NATAS Awards: Maria Elena Salinas

Oct 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

According to The New York Times, Elena Salinas, co-anchor of the top-rated “Noticiero Univision” news broadcast, is “the Voice of Hispanic America.” She’s the most recognized Hispanic female journalist in the United States and on Oct. 19, NATAS will honor her as a Leader of Spanish-Language Television.

“I’m really honored because I know that it’s just a select few that receive this award. I’m really thrilled,” said Ms. Salinas.

In her experience broadcasting to the Hispanic market, Ms. Salinas sees a difference in how she reports the news compared with her American counterparts. “I think we have to approach it in a very different way,” said Ms. Salinas. “There’s a basic part of journalism that is the same here as everywhere else in the world, but at the same time we have to go above and beyond the call of duty as social activists. We have to do a little bit of advocacy journalism because we have an audience that is different from the general audience.

“I wouldn’t say they have different needs, but definitely additional needs besides the necessity to know what is going on in their neighborhood, in their state, in the country that they live in. We also inform them of what is going on in their country of origin and what is going on with the Hispanic community in the U.S. I think that sets us apart from the other network newscasts. We go above and beyond the regular everyday news.”

In her role as co-anchor, Ms. Salinas is one of the most admired women in media. Aside from receiving this award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Ms. Salinas’ coverage of Hurricane Mitch earned Univision two national Emmy Awards in 2000, the first time a Spanish-language network received that coveted prize.

But one of the highpoints of her career occurred earlier this year, when she vied for a News Emmy against the best of American TV.

“We were nominated for News and Documentary Emmys along with our English counterparts. We went up against Tim Russert, Ed Bradley and George Stephanopoulos,” Ms. Salinas said. Her nomination for “Setting the Record Straight,” an exclusive interview with Raúl Salinas de Gortari, the brother of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, on the heels of his release from a 10-year term in prison, marked the first time a Spanish-language news program earned a nomination.

Awards and nominations are satisfying, but Ms. Salinas also appreciates being popular. “I think the ratings make me proud. Knowing that people are watching and that people believe in me and trust me and watch even more when there is some big, breaking news is one of the biggest honors I receive,” she said.

Broadcasting in Spanish is not just about language, Ms. Salinas said. “They’re watching in Spanish not because of the language but because of the content. They identify themselves culturally with the information that we are providing, even though they can watch TV or listen to radio or read in English, a lot of times they prefer Spanish because of the angle of the news we provide,” Ms. Salinas said.

“I don’t have the specific data, but we do have a very large bilingual audience. There was a study done on bilingual television viewers. The end result was that about 57 percent of bilingual television viewers would prefer to watch Univision newscasts than any of the English counterparts, and I think that’s the reason why we have such a large bilingual audience that has the option to watch either English or Spanish.”

Ms. Salinas was born in Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, and she’s been working since she was 14 years old. After doing a variety of jobs, including working in a factory, a movie theater and in the fashion business, she stumbled into broadcasting in 1979 after studying marketing in college. “I did rip and read news at a radio station. When the opportunity came up to work in television it was on channel 34 [KMEX-TV] in Los Angeles, and little did I realize with the job came the role of reporter and anchor,” said Ms. Salinas. “Immediately, I enrolled in UCLA extension courses in journalism. But to be honest with you, I learned more with practice than with the lessons I got at UCLA.”

Ms. Salinas recalled that she learned her craft on the job, and for inspiration, she looked at the women who were succeeding in American broadcast journalism. “When I started in 1981, there weren’t too many broadcasters that worked in Spanish, so there weren’t very many role models. I admired English-language television stars like Barbara Walters and Jessica Savitch,” said Ms. Salinas. “Also, I know it may sound corny, I’d have to say that my mother and my father were an inspiration to me. My mother because of her work ethic. She was a seamstress and she was very hardworking and she was the first person who taught me to not be afraid of work. My father had a very strong social conscience and very strong convictions and I inherited that from him. I think in order to be a journalist, you need that social conscience.”

Today Ms. Salinas balances a busy home life with a packed work schedule. She is married to WFOR-TV (Miami) anchorman Eliott Rodriguez and is the mother of two daughters, Julia Alexandra and Gabriela Maria. In addition to co-anchoring the news, Ms. Salinas is also a radio personality, syndicated columnist and author of the bestselling memoir, “I Am My Father’s Daughter: Living a Life Without Secrets.”

Still, she said, “I’m not an ambitious person. I didn’t grow up thinking `I want to become a network anchor.’ These things have happened along the way. One of the things that is most fascinating to me about the news is that every day is something new and exciting. You never know what the next story is going to be. I always hope that whatever the next big story is, I’m there to cover it.”