Wright leads a BET news renaissance

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

On Dec. 31, Will Wright was looking forward to not working for the first time in 35 years.
UPN-affiliated WWOR-TV, where he’d been the hard-charging news director for nine years, had been absorbed into a Fox-run duopoly with WNYW-TV in the New York market, and Mr. Wright was leaving.
He so relished the thought of being a man of leisure for a couple of weeks.
But he couldn’t resist the chance to remake “BET Nightly News,” the only national TV newscast targeted at African American audiences, and to expand the synergy envelope by using content, resources, space and even some personnel of BET’s sister organization, CBS News, to build the new “Nightly” half-hour.
“I felt that what I did at WWOR news … had an ethnic skew … and built a coalition of viewers based on minorities,” said the Emmy-winning Mr. Wright. By the time he left WWOR, his newscast had grown strong enough to be the one to beat at 10 p.m.
“How do you top that?” he asked himself.
Perhaps by returning to CBS News, where his career began on the radio side in the early ’70s.
Now Mr. Wright, executive producer of “BET Nightly,” is paid by CBS News but reports to Nina Henderson Moore, BET’s senior VP for news, documentaries and acquisitions, on the editorial content, which has to conform to CBS News standards-and-practices guidelines. On the operations side, Mr. Wright reports to CBS VP for News Services John Frazee, who last year formed a “BET Nightly” task force with CBS Newspath News Director Bill Mondora.
Less than two months later, on Feb. 25, the new “BET Nightly News” made its official debut with former CNN Headline News anchor Jacque Reid anchoring from a New York set supplied by WCBS-TV, which also is kicking in technical direction and some staff as well as some stories.
A sample lineup started with a report by CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston on a tax scam connected to the issue of slave reparations; stories about former NBA star Jayson Williams’ troubles stemming from the shooting death of his limo driver; the new Miss USA, who is black; the trial of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly known as H. Rap Brown); and abuses of the elderly in nursing homes.
Then came a concise roundup of news about the war in Afghanistan; U.S. Congressman Gary Condit on the eve of what would prove to be his defeat for re-election, the escalating Palestinian-Israeli violence; a feature on Olympic Gold medalists Vonetta Flowers and Sarah Hughes making their triumphant rounds in New York; and a feel-good story about at-risk teens training dogs to assist the disabled.
He also replaced the old “black stocks” listing (it included penny stocks and wasn’t “representative of black wealth in America”) with a quick graphic display of overall market closing averages.
“People are loving it,” Mr. Wright said.
Next on his agenda: “normalcy” and cross-training to provide backup and relief for a staff that’s been working 14- and 15-hour days; a Washington bureau, whose chief as of next week will be former C-SPAN producer Pamela Gentry; and an increased use of BET.com as a “second stream of information” for BET’s constituency.