The country’s sole African American-led news network has arrived.

Black News Channel debuted this week, the second week of Black History Month, to fill what its founders called a void in representation in national news. The network began broadcasting in select markets on Monday.

The 24-7 cable channel features black anchors “dedicated to the unique perspective of African American communities,” according to a statement from its co-founders J.C. Watts and Bob Brillante, and will debut in “majority African American markets” first, according to its website, including Atlanta and Los Angeles.

It’s available to select Spectrum and Xfinity X-1 customers and will premiere on Sling and Roku at a later, unspecified date.

It aims to reach 100 million households at the end of its rollout.

In addition to Watts, a former Republican congressman and current Black News Channel chair, the channel’s leadership team and anchor lineup are almost exclusively African Americans.

Programming will include a health series focused on medical issues that impact African Americans as well as traditional morning and primetime news programs.

In an appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered, Watts said that while major news outlets feature black hosts and guests, they’re rarely focused on uniquely African-American experiences.

“I think there needs to be a more comprehensive story told about the African American community, and we’ll have a venue to do that,” he told NPR.

The channel won’t take sides, but it’s got bipartisan support

Black News Channel will tackle politicized topics but won’t take a side, Watts said.

“We’re not looking to be liberal or conservative,” he told NPR. “We want to provide a venue for African Americans to have a voice, to be a part of the dialogue that’s going on in the country, be it incarceration reform or impeachment.”

“I can’t tell you how excited I am that there is going to be a 24 hour, seven day a week Black News Channel,” California Rep. Karen Bass, Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said at the launch event. “I was thrilled from day one.”

“We’ve been really pushing for diversity and inclusion in the broadcast space and cable space and it’s because we live in a multi-racial civil society,” said New York Rep. Yvette D. Clarke. “For far too long, our media didn’t speak to that and today still doesn’t speak to that diversity. The Black News Channel will fill a void in many spaces.”

While the network’s availability is limited, Watts plans to grow its reach.

“Today, information is so targeted to groups,” Watts said. “Every demographic out there has a venue that they can access for news information, culture, wellness, etc. Except for the African American community.”

The channel will partner with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association made up of over 200 African American-owned community newspapers across the country. The association’s president, Benjamin Chavis, told NBC that the association would act as a system of national bureaus, and much of BNC’s news coverage would build on reporting done by NNPA members at a local level.

According to Chavis, the association would benefit from the BNC’s distribution network and digital advertising revenue. He added that he believes in BNC’s mission, and is excited that the newspaper publishers association will be a part of it.

“One of the things I witnessed in my 30-plus years in the black press is that there’s been a tendency for black news to be marginalized and underdistributed,” Chavis said. “To me, there’s an opportunity for the black press to fill that void.”

The company already employs over 60 people at its headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida, and has goals to build bureaus in Washington, New York and Atlanta, too.

Additional reporting by NBC News and CNN Newsource.

Graphic courtesy of Black News Channel
Graphic courtesy of Black News Channel

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