Is It Time for a Black News Network?
Whitney Houston's mainstream media coverage left many frustrated
The news of iconic pop singer Whitney Houston’s death was sudden, tragic and unforeseen. Viewers around the world tuned into national news networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to get answers on how and why the world had lost what many called a national treasure known as “The Voice.” It was no doubt that these networks would provide in depth unbiased coverage of what happened to the fallen star. After all, they did provide adequate reporting of other celebrity deaths, hurricane disasters, tsunamis and wars. However, moments and even days into the coverage it was almost heartbreaking to watch anchors report what seemed like old news to many African-American viewers who were looking for respect and details regarding Houston’s death and life that they just were not getting from major networks.
“I’m surprised at how CNN is handling this,” one social network user said as the news of Houston’s death broke. “She’s been allegedly dating Ray-J for years, this is nothing new, why do they keep acting surprised,” Another social network user commented. “That’s it, I’m changing the channel. Too bad we don’t have a black news network,” the social network user continued.
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It was easy to see as more news broke on Houston that there was a clear divide between African-American media and mainstream media throughout the week leading up to Houston’s funeral. African American networks like BET chose to report on the positive side of Houston’s death by dedicating their hit show 106 n’ Park to her greatest hits and a two hour show entitled, “Remembering Whitney,” that featured friends and loved ones reflecting on the positive aspects of her life. However, it seemed to be the opposite for many mainstream media networks that chose to focus on the negative of her life with alleged rumors on how she died.
“At times like these when race, gender, or other cultural identifiers are at play it does underscore the need for newsrooms and show teams which are representative of the communities of listeners, viewers, and readers,” says Christopher Nelson, former NBC News Assignment Editor and Loop 21 contributor. "That's not to say that to cover a black mega star you have to be black, it is to say you have to be culturally sensitive, and understand nuisances, which allow you to put these into proper context. Yet one of the most disappointing moments for me was CNN anchor Don Lemon's ‘I don't need scripts, I grew up on Whitney!’ moment, which for me was a TV fail. It made the story about him, and to me was a bit of showmanship. What I would expect of him as a producer, or as a viewer at home, would be for him to articulate the facts & navigate me through what was unfolding.”
A reported nine million viewers tuned into Whitney Houston’s funeral this past Saturday, with the majority of the viewers tuning into CNN. The network drew a more collective audience than Fox News, MSNBC and HLN combined. Many viewers of color were outraged and frustrated at what some non-black anchors were saying as they reported live in front of New Hope Baptist Church. A few reporters stood in awe as they watched black church traditions live, as if it was the most obscene thing they’d ever witnessed. “Piers Morgan sounded like he was covering an event at Jurassic Park.” Damon Young of VerySmartBrothers.com stated regarding one of CNN’s most notable host.
“It's simple, mainstream American media isn't main street but it often tries to project itself as if it is because there’s a universal understanding and acceptance of it,” author and T.V. One producer Ashley Grayson told Loop 21. “However, it’s a double edge sword. Did they cover Whitney's death completely unbiased? No. But did they cover the story from beginning to end? Yes. We should be asking questions about how to properly handle coverage of our stories but first we have to start with ourselves.”
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Major news networks were not the only one’s airing the funeral, as African-American channels Centric, BET and TV One also aired it live. BET had the Internet buzzing with its live coverage hosted by former Video Soul host, Donnie Simpson. The sight of Simpson reporting live caused some to wonder what it would be like if there was indeed a twenty- four hour African-American news network. With the recent news of Magic Johnson, Sean Combs and Tyler Perry acquiring their own respective networks, the idea doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
“Taking on the task of starting your own network is a lot of work and deserves praise,” Jummy Olabanji of ABC 7 News in Washington D.C. told Loop 21. However, we have TV One, BET and I would even throw Oprah’s Network in the mix as well. For the most part, most of those networks go unwatched when it comes to news programming. BET had to cancel their long time news program because the ratings were declining. I don't think the issue is having a network. I think the issue is changing the mindset of the culture to value news and information. There is a problem when most people can recite all the characters on Love and Hip Hop, but they don't know the four men vying for the GOP nomination.”