Two years after iHeartMedia launched the Black Information Network (BIN) as a go-to place for news and talk for African Americans, the network is on the air in dozens of markets and is the news source for more than 100 iHeart-owned music stations.
“The Black Information Network is first and foremost, a news network that comes from the Black perspective,” said BIN President Tony Coles. “It makes a difference. And more importantly, we are sourcing stories that mainstream newsrooms would never tell only because they lacked the diversity to bring some of these stories to light.”
Coles, who is also Division President of the iHeartMedia Markets Group, details the mission of the network on the latest episode of “Math & Magic,” the podcast hosted by iHeart CEO Bob Pittman. At a time when a lot of media outlets turn up the heat in order to gin up ratings or clicks, Pittman said he is proud the BIN team has created something that treats its audience as intelligent decision makers.
“You seem to avoid the temptation to somehow get people's blood pressure up in hopes of getting them more engaged,” Pittman said.
Coles said their aim is to create an unbiased news source to build credibility with listeners and dispel the “fake news” narrative that has developed in recent years.
“The reality is that so many of the gimmicks and the tactics that a lot of news organizations have resorted to over the years, is exactly why a lot of people had turned away from news,” said Coles. “And we have to keep in mind that the Black community is not monolithic -- there are people with wide ranging views and opinions. And for us to have any amount of credibility, we need to make sure that we have that balance in the reporting that we provide.”
Pittman said iHeart is also using a unique approach for commercial radio to deal with the peaks and valleys of news audiences that prove to be a challenge for ad-supported news outlets. They have enlisted a group of founding partner brands to support BIN, similar to how they might underwrite public radio. “We need to free them from the need to chase ratings. And we want them to be able to do what they do best, which is really focused on informing the community and creating a trusted news source,” Pitman said.
BIN is currently supported by brands including Bank of America, Verizon, CVS, Lowe's, 23andMe, McDonald's, GEICO and Sony.
How BIN Nearly Didn’t Happen
Looking back, Pittman said the reality is that the BIN project nearly died on the vine. In 2020, the pandemic led iHeartMedia to put every development project on hold. Then George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis and protests erupted nationwide. Coles urged iHeart to launch BIN in response and, with Pittman’s approval, four weeks later the network was on the air.
“We started the development of this network long before the launch. And I think had we not had so many creative minds in place thinking about this, that we would not have been able to launch as quickly as we did,” said Coles. He said that when he reached out to people who had been working on the project, telling them it had been greenlit for launch, something surprising happened. “They hadn’t stopped working on this network or thinking about it, and that's how we were able to hit the ground running,” he said. “Because so many people were already emotionally invested in bringing this to life. They just needed the okay to do it.”
Protests or not, the pandemic was still a reality. And that meant how BIN was produced changed. Rather than rely on a centralized news hub in Atlanta, its team worked from their homes. Two years later, Coles says that decentralization has proved advantageous.
“We now have journalists and reporters everywhere from New York City to Huntsville, Alabama. And it's not just about the range of places where we have studios and reporters,” he said. “It's the perspectives that they bring.”
That has meant that Coles – who himself grew up on a farm in a tiny Ohio town of 500 – now runs a network that reports on Black farmers while also reporting on big city issues. “If we didn't have Black reporters in rural communities and had we stuck to that original vision of a team in Atlanta, the network would most likely sound very different than it is,” he said.
Listen to the complete “Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing” episode HERE.