Hispanic Leader Univision Not Resting on Laurels
By Eliot Tiegel
As the front-runner in Hispanic television in the United States, Univision sees the role of its network newscasts as providing the global adjunct to affiliates’ local emphasis.
“Our world and perspective are much wider than ABC, CBS or NBC, and that’s what we’ve been doing the last 17 years,” said Jorge Ramos, who co-anchors the “Noticiero Univision” 6:30 p.m. broadcast with Maria Elena Salinas. The newscast led Univision’s on-location coverage of the Iraq war.
Mr. Ramos also cited another major difference, attributable to the nation’s surging Hispanic population, legal and undocumented. “We’re seeing an incremental increase in our audience on a year-to-year basis, which is the opposite of what’s happening with the English-language networks, which see decreasing viewership.”
Mr. Ramos and Ms. Salinas appeared on the network’s morning “Despierta America” entertainment/news show and on their own newscast, which has consistently been No. 1 with Hispanics since November 1992, when Nielsen Media Research started measuring Spanish networks.
A total of seven on-air reporters plus technical staff totaling nearly 20 people in the Persian Gulf provided coverage for network news programs “Primer Impacto,” “Ultima Hora” and Thursday’s “Aqui y Ahora,” said Sylvia Rosabal-Ley, Univision news director. The network also used raw video footage from ABC and edited reports from CNN en Español.
While Univision’s owned stations and affiliates carry the network newscasts, Univision’s year-old TeleFutura network, aimed at a younger audience, presently provides 45-second news briefs from 10 a.m. through prime time. A separate news staff, under the auspices of the Univision News department, prepares the briefs. Univision’s news legacy dates back to June 1, 1981, when the company, then Spanish International Network, debuted its first network broadcast. Today, network news employs 180 full-time and part-time employees.
With bureaus in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, Washington, San Antonio, San Francisco, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru and Colombia, augmented by free-lancers in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, Argentina and Brazil, its newscasts focus on socio-economic issues relevant to U.S.-based Hispanics, said Ms. Rosabal-Ley, who has been with Univision 18 years in various news positions, including news director for the past year. She envisions additional bureaus in Puerto Rico and in Texas cities such as Houston.
Mr. Ramos spent the first three weeks of the Iraq war reporting live from Kuwait and Iraq, while Ms. Salinas reported from Kuwait and Baghdad over a two-week period.
More Watch in Spanish
Citing a recent study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in Claremont, Calif., Mr. Ramos said, “Nine out of 10 Latinos speak Spanish at home, eight out of 10 are bilingual and 57 percent of that group chooses to watch the news in Spanish. This is a major attitude change. Ten years ago, one in four bilinguals watched in Spanish.”
Mr. Ramos estimated there are 8 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. “These undocumented people have no voice in the English-language newscasts for obvious reasons. They speak Spanish and are afraid of being interviewed. For us they are part of our life. If they are interested in what’s going on in Venezuela or Peru on a regular basis, they won’t find anything on the three networks.
“Over the years we’ve moved from concentrating on Latin America to now focusing on the Hispanic community in the United States. We also cover other major news stories, like Laci Peterson or anthrax in Maryland.
“More than 50 percent of our audience are Mexican Americans or of Mexican origin. We cover Mexico like we cover Washington.”
A native of Mexico, Mr. Ramos joined KMEX-TV in Los Angeles in 1984 as a reporter, moving to Miami two years later to host Univision’s morning show, “Mundo Latino.” Several months later he became the anchor for the network’s weeknight 6:30 p.m.-to-7 p.m. “Noticiero Univision” broadcast.
Of his partnership with Ms. Salinas, he said half-jokingly: “Since we’ve been together 17 years, we are probably the oldest news couple in the business.”
KMEX, the company’s flagship station, operates with an expanded local news direction, initiated last year with the hiring of Jorge Mettey as news director, Roberto Yanez, director of news operations and the addition of two executive producers.
“The content of our news programs is more aggressive community service,” Mr. Mettey said. Using the umbrella slogan, “34 A Su Lado” (“34 By Your Side”), the station airs several news segments tied to community needs, including devoting four minutes every Wednesday during its 6 p.m. newscast to a topic-driven subject, and viewers use an 800 number to question experts.
“We are a local newscast sensitive to immigration, education, family issues and health. At a general market station you see these topics as part of their community efforts. Here it’s the content of the show.”
Mr. Mettey gives a second example of how his station’s news approach contrasts with Anglo stations. “In a story about an abandoned baby found in a dumpster, the general market station does team coverage from the dumpster, the ICU at the hospital, at the house of the baby’s aunt. For us, we do the report and focus on what could force the mother to take such a drastic action.”