Talent and ambition alone don't necessarily guarantee success – some people need an opportunity to show what they're made of.
For Victor Garcia, that opportunity came through the Fox News Apprentice Program.
"I think the odds are stacked against us a little more than other people," says Mr. Garcia, 25, who had never been to New York before getting hired at Fox News. "I'm from a small town in Arizona. Being far away from New York and the news business, it's hard to break in." The oldest of three children, Mr. Garcia was raised by his mother after losing his father when he was 7.
The Fox program, a brainchild of Fox News chairman and chief executive Roger Ailes, is in its third year. Its mission is to groom minorities for top journalism jobs, and it's not limited to entry-level hires. It also includes minority staffers who have been at the network for several years but who could benefit from extra guidance.
"A minority presence in the media is always what's buzzing around," says Maureen Hunt, vice-president of Human Resources at Fox News and the director of the program. "We didn't want to have a window-dressing type of program, we wanted one that would really make a difference."
Despite the push to foster diversity in newsrooms, minorities still remain relatively scarce in management positions. A July study by the Radio Television News Directors Association and Foundation reported that Hispanic news directors working at English-language television stations fell from 2.8 percent in 2005 to 1.3 percent in 2006.
Also absent are news stories about Hispanics. Out of an estimated 12,600 stories aired on network evening newscasts in 2005, only 105 stories were exclusively about Hispanics, according to October's Network Brownout Report by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ).
"Latinos are increasingly part of U.S. culture, yet our stories are by and large not a part of the national news programming," Rafael Olmeda, NAHJ president, said in a release. "The time for the networks to diversify their staffs and their source lists and include us in the American story is long overdue."
Fox News, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October and is one of the top 10 cable networks, employs more than 1,500 people across 32 shows. The majority of minority employees can be found working in more technical jobs, such as camera operations, says Ms. Hunt, who added that this makeup is seen industry wide.
The Fox News apprentice program is the most comprehensive of its kind for the network and has graduated 14 men and women since its inception. Participants are paid a competitive salary and receive benefits, almost unheard of in this type of program, says Ivan Ramon, NAHJ executive director.
"Unfortunately, we end up having many of the television networks offering unpaid internships," Mr. Ramon says. "It's no wonder no people of color are applying. Who can afford to live in New York for free?"
Fox News has recruited a small number of apprentices from minority colleges but most are plucked from inside the company. Managers are urged to keep an eye out for promising individuals to nominate for the program.
"We've determined that most successful people are homegrown," Ms. Hunt says. "It's much more difficult to get people from the outside. It's much better to build people up from the ranks."
The program's one-year class is small – no more than five people – to assure the apprentices' success, Ms. Hunt says.
Participants come from various departments and work on a range of projects from booking on-air talent to helping select graphics for shows. Each apprentice is assigned a mentor whom they work closely with for the duration of the program. In addition, apprentices attend weekly meetings where they get to talk about their work, have brainstorming sessions, and get to pick the brains of some of Fox News's top executives.
Graduates are not guaranteed a job at the network, although all four recent graduates were hired.
When Francisco Cortes was selected for the first apprentice program in 2003, he had already been with Fox News for four years and had moved up from production assistant to associate producer. Still, when he heard about the new program he jumped at the chance.
"I got a call from the news program manager who told me that Mr. Ailes is thinking about implementing this program that gives minorities a chance to learn more about the news business," Mr. Cortes recalls. "I was like, 'Sign me on.'"
A native of Puerto Rico, Mr. Cortes hadn't planned on a career in the news business. He joined the Army when he graduated high school and planned on a military career, then literally fell into the news business. During a combat training mission in Fort Irwin, California, the tanker he was riding in went over the side of a ravine, injuring him and three others. The former sergeant was assigned to desk duty, where he started writing for the unit's newsletters. He never looked back.
"I loved writing and telling peoples' stories," Mr. Cortes says. "I said, 'I'm going to give journalism a shot.'"
The 30-year-old is now Fox News's graphics producer, and is responsible for managing an eight-person team that helps decide the look and feel of the shows. Several months after graduating from the apprentice program, Mr. Cortes applied for a producer opening and was offered the position after a three-week trial period.
The apprentice program, Mr. Cortes says, played a vital role in landing the producer spot.
"I have a great work ethic, I'm a hard-working guy, but, aside from all that, how hard would it have been for me to get recognized among so many journalists?" he asks. "(The apprentice program) gives you the opportunity to let the decision makers know that you have what it takes to help them succeed and help the channel succeed."
Both apprentice graduates stressed the importance of getting the chance to meet high-ranking executives.
"Being in the apprentice program exposed me to people I would never have met," Mr. Cortes says.
Mr. Cortes once asked Mr. Ailes if he ever thought Fox News would ever become as successful as it is today. "He said, 'Well, you take risks in life and this is one I took and believed in,'" Mr. Cortes recalls. "Being exposed to that kind of leadership has made me who I am today."
For Mr. Garcia, making these contacts is invaluable for a promising up-and-comer.
"I think it's harder for Latinos and African Americans to get these jobs because when you get your foot in the door you don't have any connections," says Mr. Garcia, who was hired as an intern while attending the University of Arizona and is now a production assistant on The O'Reilly Factor. "There's a whole other side, the business side. You've got to understand all elements. I believe the apprentice program gave me the introduction to that other side and the tools I need to succeed."
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