Named four times by Ebony Magazine as one of the “150 Most Influential African Americans in the United States,” Roland Martin has enjoyed a career as a journalist that includes interviews with multiple U.S. presidents to the top athletes and entertainers in Hollywood. Martin spent six years as a contributor for CNN and is the former executive editor/general manager of the Chicago Defender.
Martin recently signed on as a contributor to iHeartMedia’s newly launched Black Information Network (BIN), and is a co-keynote interview participant in the Black Media Symposium, presented by Triton Digital. The hour-long live event on Facebook Live and the RBR+TVBR YouTube channel is a free event.
RBR+TVBR spoke with Martin, who offers an advanced look at just some of topics up for discussion at the Symposium, set for 11:30pm Eastern/8:30am Pacific on Wednesday.
RBR+TVBR: Congratulations on becoming part of the team at the newly launched Black Information Network. What importance does such a first-of-its kind national network bring to the Black community?
ROLAND MARTIN: Information is important, and the reality is we do not have enough sources. It is one of the reasons why I launched a digital show in 2018.
Blacks are inundated with entertainment, and no one else had been doing news and information. We were not getting the timely information that we need. Even at the Black radio stations you have, you do not have a real commitment to news and information. That, to me, is a serious detriment to the Black community.
RBR+TVBR: Do you believe events of 2020 have put us on the path to permanent change, and what’s the role of Black media – given your past experience at the Chicago Defender — as we embark on this desired goal?
ROLAND MARTIN: I believe we are in “The Third Reconstruction” in terms of the path we are taking since the death of George Floyd. The only problem is that the Black media hasn’t taken the lead, and that to me is part of the problem.
Then, you have the question of what Black media is: You have Black newspapers, but they are small and quite frankly have not done a good job on the digital side. Now, where do you find Black radio voices? Sirius XM … but not so much the over-the-air radio station.
Black media is following as opposed to leading, and we have this regurgitation of mainstream news. There is no original writing — they are taking a report from what might be a White staffer and rewriting it. Black media needs to be a content leader and not a content follower.
Hispanic media is in a much better position than Black media is. They benefit from Univision. There is no black counterpart to Univision.
RBR+TVBR: The selection of Kamala Harris as the Vice Presidential candidate alongside Joe Biden is a move that will certainly embolden many in the Black community. Do you have any particular thoughts on Black Media’s role in the 2020 election?
ROLAND MARTIN: The only way for Black media to shape the campaign is to use the platform to explain to people the issues, and tell them what is at stake. Campaign ads only do so much. I’m not caught up in the personalities of Trump, Pence, Biden or Harris. I’m about the issues.
Now, look at black radio – are you going to see Rickey Smiley, D.L. Hughley, Michael Baisden, Russ Parr, DeDe McGuire or Steve Harvey used to speak to the issues of Black people every day between now and November? No. If Tom Joyner was still on the air? Yes. I cannot say that about those shows.
RBR+TVBR: Is it a money matter?
ROLAND MARTIN: That is not what it is. Ask how a 50,000-watt news and information station makes money. It comes down to advertisers – they will fund entertainment … it takes a commitment of company leaders to do it, and do it in a way where it can be profitable — or at least break even.
Remember, news was never designed to be a profit engine. It was about the public good. That’s where we are.
If you don’t give consumer what the consumer wants, they will find somebody who will give it too them and you will be left out in the cold. That is what is happening to Black media companies.
The “Black Media Symposium” will be presented on Facebook Live and via YouTube on Wednesday, August 19, from 11:30am-12:30pm Eastern.
You may view the Black Media Symposium on YouTube by clicking here.