By: Magaly Morales
Telemundo made news as it launched its first national weekend newscast. The weekend edition of Noticiero Telemundo features Ilia Calderón, the first black Latina to anchor a U.S. Latin news program.
It is ironic that even as Latinos and other minorities demand greater and more diverse representation on English-language television, the Latin networks still provide few opportunities for non-white Latinos.
While Telemundo is underplaying the significance of its anchor choice, it should be noted that for years black Latinos and dark-skinned mestizos have been relegated to minor, subservient roles in imported and locally produced programming. They have also been virtually absent from the anchor desks and newsrooms of both Latin networks.
Calderón, a veteran Colombian journalist who has recently moved to the United States, doesn't seem aware of the groundbreaking nature of her position.
"I had never felt discriminated, neither in my country nor here," she said.
Joe Peyronnin, Telemundo's executive vice president of news and information, also dismisses the racial implications of Calderón's appointment. "She was given this opportunity because she was the best qualified person to do the job," he said. But later he added, "I'm happy that at last there will be, on Spanish-language television, a prominent black Latina. I don't know how it is that this occurred because I don't know the history of the marketplace. But I'm thrilled that it's happening on Telemundo."
The story of how Calderón came to join Telemundo plays like a made-for-TV fairy tale. She took a tour of the net-work's building while she was vacationing in Miami, with no intention of applying for a job. "I didn't even bring a resume or tapes," she said.
"When I first saw Ilia, I was instantly taken by her intelligence, how she presented herself and obviously, her beauty," Peyronnin recalls. "We gave her a camera test, and there she was, on a vacation from Colombia, just visiting to take a look at the place, without makeup or preparation, and she's doing an anchor test, and she's doing as well as the best people in the business."
Meanwhile, Peyronnin, calling Calderón's references in Colombia, discovered that she was a high-profile anchor, well-regarded by her colleagues.
"I decide on the spot we had to hire her. I made her an offer the next day and luckily, she accepted," he said. "She immediately became the obvious choice for our weekend newscast."
18 months ago, Telemundo launched its first self-produced national newscast, airing weekdays and anchored by Pedro Sevcec and María Elvira Sal-azar. Before that, the network had subcontracted with a number of news organizations, including CNN and, more recently, CBS Telenoticias, using their material.
Telemundo took over the assets of CBS Telenoticias when it went bankrupt. Peyronnin, a former president of Fox News whose extensive background includes 25 years at CBS News, put together a team and relaunched the newscast. It mark-ed the first time Telemundo had control over its editorial content.
"From the moment I arrived, I believed Telemundo needed to have a seven day news presence nationally if it was going to be competitive in news," Peyronnin said. "Our first focus was to get our daily newscast to a place were we were breaking news. The goal was then to build upon that to a seven day a week news show."
Calderón said the weekend edition isn't going to be just an extension of the daily newscast. The show will have the day's news, and will also take the week's major stories and offer more background and perspective.
About the difference between Colombia and the U.S. Latin news styles, Calderon said, "Colombia is a country that produces news in a much different way. There, the media generates a lot of information of a social order. Here, by contrast, the news are more focused to the reality of the immigrants."
The question remains whether Calderón can relate to that reality, having been in the country for only a few months.
Peyronnin is confident this will be no problem.
"Ilia is extremely intelligent and a fast study. There's no question that this is a different country, but she understands a lot about the people to whom she'll be talking," Peyronnin said. "There's no doubt in my mind that she'll learn very quickly, and the fact that she has only been in the country for a few months will not be noticeable to the viewers."
Noticiero Telemundo del Fin de Semana airs 6:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Reprinted from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.