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Bilingual reporters have the inside track

Aug 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Job candidates at TV stations throughout the United States can now step to the head of the line if they speak both English and Spanish.
As the Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow each year, bilingualism has become a key differentiator for new hires in some markets.

“I think if someone is bilingual, they should point it out to a news director. That’s a real benefit,” said Denise Clodjeaux, news director of ABC affiliate KTNV-TV in Las Vegas.
Nevada and many other states have experienced a sharp spike in the Spanish-speaking population over the past few years. According to KTNV, 21.9 percent of the city’s population was Hispanic in 2001, up from 14.7 percent in 2000. And concurrently, the white population dipped from 71.2 percent in 2000 to 62.8 percent a year later. Such numbers are causing news directors to rank proficiency in Spanish as a big plus, though not yet a prerequisite.
When Ms. Clodjeaux joined the station six months ago one of her first hires was bilingual reporter Veronica Sanchez. Her language skills have enabled Ms. Sanchez to cover a “mini” Hispanic-based business boom in Las Vegas, Ms. Clodjeaux said. “We’ve been able to cover stories we wouldn’t otherwise be able to. It was a real targeted effort to hire a bilingual reporter.”
The ability to converse with sources in their language is a distinct asset. KTNV has another opening for a general assignment reporter, and fluency in Spanish will be a bonus but not an overriding concern for that hire, she said.
KRNV in Reno, Nev., recently hired a general assignment reporter who is fluent in both languages. “It was definitely something we looked at a lot more closely than in the past,” said Jon Killoran, news director for the NBC affiliate.
Growing Spanish population
The 2000 Census figures indicate that 17 percent of the population in northern Nevada is Hispanic and that the state has the fastest-growing Hispanic population of any state, Mr. Killoran said. His newest reporter, Melissa Santos, who started at the end of June, speaks English and Spanish. “When it comes to on-air talent, most of the people doing the interviews were white,” he said. “If you are going to attract those [Hispanic] viewers, you need to reach out to them.”
He’s not suggesting that KRNV launch a bilingual newscast, but rather that the ability to speak Spanish allows a reporter to connect better with members of the Spanish-speaking community who might be involved in a story.
The station has received several phone calls from Spanish-only speakers and had not been able to communicate with them in the past, he said. Mr. Killoran also plans to bring in a Spanish tutor or professor to provide journalists with some simple phrases and questions to use on the phone or during story research. Even the basics of conversational Spanish should help assignment editors have a starting point on a phone interview, he said.
The ABC, Fox and WB affiliates in Palm Springs, Calif., have made a concerted effort to hire bilingual reporters, said Bob Allen, executive VP with Gulf California Broadcast Co., which operates the ABC, Fox and WB affiliates and their shared news department. He said that 60 percent to 70 percent of his reporting staff are fluent enough to conductan interview in Spanish if need be.
With Palm Springs’ Hispanic population at 46 percent, hiring bilingual reporters has become a priority, he said. The stations also produce a Spanish newscast.
“In the U.S. in the 21st century, I believe we should all speak two languages,” he said. “I think journalists would be very wise to speak some Spanish and understand Hispanic culture.”