Former CNN exec says startup news channel won’t take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
Newly named Black News Channel president and CEO Princell Hair takes the reins of the upstart network during a monumentally busy and turbulent news cycle, focused on covering the country’s growing social and racial unrest, an upcoming presidential election campaign and the pandemic that is disproportionately affecting people of color.
Hair, a former CNN general manager and most recently senior VP and general manager of NBC Sports Boston, recently spoke to Multichannel News about his vision for the five-month-old BNC, as well as his perspective on the cable news business and the return of sports amid the pandemic. Here’s an edited version of that interview.
MCN: Is Black News Channel’s role to be an alternative to the mainstream media for coverage of the African-American community?
Princell Hair: I believe that the network’s mission is really to shine a spotlight on those stories in our community that affect our community. We have to continue to differentiate ourselves and deliver on our brand promise of giving voice to the varied experiences, priorities and viewpoints that matter in the Black community. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. I grew up in South Florida and I saw Haitian-Americans that had very different priorities than Africans who had very different priorities than Southern Black people. They’re all Black and they’re all different, and BNC really exists to tell all of their stories through their varied lenses.
MCN: As a veteran of the cable news business, how has the category changed over the years?
PH: I don’t know if it has led or it has followed the electorate, but it has certainly become much more partisan in its approach. You have very clear delineations in the cable news world. We’ve kind of conditioned the audience to expect a certain viewpoint from the left or the right. Our goal here at BNC is really to provide diverse perspectives on the issues of the day along with more context. We want to really respect our audience enough to be able to make up their own minds without us having to guide them to whatever conclusions they come to. The truth is the truth and the facts are the facts. Sadly, the word truth has become a euphemism for middle of the road, and that’s just not right, because we’ve conditioned audiences to look at issues from the left or the right.
MCN: The sports industry has gone through many changes because of the pandemic. As a former cable sports executive, how do you se things evolving in this COVID-19 environment?
PH: We’ve all been forced to reimagine our businesses, whether you’re in broadcasting or in sports. I feel like that is going to continue, especially as we kind of get deeper into this pandemic and potentially a second wave that may come sometime later this year or early next year. We need sports and sports will and have come back, but it’s going to look and feel different, and we’re going to have to consume it differently. In many ways, the pandemic has accelerated things that were kind of already underway, like remote working and remote production that have been experimented with, but have now gone into full throttle since the pandemic began.