The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is mad as hell and not going to take the cuts in Telemundo’s local newscasts without firing off an angry letter and asking for a meeting. Details of the cuts have surfaced in local articles in Dallas, Denver, Houston and San Jose, as well as in an Oct. 30 Broadcasting & Cable story (see Briefing Room below). The bottom line is that Telemundo's newscasts are being affected by the first wave of the company-wide NBC Universal 2.0 cost-cutting initiative. Local newscasts are being eliminated in seven markets (Dallas; Houston; Las Vegas; Phoenix; San Antonio; San Jose, Calif.; and Tucson, Ariz.) and will be replaced with regional newscasts for different time zones that will be transmitted from the Telemundo Production Center in Ft. Worth. The regional newscasts will include reports from a sharply reduced local newsgathering staff. The size of the remaining staff will vary from market to market. Denver and Fresno, Calif., which do not currently have full-blown local newscasts are scheduled to soon begin airing the regional newscasts. At the network news level, the post of the separate San Antonio network correspondent is being eliminated. A small number of network news positions are also being cut in Miami. The local news operations in Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami for now remain unscathed. New York is eliminating its morning news show. Not surprisingly, the NAHJ takes exception to the staff cuts and the loss of local newscasts. Hispanic Television Update recently interviewed executive director Iván Román about the organization’s missive to NBCU CEO Bob Wright, Telemundo's response and the significance of the cuts. An edited transcript follows:
Q: Why did the NAHJ send a letter to Bob Wright complaining about the cuts at Telemundo?
A: Originally, we sent the letter because we were concerned about layoffs at Telemundo and then we realized that what was actually happening was a change in how the local newscasts were being done. They are actually eliminating the local newscasts and replacing it with the regional newscasts. That, for us, rang a bunch of alarm bells in terms not just of jobs being cut but the services that Telemundo stations were going to give the local community in these markets in terms of covering local news, which we believe will be severely diminished with this new model
Q: Have you received a response?
A: We haven't received a written response. We invited a written response so we could post it on our Web site. They have not sent a written response. We did have a conversation with some executives from Telemundo about this last Wednesday.
Q: What did they say?
A: They basically were trying to defend their position. In essence, at first, they were a little bit angry that we made the statement without talking to them first. This was neither here nor there. Everything in our statement was correct. They tried to spin it in different ways but they didn't convince us that what we were stating was not correct.
Q: Who was on the call?
A: Ibra Morales [Telemundo Station Group], Alfredo Richard [Telemundo Corporate Communications] and also Victor Cabral [Telemundo Government Relations]. We talked about our point of view and theirs. Besides a written response we also wanted a meeting with NBCU officials and possibly [General Electric] officials because that is basically who made the decision and so that's who we wanted to talk to. They said they would look into it and we haven't heard from them yet.
Q: You said the local newscasts will be “severely affected.” How so?
A: You end up having fewer people who cover local news. And you still need the reporter who is there dealing with the sources and actually covering the local community. Nobody else does. The English-language media doesn't do it the way that Univision and Telemundo do it. There are people who depend on it, particularly recent immigrants. This truly affects having the stations serve the community needs when it comes to news, which is a problem for us.
We think it is going to reduce the amount of resources dedicated to local news, and it is going to reduce the amount of stories you get. You have fewer reporters covering the local community. When you don't have the reporter there things don't get covered, things don't get looked at, things don't get investigated.
Q: What does that matter if Univision is in these markets and, for now, still doing local news?
A: Does that mean Telemundo is ceding the market to Univision?
Q: What if they are?
A: We think competition is a good thing. We don´t think simply leaving one television station to do it is the answer to the question. When [NBC] bought Telemundo their promise and intent was to compete. That's what they were telling everybody. That's what they told the FCC when they asked the FCC to approve the merger. That's what they told us when they came to our board meeting to talk to us about why NBC wanted to buy Telemundo. They wanted to improve the quality of the newscast, they wanted to invest in local news, they wanted to cover these communities and they said it would be better to have more people covering local news in markets that were growing.
Three weeks ago at the FCC hearings in L.A., Paula Madison was there representing NBC and she reaffirmed this whole issue of local news very clearly. For example, she said (reading from a transcript) ‘when NBC acquired the Telemundo Spanish-language network and its owned-and-operated stations in 2002, we brought to this new endeavor our unwavering commitment to local news. Expanding the news and information resources available to Spanish-speaking viewers through our Telemundo stations was especially important to us because as the FCC's own data demonstrates this audience relies heavily and disproportionately on free over-the-air television; and even though the Telemundo stations are now commonly owned with NBC each station offers a distinct news product and a distinct editorial voice, which demonstrates the Commission'sprior finding that common ownership does not mean loss of diversity.’
To us, it seems that what they are doing now contradicts their own statements just from three or four weeks ago.