Black News Channel chief: the network could move its headquarters to Atlanta

Princell Hair, president and CEO of Black News Channel, was a high-level executive with CNN in Atlanta in the mid-2000s. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Caption
Princell Hair, president and CEO of Black News Channel, was a high-level executive with CNN in Atlanta in the mid-2000s. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

BNC is currently based in Tallahassee but already has 75 employees based in Atlanta.

The Black News Channel, which launched last year and is now available in more than 52 million households, is seriously considering moving its headquarters from Tallahassee, Florida, to Atlanta, according to its CEO and president Princell Hair, who joined BNC in July 2020.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday, Hair said the rapidly growing news operation is seeking studio space in Atlanta and hopes to commit to what could end up being the network’s new headquarters within the next 12 months.

“We still think Atlanta is the right place for BNC,” said Hair, who was in Atlanta Tuesday to meet with the City of Atlanta for an unspecified project. “If the business continues to grow as it is, we probably can make that transition in the next couple of years.” He said the move from Tallahassee would be gradual, not immediate.

Already, three of its key on-air talent are based in Atlanta, working out of their homes: New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who has a weekday show at 10 p.m., and the morning team of Sharon Reed and Mike Hill. Reed last worked at CBS46 as an evening anchor while Hill had been working with Fox Sports out of Los Angeles but moved to Atlanta with his new wife Cynthia Bailey of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” fame.

Blow, who splits time between Atlanta and Brooklyn, “is a very thoughtful provocative thinker,” Hair said. “I thought he’d make a good anchor show at 10 p.m.”

As for Reed and Hill, “I had followed their careers for a long time. I just thought they’d make a strong combination. She’s engaging and extremely intelligent. He is versatile, having come from sports. They’re both news junkies. They have conversations on air that you don’t hear anywhere else.”

Of the 320 employees hired so far, half are in Tallahassee and about 75 (or one-quarter) of the staff is based out of Atlanta. They now have correspondents in 14 cities.

“We started out as a hybrid remote operation out of the gate,” said Hair. “I think we’ve done an incredible job of producing content from different locations and creating a culture and camaraderie that is probably as good as you can get.”

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has been the primary financial resource for BNC and is spending tens of millions, if not more, to get the operation going.

Hair, a Florida native, has had 30-plus years in broadcast journalism. As a child, he considered being in front of the camera but by college at Florida International University, he decided working behind the camera was his core strength. He was a news director by age 30 and a general manager by age 36 at CNN and spent four years in Atlanta, living in Roswell. He segued to sports programming for 11 years at what became NBC Sports.

He took 2019 off to take a sabbatical and improved his golf game. Then in January 2020, he got a call from Gary Wordlaw of the Black News Channel. They needed help with the launch and he did some consulting. But by late spring, they needed more than that, so he signed on in July as CEO and president.

He met with Khan, the primary investor. “We did qualitative and quantitative research in the field, really tried to figure out what the sweet spot is for the African American news consumer,” Hair said. Khan was convinced and decided to go all in.

“The content is culturally specific to Black and brown communities,” Hair said. “We want to be an alternative to the traditional news networks.”

And since millions no longer have a cable subscription, they are launching an OTT option for streaming services and an app aimed at younger viewers called BNC Go as well as a subscription-only option, which Fox News already has and CNN is rolling out next year.

Since the George Floyd protests, Hair feels BNC is more needed than ever.

“As a Black man, when I watched that video of George Floyd the first time, I had this visceral reaction,” he said. “As a journalist and a Black journalist, it’s more important than it’s ever been for people that look like me to be in prominent positions in news organizations. There are voices that have been missing in our coverage for many, many years. The timing is right for these voices to finally be heard. It’s a movement. As journalists, especially Black journalists, we want to ensure this movement will continue.”

Atlanta has become a minor hub for news operations.

Scripps is launching a new news network this fall out of Atlanta called Newsy. Scripps’ Court TV is also headquartered out of Buckhead. The Weather Channel has been based in Atlanta for decades. CNN’s power base shifted out of Atlanta to New York starting in the 2000s but still has ample operations here. TNT’s sports hub is located here as well.

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