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Telemundo Gives Its News a Big Boost

At the recent Hispanic Upfronts in New York, nearly every Spanish-language television network wooed advertisers and marketers with lavish presentations focused on their entertainment and sports-oriented programming.

Yet Hispanic television has taken great strides to bolster its news and public affairs offerings. There’s good reason: Spanish-language news remains an in-demand product for Hispanic television viewers, with local and national newscasts among the most-viewed shows -- regardless of language -- in many top Hispanic DMAs. In Los Angeles, Univision’s KMEX-TV regularly leads the broadcast-news ratings, regardless of language. And affiliates of News Corp.’s fledgling MundoFox network have taken aggressive steps to bulk up their local newscasts.

But NBCUniversal’s Telemundo network has perhaps been the most aggressive player in news this year. Owned-and-operated station KSTS in San Francisco now provides the only locally focused Spanish-language newscast airing before noon. In July, Telemundo announced that Las Vegas station KBLR would produce its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts live and locally; the telecasts previously originated from Telemundo’s Phoenix, Ariz., news operation with the 11 p.m. edition pre-recorded.

In an unusual and significant move, Telemundo has also hired respected author and journalist Mirta Ojito for the newly created role of director of news standards. She begins her Miami-based job on Aug. 25. A veteran of The New York Times and The Miami Herald, Ojito will review scripts and reports for accuracy and fairness, provide guidance to Telemundo journalists about news standards, train new hires and instruct news staff on the best use of social media, among other duties.

Ojito reports to executive vice president of news and alternative programming Alina Falcón, who said the veteran journalist “will work very closely with our news team to maintain our high level of journalistic and ethical standards.” Ojito has been an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York since 2006.

In Houston, veteran local producer Jerry Vasquez has joined Telemundo-owned KTMD as vice president of news. He comes from KTRK, Houston’s ABC owned-and-operated station, where for 13 years he was executive producer of its primetime and early fringe newscasts. And Telemundo has added Univision veteran Enrique Teuteló to Dallas station KXTX, where he’ll join Norma Garcia as the co-anchor of its 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.

But Telemundo’s recent moves at its O&Os in Phoenix and Tucson are perhaps the most noteworthy. Despite market distractions tied to a vitriol-filled immigration debate that has put Arizona front and center in discussions over undocumented Latinos and increased narcotics-related violence, Telemundo has made a statement by expanding its news operation in the Valley of the Sun.

On July 26, KTAZ in Phoenix and its simulcast partner, KHRR in Tucson, debuted 30-minute weekend newscasts airing at 4:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Twelve staffers were hired to assist with reporting and production, including Telemundo Arizona’s first in-house meteorologist, Henry Golac, who comes Entravision-owned Univision affiliate WVEA in Tampa, Fla. Previously, Telemundo’s news operation in Denver had supplied both Arizona and Las Vegas with weather reports.

Telemundo Arizona also purchased cellular backpack units, allowing staff to provide breaking news reports from locations as disparate as the Mexico-U.S. border, Lake Havasu City or the Grand Canyon. 

Araceli de León, president and regional GM for Telemundo’s Southwest region, said the news department expanded mainly due to local demand. However, she made it clear it couldn’t have been done without the support of recently installed president of Telemundo Stations Manuel Martinez.

“There was so much demand from the Spanish-speaking community,” she said. “Viewers were asking us on social media for more information, specific to where they live. But the investment needed to be there. We’ve seen it, and it’s coming from the top. It’s our corporate leaders that have said, ‘You’re right. There is a demand and here it is.’ We’ve also launched a new news set, so we’ve been enabled to do a variety of things besides bringing in personnel, equipment and tools.”

Telemundo also acted at a moment when advertisers were starting to understand the financial impact of Arizona’s Latino community, regardless of immigration status, de León added. “[Hispanics] are coming out of the shadows, and they are shopping,” she said. “They buy cars. They service their vehicles. The client understands that the need for local news is there, and this has led to an increase in commercial inventory.”

De León also cited shopping by Mexican nationals in Tucson who travel through the Nogales border crossing in the U.S. as another positive that has been shrouded by negative events along the frontier.

Daniel Aguirre, most recently the lead anchor for Monterrey, Mexico-based Milenio Noticias, has been hired to anchor Telemundo Arizona’s weekend newscasts. He is joined by sports reporter Ivan Valenzuela, most recently of CNN Latino in Phoenix.

Additionally, Karla Gomez-Escamilla has been named Tucson bureau chief for Telemundo Arizona, charged with providing daily reports from the U.S.-Mexico border in addition to news of interest from metropolitan Tucson. Health and wellness, and education are key coverage areas for Telemundo Arizona’s newscasts, de León said.

Telemundo is the only Spanish-language TV station in Arizona to air a 4:30 p.m. weekend newscast; Univision-owned KTVW airs its weekend newscasts at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.