“Part of the Further Fracturing of American Society’

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GBH’s suspension of ‘Basic Black’ seen as troubling media trend

From The Boston Globe

One segment aired the challenges of businesses owned by people of color during the pandemic. Another episode was devoted to breast cancer being harder to treat in Black women. One show was about “quiet quitting,” and whether people of color can afford to do the bare minimum on the job.

Those and other compelling discussions of issues that showcased the concerns and intellectual debates in Boston’s communities of color were the staples of “Basic Black” on public television station GBH, which described itself as “Putting the soul in public media since 1968.”

But after GBH suspended the TV program on Wednesday as part of cost-cutting measures, longtime viewers and contributors worry that its audience won’t find that type of programming anywhere else.

“We relied on ‘Basic Black’ for years to have our perspective,” said Michael Curry, chief executive of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers who served as president of the Boston branch of the NAACP. Curry, a frequent guest on “Basic Black,” added it gave experts and influencers who weren’t often seen in mainstream media “an opportunity to share their perspectives.”

The show will no longer air on TV, GBH announced, but station executives said it would be reinvented as digital-first programming. GBH also suspended production of two other TV programs, citing low viewership that didn’t cover its costs, and laid off 31 employees, including two producers who worked on “Basic Black.”

Originally called “Say Brother,” the show was launched in the crucible of 1968 — the year of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and passage of the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1968. “Basic Black” set out to diversify public programming and highlight the perspectives of people of color in Boston and beyond. Until its cancellation, “Basic Black” was the longest-running program on any public television station focused on people of color.

“This show survived a pandemic, it survived the violence that we saw throughout Trayvon Martin, George Floyd — and now it’s gone,” said Andrew Leong, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and regular guest on “Basic Black.”…

Kim McLarin, a novelist, former journalist, and professor at Emerson College who hosted the program for a year, said the show “put Boston on the map and improved Boston’s image to the world and to Black America.”

“I’m glad it will exist in some form, but it’s part of the further fracturing of American society and how we connect and what narratives we hear,” McLarin said….

And while other news shows might feature one Black speaker at a time to discuss a current issue, the show’s format of often including several Black guests and other people of color showcased a diversity of opinions. For instance, in one episode in 2021, Black scholars debated the significance of Juneteenth, and whether the holiday is a celebration of emancipation.

The stoppage of “Basic Black” and other shows at GBH comes at a time when media organizations across the country are cutting back programming and laying off staff. Many of the hardest hit organizations are local news outlets.

3 Comments

  1. Greg Fitzgerald on May 25, 2024 at 10:22 pm

    Having been laid off by WGBH in the past, I understand the anger and frustration. But…

    Appointment viewing of broadcast and cable TV programs in 2024 is like having movies mailed by Netflix 15 years ago.

    There is no debating the impact TV shows like Greater Boston and Basic Black had on viewers during the days when we all watched traditional shows on TV and cable.

    But where are the viewers now?

    Obviously not watching Channel 2 or 44 in Boston. (To watch the Red Sox, I have to subscribe to a streaming service (FUBO) that doesn’t even include GBH or GBX.)

    There are far better ways to distribute high quality news and public affairs features than traditional TV. I only hope GBH executives are true to their word when they say they will bring back the ideas and the journalism of the axed shows, but hopefully in formats and on platforms that people actually watch.

  2. Alex Pirie on May 25, 2024 at 5:47 pm

    Deja vu all over again? I’m remembering when Say Brother was taken off the air. Different underlying issues but there was an angry meeting at what was then the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts on Blue Hill Avenue. Stan Calderwood and Michael Rice presented on why they were shutting it down – their principal reason being that it wasn’t being watched very much in the Black community. Unfortunately, for them, one of the MIT staff who had been doing the viewer research was present and stood up and called BS. The meeting ended hastily! Times have changed and, yes, maybe there is less viewership at the moment, but Basic Black is an important resource for all of Boston. It’s also an acknowledgement that the Black community deserves some risk taking from a station sometimes more noteworthy for yet another English class drama. Maybe make more of an effort to leave the elegant walls of the new building and talk to people, reach out and publicize, build community support, step up and take a risk?

  3. Thomas Devlin on May 25, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    The Globe had some very scary comments about the demise of “Basic Black.”

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