said.

“The attractive thing to me is telling the full story of our community, and being allowed to do that,” Reed said. There are plenty of painful stories about social justice that need to be told, but “at the end of the day — news flash — Black people are about excellence, too,” she said.

Hill said he's looking forward to bosses who don't just want him to “stick to sports.”

How much is he looking forward to the opportunity? He'll be working from Los Angeles, at least at the start, going on the air at 3 a.m. local time. Reed is based in Atlanta.

BNC's moves come at a time many mainstream news organizations are examining their own commitments to cover minority communities and employ more non-white journalists. Hair said he's seen an increased emphasis in coverage at competitors; the makeup of leadership teams is what matters more.

Three Black women have gotten important new television jobs in recent months: Rashida Jones is the new president of MSNBC, Shawna Thomas is the executive producer of “CBS This Morning” and Marie Nelson is on the team running ABC News following the network news president's resignation.

“Time will tell if this is a moment or a movement,” Hair said. “Hopefully it will be the latter.”

Next month, BNC will have its audience measured for the first time by the Nielsen company.

Hair indicated, however, that there are no tricks to increasing the network's influence.

“It's about good content and it's about good storytelling,” he said. “That's how you build awareness. People start talking about what they saw on BNC last night. We have to build on that content to make the network something special.”