Jorge Estevez and Nancy Alvarez are making local TV history.
When the WFTV-Channel 9 reporters started anchoring the 10 p.m. news last week on sister station WRDQ-Channel 27, they became the first Hispanic anchor team on a weeknight English-language newscast in Orlando.
"We're both really proud of this," Alvarez said. "I think it speaks volumes about how our community is changing. It's important that the community sees their TV stations as a reflection of themselves. It's important to me that little Hispanic girls watch the news and see me."
Viewers can see her and Estevez at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Sundays on WFTV and at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays on WRDQ.
WFTV General Manager Shawn Bartelt stressed that Alvarez and Estevez earned their anchor duties based on talent, the top priority. "But another priority is to reflect the marketplace," she said.
Metro Orlando's population is nearly 27 percent Hispanic. Alvarez, 36, and Estevez, 39, are both children of Cuban immigrants.
"We're growing, diversifying," Estevez said of the Hispanic population in Central Florida. "I recently did a story about 100 Puerto Rican families moving here from the island and from New York. It's a good place to live."
In television, however, reflecting the community can be a challenge.
"Minority hiring in TV stalled a number of years ago, and the recession of 2008 didn't help," said Bob Papper, professor emeritus at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y.
"TV hiring was up in 2010, '11 and '12 but flat last year," he said. "Minorities didn't lose ground in those lean years, but they haven't gained ground since either."
He writes about the issue in the RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey of employment. The 2013 edition showed that of the U.S. TV-news work force, 7.8 percent was Hispanic, the same as the year before. The rest of the work force was 78.6 percent Caucasian, 9.9 percent African-American, 3.2 percent Asian-American and 0.4 percent American Indian.
Papper questioned whether a new Hispanic anchor team was a major development.
"So many times, I've seen all-minority anchor desks in major markets -- not necessarily every night, but as fill-ins on any given night -- that I think the audience doesn't care," he said. "And we're rapidly arriving at the point where even news executives aren't that concerned about it anymore. Stations need to look at least something like their audience, but I don't think the audience has been involved in head counts in quite a few years."
For the people on the air, however, it is an important issue. Former WESH-Channel 2 anchor Raoul Martinez said it was an honor to be the first Hispanic to anchor a weeknight newscast on a major-network affiliate in Central Florida in 2004.
"I was surprised no one had done that before me, given the amazing Hispanic community that lives in Central Florida," said Martinez, now a morning anchor at KSWB, the Fox affiliate in San Diego.
"It did make me a little bit uncomfortable as I'm not much for 'labeling' people: Latino, Asian, black, white," said Martinez, who fled Castro's Cuba as a boy. "I am a journalist trying to do the best job I can to deliver the news for our community. It's all about information and knowledge, not race or religion."
Yet he adds that it's important for news stations to reflect the face of their community. "To have people telling their stories, who understand what they've been through, what their struggles are and how we can help -- that is key," Martinez said.
Alvarez said she looks up to Ybeth Bruzual, a Venezuelan-Puerto Rican journalist who has been with cable's News 13 since 1998.
"She's been representing the Hispanic community here far longer than anyone and before other news outlets recognized the importance of it," Alvarez said.
News 13 has had a diverse staff on air and behind the scenes for years, Bruzual said. She was named a prime-time anchor in 2006 and now anchors in the morning, an increasingly important time for stations.
"Through the years covering the big stories I do everything in English and Spanish, so they can air on News 13 and our Spanish-language partners," Bruzual said. "At the end of the day, as a minority, working for an English-language station is like getting the brass ring, reaching the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Alvarez sees reporting as paramount and describes herself as a reporter who anchors. "When you're still reporting every day, it is that daily, weekly reminder that this isn't a TV show," she said. "This is stuff that's really happening. When you're reporting and you see it every day and you're living it every day with them, it makes you a better anchor, because you're engaged."
Estevez said they joke that they might start ad-libbing in Spanish on the air. Both anchors said they hope to reach new viewers who are bilingual.
"That new viewer needs a connection to their source for news and information," Estevez said.
Original headline: New WFTV anchor team reflects changing community
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