NEW YORK – BET canceled its "Nightly News," (search) saying it instead will offer news briefs throughout the day, specials about newsworthy events and an urban affairs show, "The Cousin Jeff Chronicles," that will run four times a year.
Robert Johnson, founder of the leading cable channel for black viewers, said the change does not represent a lessening of BET's news commitment. He said it would improve how BET (search) offers news.
"With 24-hour news networks and everyone getting news off the Internet, our audience doesn't want to wait until 11 p.m. to find out what the news is," said Debra Lee, BET president and chief operating officer.
As its executives explained in a sales presentation to advertisers in New York (search) on Tuesday, BET's focus is reaching black viewers aged 18 to 34 with music programming as its primary focus. Lee said it had not been decided what would replace "BET Nightly News" when it ends this summer.
The decision comes after BET canceled other public affairs programming such as "Lead Story," which is now replicated by host Ed Gordon on National Public Radio, and "Teen Summit" in recent years, noted Richard Prince, who writes the "Journal-isms" online column for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
BET also fired "BET Tonight" host Tavis Smiley in 2001 following a dispute about Smiley offering a newsworthy interview to ABC instead of BET.
"What can you say?" Prince said. "I guess one could sigh. But that hasn't done much in the past."
If the hourly news briefs are done well and manage to reach more people than the half-hour newscast does, it could be a good thing, he said.
But BET has to overcome the perception that it marginalizes its news and public affairs responsibilities, he said, and it's especially crucial that BET's young viewers learn the importance of news and public affairs.
Lee said that "hopefully people will work with us and we'll find a way of doing the news in a way that works."