While CNN is not providing funding, she said she has other unnamed financial backers who will enable her to start her network next month in Atlanta with six full-time employees as well as freelancers. She is currently seeking producers, social media experts, reporters and anchors proficient in American Sign Language. (You can apply here.)
She will begin with two daily newscasts: one at 10 a.m. and one at 7 p.m. The programs will be available in a loop all day on her website www.sign1news.com. She hopes to eventually make it a 24/7 operation. For now, if there is big breaking news, the organization will also add live programming as needed.
Graham doesn't plan to be in front of the camera. She will serve at the start as an executive producer.
"I'm done" as an anchor, she said. "I have had 20 good years. I had a good time doing it. But all of my energy and focus and work right now is behind the scenes pushing Sign1News to the forefront."
She said nobody measures how many people are deaf or hearing impaired, much less how many use American Sign Language. But she feels there's enough of an audience to make her service viable.
And while mainstream TV news networks provide closed-captioning for the hearing impaired, the quality of closed captioning for live programming can be spotty at best.
"We are grateful that closed captioning is even out there," said Aaron Shoemaker, executive director for All Hands On, an Acworth-based non-profit organization which fosters relationship between the deaf and emergency managers in preparing for disasters. "The deaf fought for that for many years. It's better than nothing."
But he noted that not only are typos rife in live closed captioning feeds, but the inevitable delay can be distracting. Plus, "a lot of subtext is lost when it comes to captioning," he said.
The advantage of Graham's network, Shoemaker said, is it will be in the deaf's primary language. "The meaning of the news is not going to be lost," he said. "The integrity of the message is going to be maintained."
And while there are folks on YouTube that provide decent amateur sign language readings of the news, Shoemaker is excited to see an operation that will be not just professional but also available on a consistent basis.
Sign1News will offer news that is of specific interest to the deaf community as well as stories of broader interest, Graham said.
Credit: Rodney Ho
Credit: Rodney Ho
After her press conference, Graham said the entire venture remains "surreal" in her mind until it actually launches. This is her first entrepreneurial effort.
"I'm extremely patient," she said. "I'm willing to take it one step at a time. I try not to look too far down the road. I have a lot of little steps to take in between. I listen to what my spirit is telling me."
Graham began her TV career in 1997 in Charlotte before moving to Fox 5 in 2000 as a sports anchor. She spent 2009 through last fall on Fox 5's popular morning show "Good Day Atlanta."
She said she began thinking three years ago that this would be her final contract at the network and spent her spare time gearing up for this launch until she left in September. She said she pitched the idea to all the major news networks. "It was a hard sell," she said earlier at the press conference. "It was a very hard sell." She knew it didn't fit the business models of most TV networks. Fortunately, CNN bit.
"CNN got it," she said. The Atlanta-based operation works, she said, because it needs content from all over the world and requires these reciprocal relationships with other networks, especially in breaking news situations.
Graham said she had no connection to the deaf community "before God pulled me into it" in the 1990s.
At first, she took a few American Sign Language classes in college. Then she got drawn into the deaf community itself. "I was being called to speak at deaf institutes as an anchor. He kept pulling me and pulling me. It's so beautiful. I've made life long friends in the deaf culture. I'm here because He called me to be here."
Check out her full press conference here from Facebook Live: