Just ten years ago, Black public affairs programming did’t exist; it was only when an irate and media-sophisticated Black community pressured local broadcasters through a then equal rights-receptive Federal Communications commission did the almost total ban on Black faces cease.
“It was the riots and lobbying by the NAACP, CORE and other activist groups that opened the door for Black journalists,” WNEW’s Black News anchorman and producer, Bill McCreary says. “So we had a debt to pay to those who got our feet in the door by doing an in-depth and competent job of reporting.”
Black News was initially handicapped by a low budget, a dearth of promotion and poor scheduling — weekend afternoons (which soon became known as “Ghetto Time” because of the concentration of Black programming during those hours). The show wasn’t expected to succeed — let alone prosper,
But the professionals at Metro media prevailed, transcending the limits imposed on them, and along with Like It Is, Positively Black and several others that have come and gone, they established a new medium — Black Television.
Using the straight news format, Black News addresses issues that white ethnocentric news directors neglect, either consciously or unconsciously, which often results in biased or slanted minority coverage by white-owned television stations.
“We try to cover in a weekly half-hour what the general news media fails to cover in a daily hour,” McCreary says, “we were covering Angola, addicted babies, whites adopting Black children long before other news organizations picked up on them as issues we don’t editorialize or preach; our program is straight news!”
The switch several years ago from weekend afternoons to a Saturday evening spot demonstrated that Black programs scheduled in prime time could generate income; the show is booked solid with advertising.
“The response the program gets from the total audience is amazing,” Arts Editor Marian Etoile-Watson says, “the general news media was initially stunned by our flexibility; the style we used; the combination of music and film; how the people we covered walked and talked and kept on ‘keeping on’ despite unbelievable problems. Now you find some of the things we originated on mainstream television.
“People realize the power of television,” the former opera student continues, “and because of our success the broadcasting establishment is a bit frightened to let us on the airways anymore than they have to. We might take it over.”
Black News co-anchorperson, Joan Harris, adds, “Blacks are the cultural bellwether of this nation; we experience things first, be it poverty or a new trend. Because of this reality, the Black experience should be covered even more deeply.”
ROUTES salutes the dedicated professionals at Black News for refusing to be high-salaried, boob tube tokens, especially in an era where the communication advances of the 1960s are being chipped away little by little. One thing is certain, with reporters like Bill, Marian and Joan on the case, we will never be the silent minority again.