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Black In America - Business Exchange

William Reed | 10/26/2010, 3:34 p.m.
While the other networks and their on-air personalities continue to reflect society's resistance...
Bill Reed


While the other networks and their on-air personalities continue to reflect society's resistance to issues of race and equity, CNN continues valuable and educational programming about being Black in America. Blacks and other "minorities" are on network and cable shows in abundance, but few outwardly identify with being Black in America.

Across most channels Blacks' image is of a monolithic entity without culture or historical relevance.Even those networks with Blacks in their employ, their personas and presentations are normally cued to America's "mainstream."

Name a Black on-air personality that you associate with being an advocate for Black empowerment. CNN and Maria de la Soledad Teresa O'Brien have taken the boldest steps in the industry toward Black education and empowerment with the Black in America series.

Black In America is a CNN multiplatform programming project with a series of documentaries that look at the culture and issues of Blacks in America. Now in its third year of production, the initiative is gaining widespread acclaim igniting discussions on Black issues.

This year Black in America has evolved to include local partnerships with leadership individuals and groups on issues facing Blacks. As O'Brien and CNN focus on the role of the church in Black life in the third production set called Almighty Debt", the network's marketing practices have evolved to a level deserving of mention.

Much of the success of the series is based on the tone set by O'Brien. The multiracial daughter of an Irish Australian mechanical engineering professor and an Afro-Cuban French and English teacher has been the face and impetus of the Black in America franchise since it began in 2008. O'Brien & Co. developed one of the most widely televised documentary series on the contemporary Black experience in cable television history.

To which she says: "With each Black in America I hope to shed light on the challenges and triumphs of the African American community. My goal is always to tell the story of how we got where we are today and to measure the distance traveled." CNN has had high outreach among Blacks since its founding by Ted Turner in 1980. Xernona Clayton was appointed Vice President of Urban Affairs in 1988 to forge positive relationships with Blacks.

From the beginning, CNN has faced an increasingly competitive media environment from more than 70 24-hour news channels, but nonetheless retained a dominant position for many years. In 1996 Fox News was launched and by early 2002 had overtaken CNN in the US ratings race. In 2009 CNN fell behind MSNBC with the 25-to-54-year old demographic.

Blacks have always had a presence at CNN and in 2009 the second Black In America was produced. The National Association of Black Journalists selected O'Brien as "Journalist of the Year" for the series. "Soledad's work in the Black In America series offered extraordinary and gripping stories of successful community leaders who are improving the lives of African-Americans," said NABJ President Kathy Y. Times. "This was an example of great reporting, and through her work and platform she shared stories in our communities that often go untold."

In the third series, Black In America enhances its brand as it delves into creative and proactive ways an African-American faith community is addressing the challenges of the economic crisis. For its "Almighty Debt" documentary, CNN offered kits to individuals and groups interested in holding their own screenings. In this innovative promotional technique O'Brien leads screening sessions that include a discussion forum with local leaders.

Such a forum was convened in the nation's capital by the Washington Informer local Black newspaper. The panel featured: Soledad, Pastor Deforest Soaries of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, syndicated financial columnist Michelle Singletary, Black Enterprise's Dr. Marc Lamont Hill and Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes.

"Black in America: Churched" debuted across America October 21st. O'Brien says "The Black In America experience is an American story...a raw and intimate look at stories that everyone will be able to relate to. I hope this documentary will open doors to dialogue and understanding."

William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org