By Jennifer Pendleton
Special to TelevisionWeek
Traditional evening newscasts at ABC, CBS and NBC are shedding viewers. Anchors are in flux. Not so at “Noticiero Univision,” led by the Spanish-language broadcaster’s star news personality, Jorge Ramos.
The audience for this nightly news program is growing, and the handsome, award-winning, 47-year-old Mr. Ramos has been a Univision fixture behind the anchor desk in Miami for 19 years, 18 of them alongside on-air partner Maria Elena Salinas.
Well, he’s not always behind the desk. The globetrotting Mr. Ramos regularly takes to the streets, be it in his native Mexico City during an election or inside war zones, including Iraq.
He has gained professional stature by challenging the powerful. Once, for example, Mr. Ramos confronted Fidel Castro in a Havana hotel lobby, cameras rolling, about the possibility of democratic reforms. The result: The Cuban dictator’s bodyguard decked him.
Mr. Ramos doesn’t inject personal opinions into his newscast, but in nationally syndicated newspaper columns, radio commentaries and books he lets his feelings fly on thorny issues relating to Hispanics, such as U.S. immigration policies. “I give a voice to those who don’t have a voice, especially immigrants and undocumented workers in this country,” he said.
This posture is surely part of what has made him wildly popular among U.S. Latino immigrants. A survey by pollster Hispanic Trends in 2000 found Mr. Ramos the most influential Latino among Spanish-speaking newcomers to the U.S. “Among immigrants, he was by far the most respected, the most credible personality,” said Sergio Bendixen, a former Hispanic Trends executive.
Mr. Ramos’ personal story is a classic American immigrant saga, with extraordinary success attached. He started as a radio and television reporter in Mexico but headed north after experiencing censorship. As a young man, he sold his Volkswagen bug for $1,500 to finance his journey on a student visa. At first he struggled, but it didn’t take him long to land a reporting job at Los Angeles Spanish-language station KMEX-TV. By age 28 he was a Univision anchor.
Mr. Ramos said he believes the current Hispanic population explosion will dramatically change life in the United States, politically and culturally. In his view, that’s a trend with more profound implications than the war on terrorism or the economy and one that traditional U.S. broadcasters don’t fully grasp. “[The mainstream broadcast networks] don’t get it,” Mr. Ramos said.
So what are the prospects for Mr. Ramos filling the currently unoccupied anchor chair at, say, CBS? Mr. Ramos, who speaks English well, has a long-term contract with Univision and said he intends to stay put.
“I wonder if this country is ready for an anchorman with an accent,” he said.
Married and the father of two, Mr. Ramos is grateful, he said, for the opportunities he’s had, despite feeling the tug of home. “After 22 years in the U.S., I still feel like an immigrant,” he said.
At some point in the future, he said, he may want to chuck the role of professional observer. “I want to leave open the possibility of getting involved in politics in Mexico,” he said.
Title: Co-anchor, “Noticiero Univision”
How long in current position: Since November 1986
Year of birth: 1958
Place of birth: Mexico City
Who knew? Soon after he arrived in the U.S. at age 24, Mr. Ramos worked as a waiter in a Beverly Hills restaurant for $15 a day.