Local Black News Channel goes bust

The now-shuttered BMC headquarters in northeast Tallahassee. Photo by Shaqualia Smith.

When the Tallahassee-based TV network the Black News Channel launched two years ago, the journalists there hoped to cover stories in a different way. At the time, they said they were “dedicated to covering the unique perspectives, challenges and successes of Black and Brown communities.”

It seemingly went well at the start, with the network gaining access to multiple cable providers. But then it stopped going so well.
BNC’s President and CEO Princell Hair shocked employees on March 25 when he wrote in a group email that the network would be shutting down immediately.

The network that was the creation of former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts and largely funded by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan — who withdrew his support last fall, leading to two rounds of layoffs in December and January — closed operations that Friday.

“Management advised us today that it will lay off substantially all the network’s employees and will suspend most network operations, with immediate effect,” the network’s board of directors said in a statement.

The network closed its Twitter account and its Facebook page permanently. It filed for bankruptcy on March 28, claiming debts totaling up to $50 million.

The goal of the network was to reach Black audiences with stories that gave a broader perspective about their community than what other networks provide. According to an entertainment reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rodney Ho, some people have argued that they tried to grow too quickly without putting in the proper marketing dollars to build awareness.

“Maybe they should have focused on just doing a digital video operation. It would have been a lot cheaper,” Ho wrote.
Staff with the now-closed BNC are going through challenges with receiving their wages after the channel informed viewers about the shutdown.

The announcement was made on a scheduled payday. However, staff wasn’t paid, WCTV reported. BNC spokesperson Tim Buckman claimed that payroll deposits scheduled for Friday would exit on Monday. Nevertheless, by Monday, Buckman was now not with the corporate and staff had still not been paid.

After the information outlet reached out asking if staff had been paid last Monday, a second spokesperson responded Tuesday evening saying the bulk of the staff had been paid for “earned wages.” The spokesperson claimed that different staffers who have been owed “earned however unpaid wages owed” should wait till after BNC’s bankruptcy proceedings and its property liquidated.

It remains unclear how many staff has not been paid.

Many were stunned to learn that BNC could be shutting down after simply two years in business.

BNC began as the Black Television News Channel and it had a formal relationship with Florida A&M’s School of Journalism & Graphic Communication. From 2013 to 2017, BTNC was planning to be headquartered in SJGC, but it never came up with the funding to make it happen.