Award-winning CNN on-air journalist T.J. Holmes will bring his talents to BET beginning in 2012 as part of a multi-platform deal with the African-American targeted network. I had a chance to speak with Holmes about his move to BET and how he envisions his role at the network heading into what promises to be a very busy 2012 news cycle. The first of a two-part interview appears below.
Tom Umstead: First congratulations on your deal with BET.
TJ Holmes: Thank you. I’m excited about it – it came out of nowhere and I wasn’t expecting it, but man the stars aligned and this is just the perfect time and the perfect opportunity for me.
TU: What prompted you to make the move from CNN to BET?
TJH: In all the conversations I was having with the folks at BET, one thing they said really struck me: ‘Where can black people go when they get home from work and turn on the TV to see people who look like them, talk like them and discuss things that are important to them?’ I opened my mouth to respond but nothing came out because there’s a void for the type of show that we get to an extent on morning radio with the Steve Harveys and Tom Joyners of the world where they’re discussing things and issues relevant to the black community. There’s no place to get that on TV anywhere at anytime. So for me the opportunity to speak to my community at this point in my career in this country’s history was too good to pass up.
TU: BET has done several news specials recently, but do you foresee the network really pushing into the news genre now that you’re there?
TJH: You said do I see BET pushing [into news]; I’m going to be pushing them. I think that’s a big part of why I’m on board. During the discussions we had before hand I wanted to get a good understanding of what BET was trying to do and what they hoped to do and what my role would be in it. Part of my role is to make those suggestions and say this is something we should be doing. BET already has a track record over the past few years for doing those types of specials – most recently the one with Michelle Obama [Michelle Obama On A Mission: Impact Africa,] the one just done with Herman Cain [The Curious Case Of Citizen Cain] and an interview with President Obama [The President Answers Black America] – and those types of events are absolutely relevant and the audience has responded. Now it’s time to take it to the next level of possibly giving that information to the audience more often on a day in and day out basis. There’s always something in the headlines that relevant to Black America that may not be getting the focus from other news outlets, so that’s something we hope to provide.
TU: Could you not have brought such stories to light while on CNN, which arguably has a wider reach?
TJH: You said arguably – I don’t say that to take any kind of shot at CNN but it’s just a different platform; it has a different reach and people expect different things from CNN. I couldn’t show up on the show that I do now and do a half-hour or even 15 minutes of black news or news geared directly toward the black community because that turns off another part of the audience that CNN is trying to reach. That’s not a knock against them but that’s their audience and business model and we understand that. Just like at BET, we can’t be expected to just do world headlines because that’s not what our audience demands. We’re trying to give them a place to come to get something else specific to what they need and what I believe what audience has been asking for.
TU: I know its early, but do you know what shows you’ll be developing for BET?
TJH: Tom, we have some development to do and the work is just getting started. My last day on the air at CNN is actually Christmas day after five plus years there.Then its full-steam ahead at BET in 2012.
TU: Going into the 2012 Presidential election, how important is it that BET provide news coverage from an African-American audience perspective?
TJH: It’s incredibly important. These are historic times – they were historic times [in 2008] to see an African American do as well as he was doing in the primaries and eventually become President. This is history again; it’s the first election cycle where we’re able to say incumbent black president. The nature of different news outlets will be to give a perspective, reach and mission in reporting a lot of the news. Black people are looking at the President differently than many other people are, and to not be able to get that point across or let those people have a voice is just a shame. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t a major part of my decision-making and why this could and would work in my estimation.