AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Hispanic Audiences Fueling TV News Growth

From new national ventures like ABC-Univision’s Fusion (which broadcasts in English) to new local Spanish-language newscasts around the country, broadcasters are expanding news offerings targeting Latino viewers to keep up with that audience’s growth in numbers and strength. The growth also signifies broadcasters’ foray into secondary markets that have burgeoning Latino populations.

After eight years at NBC-owned WTVJ Miami, Christine Portela left her news producer job in July for Fusion, the new ABC-Univision cable channel targeting young Latinos.

“While I loved working in local news, I realized that my friends — the coveted 18-34 demographic — weren’t watching local newscasts,” says Portela, one of 200 or so Fusion newsroom hires. “They only watched the newscast when I specifically asked them to, and most of the time they would just catch a specific report online.”

“When it comes to opportunities, this is only the beginning at a place like Fusion,” she says.

Portela is one of the growing number of broadcast journalists around the country riding the wave of growth in Hispanic TV, which, at the moment, is by far the industry’s “it” niche.

From new ventures like Fusion (which broadcasts in English) to new local Spanish-language newscasts around the country, broadcasters are expanding news offerings targeting Latino viewers to keep up with that audience’s growth in numbers and strength. The growth also signifies broadcasters’ foray into secondary markets that have burgeoning Latino populations, says Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

As Hofstra University journalism professor Bob Papper says: “There’s no question that, overall, the biggest growth in local TV news in the last few years has been at Hispanic stations.”

BRAND CONNECTIONS

In Philadelphia, for example, Telemundo’s WWSI plans to launch local news in January, and is currently building an entire news department from scratch. The station, which NBC/Comcast-owned Telemundo bought in July, is in the process of hiring 15 staffers — from reporters and anchors to sales people and engineers. The newscasts, at 6 and 11 p.m., will originate from the same facility that houses WCAU, NBC’s English-language O&O.

Manuel Abud, president of the Telemundo Station Group, says the startup will bring WWSI in line with the other 15 stations Telemundo owns, which all broadcast local news.

It also, though, is part of a company-wide effort to beef up local news across the board, he says.

Those efforts have included, for example, the recent hiring of an assistant news director and second evening and latenight anchor at WNJU New York. That station is also in the process of “reforming the mornings substantially,” Abud says.

KVEA Los Angeles also has added staff, bringing a morning co-anchor on board, and will broadcast from new studios housed in the same building as KNBC. There’s activity in Texas, too, where KTMD Houston recently launched weekend news, which is broadcasting from the station’s new set.

There is apparently more to come, too. “We have very, very ambitious plans for next year,” Abud says. He just can’t yet say what those are.

Entravision, which owns 27 Univision affiliates, is also busy growing local news, which will include rolling out a morning show on all those stations in the second quarter of 2014, says COO Jeff Liberman.

That show, which is currently in development, will include a mix of shared and local content, and will air at 6-7 a.m. before Univision’s Despierta America. The morning concept already is in play at some Entravision-owned stations.

In October, WFDC Washington, which already aired evening and latenight local news, launched its own morning show, Buenos Dias D.C. Locally produced morning shows also air on Entravision stations in San Diego; El Paso, Texas; McAllen, Texas; and Orlando, Fla.

 The show also provides Entravision with the opportunity to further brand itself as a news-producing brand (the company has started to introduce its logo in newscasts), Liberman says.

“Univision provides us with great programming, but this really provides the local marketplace with local flavor,” Liberman says.

Fox’s MundoFox is the other potentially major player in this arena.

Launched 15 months ago, network leaders said that the 50 stations that signed on to be MundoFox affiliates at that time would broadcast local news, many starting by the end of 2012. That would greatly expand the number of stations producing local news nationwide. Whether that’s occurred, however, is unclear. MundoFox reps were not available to comment.

Putting resources into local news is apparently paying off for Hispanic broadcasters, whose efforts are garnering audiences and advertisers, they say.

Abud says that on many days WSCV Miami’s evening and latenight newscasts rate No. 1 in the market, outperforming both Spanish- and English-language stations. Liberman reports similar results. He says local news on Entravision stations across the country also consistently rate No. 1 or No. 2 in their markets among all stations regardless of language.

“I think everyone realizes the growth in the market,” Abud says. “We are happy to see that more and more of the clients are understanding reaching out to the Hispanic consumers.”

But the surge in activity is sort of a mixed bag for U.S. Latino journalists, who are competing with native Spanish speakers for many of the jobs that come with such growth.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is the language proficiency for on-air quality,” says Abud, who says he frequently recruits talent from other countries to fill on-air jobs. Telemundo’s L.A. morning anchor, for example, is from Mexico. A morning anchor at WNJU New York is from Columbia.

“When you’re talking and a newscaster, whether it’s an anchor or reporter, their Spanish has to be perfect,” he says.

In turn, organizations like the NAHJ are focusing efforts on helping Latino journalists born in the U.S. improve their language skills, Balta says.

“This is a great opportunity,” he says. “But broadcasters want the best writers, the best journalists that are proficient in Spanish to be anchors and reporters and, to be honest, those are often foreign-born journalists because that’s their native tongue.”

Yet for someone like Portela, whose good fortune landed her a job at a Hispanic-targeted station that broadcasts in English, the growth in Latino broadcasting has already been an unexpected boon.

“One of my college professors said to me before graduation that ‘Ten years from now you’ll be working at a job that doesn’t exist right now,’” says Portela, 30, who started working in local news through a minority scholarship program. “That’s kind of what happened to me with Fusion.”

Read other Air Check columns here. You can send suggestions for future Air Checks to Diana Marszalek at [email protected].


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