By Pascal Archimède. February 10, 2020 is a date that will go down in History because it marked the launching of Black News Channel. Owned and run by African Americans, this TV channel is the first to promote Black culture 24/7.
Nofi media met Gary Wordlaw, Vice President of programming and news at Black News Channel.
The eight time Emmy Award-winning news veteran told us about his career and shared his vision of the evolution of Black people in the United States.
He also introduced the programs, goals and future prospects of Black News Channel.
Good morning Gary, what is your educational background?
I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the south-eastern part of the United States. I went through public schools there. I then attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. My major is Speech and Theatre. I’ve had some coursework at Clemson University in South Carolina. I also did some coursework at the University of Georgia over the course of my life.
I heard that at the age of 16, you became one of the 1st African American television employees hired in the state of Tennessee. Can you tell us about the different steps you made in the audiovisual industry?
When I started working in Television, as you state, there were not many African Americans. I was one of the first. I spent 11 years at the television station, learning everything I could learn about how Television works. I started off as a studio person and I ended my career there as the assistant news director. But I wasn’t going to be made news director. It was a time in our country when it was difficult for African Americans to break the ceiling. So, after being there for 11 years, I moved my family to Washington state and became a news manager at a local television station there. I did 2 and a half years there. Then, I had the opportunity to move to Baltimore, Maryland, which was a much larger market. I started there as an assignment editor and 6 years later, I was named news director. I spent about 10 years in that station, going through every aspect of news management.
After being there for 10 years, Washington DC called me. They had a large station with a much larger market. They would hire me to become the vice president of news. I went to Washington DC and stayed there for 9 years. I helped that TV station grow from being poorly rated to being highly rated. That ended, at that time, my career as a news person.
After leaving Washington DC, I went to Syracuse, New York, and became president-general manager of a TV station. I worked there for 4 years in upper management before being hired by CBS network. I then ran their station in Seattle, Washington, for a few years before running their station in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina came and forced me to end my activities there. I left New Orleans and moved to Tallahassee, Florida, as the vice president and general manager of a TV station. I worked there for 4 or 5 years and moved back to New Orleans to fill the position of general manager of Bounce TV station. I stayed with Bounce until I was named state coordinator of news for Nextstar Media Group in Louisiana. I stayed there for a couple of years until I got a call from the CEO of the Black News Channel and was offered the opportunity to come to Tallahassee, Florida to be the vice president of programming and news. And, here I am !
Gary, what is your feeling about the evolution of Black people in the US over the last 60 years? Improvement or regression?
I think it’s a mixed bag. I think in many respects, Black people in America have been able to gain materially, socially, politically, in every aspect of life. By the same token, the higher up the ladder the Blacks have gone, it seems that there are those who are trying to pull people back. And so, yes, we’ve been able to get into certain areas of American society that we’ve been locked out of before! But then, not so many of our people ascend to that level. So, the fight is still out there. People still have to fight the struggle to be recognized. I know we have more Black CEOs today than we’ve ever had. But then, we also have more companies than we’ve ever had. I think we shouldn’t take our eyes off the ball and keep working hard and keep trying to accomplish our goals.
I have the feeling that Black people have more visibility today on TV than a few decades ago. I’m thinking of artists, presenters, entertainers and so on. Am I right or I am wrong?
You’re right and wrong. Because there are more channels, you obviously have more Black employees. But how many people of color own the channels versus others ? How many managers do you have in Broadcast versus the basis you see in front of the camera ?
So, yes we may gain in front of the camera, but our struggle is still station management and station ownership ! It’s still a fight. We may progress, but there’s still progress to be made.
What is your thought about the evolution of Black people in the audiovisual industry over the last 30 years?
There was a time, back in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s, when we had very few African American Directors. Today, there are more African American Directors, but you do not have very many African American general managers. The General Managers are the ones who run the stations. So, there’s still work to be done. I think you have a lot of bright folks coming out of colleges with experience. I believe it’s just a matter of time that you’re going to have more Black people who have a seat at the table.
You won eight times the Emmy Awards for broadcast news. When was that ? What impact did those victories have on your social and professional life ?
We had the greatest success about Emmys and so forth when I was in Washington DC. I started an investigating unit there. I hired some very bright people and we ran out and did stories that other people would not be able to do. Those stories got people to watch our station because we were solving real problems and bringing to the attention a lot of the things that people were talking about but which wouldn’t be broadcast.
So, the Emmys and the Society Professional Journalism Awards and Radio Television News Director Awards as well as the Associated Press came with the success the station was having. How would it affect me personally ? Well, I’m here today as the vice president of programming and news for the Nation’s first african american managed and owned broadcast facility. I think I became well-known in the country for my ability to be able to lead a group of people into that kind of premiere. I guess that’s the biggest thing ! I don’t stand on the Awards. It’s more important to me that people watch what we do. The Awards are wonderful, but the success that we had in getting people to watch is even better !
You’ve been named vice president of programming and news at Black News Channel (BNC), the Nation’s first 24 hour- 7 days a week all news TV channel that focuses on african american news. What does this project mean to you?
It means everything ! For a long time I’ve worked in Broadcast and I’ve always worked with people that were dedicated to news. But not everybody understands the plight of African Americans. So, working here, I get to oversee our daily content which is culturally specific to the needs and wants of the african american community. And we do that unapologetically !
I want the world to watch us and catch Black people doing good things. Because now, we’re, unfortunately, too often being seen on TV as criminals and that sort of things !
So, to help me fulfill this mission, I have a staff of beautiful african american people dedicated to telling these positive stories as well as what’s going on all over the world.
What types of programs are broadcast?
We have a series of programs. We do news programming which starts at 6 am. So, from 6 to 9 am, there’s a 3-hour newscast.
At 9 am, we have a program out of Washington D.C called « D.C Today Live ». It’s a look at the life and times of African Americans through the lens of the nation capital. At 10 am, I have 2 bright young females who host a live TV show called « Being a Woman ». They discuss topics of interest to women of all ages. After, we go back into a repeat of our morning news programming until the mid-afternoon.
Every day, there’s a different type of show that we air.
« HBCU this week » is a show that focuses attention on historical Black colleges. We also have a program « BNC Sports Weekly » that talks about athletics as related to Black people. And then, we go into a series of documentaries, everything from Nelson Mandela to Lil Wayne is dealt with on this programming. « Doctor For The People » is a health show basically related to medical issues that impact African-Americans in the US and globally. « All Things Men » is a talk show in which men can discuss their issues. « From The Heart » is hosted by a clinical psychologist that talks to teenagers about issues that are important to the Black kids today.
The «Color Of STEM » is another program widely viewed as the next best thing to get our young people involved in engineering. The goal of this show is to inspire and encourage our youth in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). I also have a couple of sports programs such as « Guide to the Game » that takes an inside look at the Olympics or « Countdown Tokyo » which is another Olympics oriented show.
Then, we do have a pre-unique show called « Taste To The Town » where our host goes from city to city and she profiles the best black owned restaurants in that particular community. She also profiles what Black people like to do in this specific town. « Star Block Workout » is a show hosted by a Black guy who lives in England. He goes around the world and shows people how they can stay healthy without having to go to the gym.
In the afternoon, we have a show called « Ladies First » that focuses on life and times of women aged 30 and more. This show is followed by another program out of Washington D.C « Kelly Wright Show ». It’s like an afternoon talk show with interesting subject matters and outstanding guests. And then, we go into our « News Prime Live » at 7 pm, which is a 3-hour program. That’s pretty much our broadcast day !
Speaking about the programs, will they be politically oriented ? As BNC chairman is Julius Caesar Watts Jr, a former republican congressman, will this platform be used as a political tool to attract and get Black votes?
Not at all actually ! I’m a newsman, which means that I strictly stand on the side of neutrality. I’m not politically motivated. I’m not swayed by politicians. I don’t care who owns the place. Nobody tells me what kind of news to do. If people lose confidence in the fact that we are neutral, then we’ve lost everything ! So, no one in this company has ever even asked me what my politics is, because it doesn’t matter ! My job is to make sure that this staff is going to put out there information that is factual, fair and balanced. And trust me, I stand by that !
J.C is a wonderful chairman. We talk about many things, but we’ve never ever discussed political views as related to Black News Channel because that would be inappropriate !
Fair enough ! How many subscribers are you planning to reach?
When we launched, we were hoping to reach 33 million households. But, given the rapid expansion of BNC, we’re now looking more at 80 to 85 million households.
Do you think that this TV channel will help boost the image of Black people in the US and worldwide?
Absolutely ! It has already had ! I get hundreds of e-mails every single day from people who want to have shows or who want to be guests on shows on the network or people who are patting our back because the network exists. So, I think that in the one and a half month that we’ve been on air, we’ve already had a great impact !
Is it possible to watch the programs from abroad?
If you have the device « Roku », you can have access to our programs. We’re working on clearances in Africa and some other places. But remember that we’ve just been on air for a little more than a month ! There’s still so much to do !
We are proud to announce that BNC is available on ROKU. #BNC #TruthIlluminated #ROKU
Publiée par Black News Channel sur Lundi 23 mars 2020
What advice or tips would you give a young sister or brother who wishes to make a career in the media industry?
Never give up your dream ! Get to know people who are already working in this field. Find someone who can mentor you. Stay with them, latch on to them, bug them. Do whatever it takes to get the advice that you do. Persevere and never give up !
 Roku is a device that offers access to streaming media content from various online services.