In Depth

NABJ: 'Washington Watch' to Offer a New Perspective on D.C.

By Allison J. Waldman

Roland S. Martin speaks eloquently and in bold statements. When he says that he has a fresh perspective for the 21st century, he means it.

In addition to currently running for the post as secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists, the multifaceted journalist is also preparing to host a new Sunday morning public affairs program for TV One called “Washington Watch.”

According to Martin, there is a sound and important reason for launching a new Sunday political talk show—diversity. “Every Friday we read the listings of who are booked for the Sunday shows and it is essentially television apartheid,” he said. “It is pathetic and atrocious when you watch and see virtually no people of color speaking of the issues of the day. Not just elected officials, but policy-makers.”

Martin, who is a CNN commentator as well as a radio analyst on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” is already diligently at work on the show. “We’re devising the format, but I will be the host and there will be a panel of journalists and analysts,” he said.

April Ryan, White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, and Robert Traynham, Philadelphia Tribune columnist and CN8, The Comcast Network’s Washington, D.C., bureau chief , will be regular panel members.

TV One CEO and President Johnathan Rodgers said the Sunday news program landscape will shift dramatically when “Washington Watch” debuts on the network Sept. 27 at 11 a.m. Eastern time.

“This show exists on TV One, which is primarily an entertainment network, as a way to keep our viewers in touch with what’s going on in Washington with events that really have a daily effect on their lives. But in addition to that, it will both chronicle and celebrate and critically observe the presidency of Barack Obama,” Rodgers said.

Over 90 percent of TV One’s audience is African-American adults. “Washington Watch” will be targeted to that audience with “all the sort of nuance and flavor that that involves,” Rodgers added.
“In the same way that we were able [to] at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and on election night in Chicago, our overlay is to bring that news from an African-American perspective,” he said.

Martin’s role on “Washington Watch” is a direct result of his work on the 2008 presidential election.

“The African-American community really appreciated what he did as a CNN correspondent throughout the campaign,” Rodgers said. “They felt that they could count on him for not only intelligence but courage, because he wouldn’t let other pundits get away with just making up stuff. So he is a hero in our community. He’s contemporary, he’s knowledgeable, he’s experienced and he’s broad-based.”

As for the show’s guests, “We want to bring on people who are involved in issues. There will be members of the Congressional Black Caucus, other members of Congress—the House and the Senate—as well as administration officials,” Martin said.

In addition to voices from inside the beltway, “Washington Watch” is going to include the involvement of real people outside D.C. “We’re going to have interactivity. We’re going to take various video comments and reports from our audience, utilizing email, utilizing Skype,” Martin said. “We want to hear from regular people. I don’t believe in talking down to the rest of the country.”

The show will be broadcast from Washington, but Martin is determined to interview people who have not been regulars on the other Sunday morning political shows and draw viewers over to TV One.

“I just don’t believe that people should only look to ‘Meet the Press,’ ‘Face the Nation’ and ‘This Week’ and the show on Fox to know what people are saying and thinking all around this country,” Martin said. “There are any number of people who travel to Washington every week who testify before Congress, who meet with lawmakers, who are lobbying for various issues—people who are coming from different parts of the country. We’ll be able to have those people on our show.”

There will also be familiar African-American celebrities on the program. “Many African-American entertainers and athletes are very involved in public policy,” Martin said. “Actress Gabrielle Union has talked openly about being raped, and has testified before Congress when it came to funding for inner city rape crisis centers. You had former NBA player Alonzo Mourning talking about the need for additional funding to target youth anti-violence efforts. These folks have a voice. I just don’t believe the only people who care about public policy are Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Look at what Don Cheadle is doing. We want to provide an avenue to have their voices broadcast to the rest of the country.”

Being an African-American broadcaster in the era of President Obama suits Martin’s energetic style and passion. “I can’t tell you how many places I’ve gone to around the country where I’ve talked to people who shine shoes, work in convenience stores, bicycle messengers, lawyers and doctors and nurses and teachers, you name it—people who were just captivated by Obama’s election,” Martin said.

“Now the question is ‘what’s next?’ I think we need to be able to answer that ‘what’s next.’ What is the black agenda moving forward? How do we hold this Congress and this administration accountable to the issues that we care about,” Martin said. “That’s really what this show is going to speak to. … I hope we’re able to galvanize people and move them to action. It’s one thing to sit and talk, but I believe we have to challenge people. People can’t just sit back and watch things happen.”