The job pickings are slim for cable-news anchors of color, making it hard to imagine a black anchor with his own weekend show at a top network quitting his gig. But weekend anchor T.J. Holmes did just that, trading in his cushy spot at CNN for one at BET.
Holmes spoke with The Root about why he's leaving CNN just before the 2012 election year, the challenges that lie ahead and the story he wishes he could have covered for the BET audience.
The Root: Why is now the right time to make the move to BET?
T.J. Holmes: Sometimes opportunities come along that are unexpected. The timing was perfect. I've done so much at CNN, and I've certainly enjoyed my time there. It was time to try something else, to do something else. I can't think of a better place to do it. Given that we have an election cycle coming up and it's the first time we'll get a chance to say "incumbent black president," I'm getting an opportunity to do something that means a lot to me and to my community.
TR: What will be your role in developing BET's news coverage? What challenges do you see?
TJH: My role will be as a journalist. They brought me on because of my news background and for my news chops. I think many people in the black community would like to turn the TV on when they get home or even in the morning to see news coverage about things that matter to them, coming from people who look like them and talk like them. We have a great opportunity to do that next year, and I hope to play a huge role.
As for the challenges, [BET] does not have the same type of newsroom, news capability or resources of a major news network that does nothing but news. I don't know if those challenges will come up. I'm not anticipating that type of challenge, but it will be different from the day-to-day type of grind [at CNN], where we were live all around the world.
TR: What would you say to people who are wondering why you're leaving an established news channel for BET, which is not known most for its news programming?
TJH: I would say wait until 2012. You have to start somewhere. BET certainly has a foundation in news programming and information programming. I think [beefing up its news programming] was a big part of BET wanting me to come on board, and a big part of me wanting to come on board. BET is saying, "Here is what we're trying to do, and we're taking it so seriously that we went to go get this guy with this [news] background."
I could have stayed at CNN. I had the opportunity to do so. This wasn't about me looking for a job. I chose BET for a reason, for the opportunity that I did not have at CNN just because [they have] a different type of audience. I don't know when this opportunity would come along again, so I couldn't pass it up.
TR: The year is coming to a close. What do you think is the most memorable story of 2011?
TJH: Frankly, Herman Cain was a bit of a juggernaut for me. Herman Cain was a fascinating story for a while. I said to someone earlier that I wish I was on air at BET to have that conversation with the black audience about this black man being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. I think that's a conversation that was worth having. He is a guy worth examining a bit more. His rise, and some would say his fall, has been kind of fascinating for a political junkie like me to watch.
Akoto Ofori-Atta is The Root's assistant editor.