Ramon Escobar’s first exposure to high-level newsgathering occurred at the White House when he was 16. Escobar was one of 100 boys invited to meet President Reagan as part of the American Legion’s youth leadership outfit, Boys Nation.
Considering careers in both politics and news, Escobar passed the press corps, which was stuck behind a rope line, en route to the president’s speech in the Rose Garden. Suddenly, ABC News icon Sam Donaldson jumped at Escobar with a proposition. “He said, ‘Do you want to get on TV, kid?’” Escobar recalls. “‘Ask the president about apartheid!’”
The boys were under strict orders not to ask questions, and the respectful Escobar stuck to the rules. But he was nonetheless bitten by the reporting bug. “At that moment I realized, I want to do what Sam Donaldson does,” he says. “I want to ask questions, because there are a lot of questions waiting to be asked.”
With Arizona’s controversial new immigration law and the landmark U.S. Census afoot, there are loads of questions that the booming Hispanic community wants answered. And Escobar, a Telemundo veteran who returned to the network in February as executive VP of news, is giving his all to keep viewers informed. “There’s never been a more challenging time or important time for our viewers,” he says. “Our priority is, how do we define the issues for them, and how do we help them manage through them?”
Escobar was born in 1969 to a Colombian mother and Spanish father. The family was visiting relatives in Little Rock, en route to settling in New York, when a giant snowstorm kept them stuck in place; they decided to stay in Arkansas for 20 years.
Spanish-speakers were uncommon in Little Rock, and Escobar’s mother, Blanca, learned English from watching local news. “That’s how I gained the love and passion for people telling stories about the community,” Escobar says. “That’s how I got hooked on television.”
Blanca drilled into her three children the importance of a solid education. “There was no more important thing to me,” she says. “I told Ramon, ‘You can beat discrimination if you have a good education.’”
Escobar calls both Blanca and Telemundo President Don Browne mentors; it was Browne who brought Escobar into NBC when the two met at a convention in 1994. Then the general manager at WTVJ Miami, Browne remembers a confident, perhaps cocky, young man with a passion for news. He tapped Escobar to head up WTVJ’s special projects unit, which featured a lot of investigative work, then made him news director in 1997 at the age of 28—the youngest news director in NBC O&O history.
Browne says Escobar’s news instincts were more important than decades of experience. “He’s got a great natural IQ and a great news IQ,” Browne points out, “and he combines them to make a news organization greater than the sum of its parts.”
Escobar subsequently served as VP of live programming at MSNBC, and oversaw the integration of Telemundo after NBC’s acquisition of the network. After leaving in 2007 for a consulting firm that counted Telemundo among its clients, Escobar jumped at the chance to work for Browne again.
Telemundo is perhaps best known for its melodramatic telenovelas, but Escobar is pushing to make it a leading news organization. The network debuted a Spanishlanguage version of Meet the Press, called Enfoque, in April. The network also airs nightly 5 p.m. and 6:30 newscasts, and is stepping up local news at its owned stations. All of NBC’s news outlets dedicated May 26 to the immigration issue.
Browne says Escobar, with rich experience in several NBC divisions, serves as a “critical link” between Telemundo and NBC News: “He literally has a place at the NBC News table.”
Escobar, an avid runner who has shed 75 pounds in the last year, says he wants the entire Hispanic community to take part in the newsgathering process through digital media. Browne says his protégé is just the man to mobilize them. “Ramon is a great communicator and tremendous energizer,” he says. “He can really get people energized around news coverage.”
E-mail comments to mmalone @nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz
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