Philly says 'Bienvenida' to new WWSI-TV newscast

In the control room, Wesley Kotansky directs the show.
In the control room, Wesley Kotansky directs the show.
Posted: January 14, 2014

ANOTHER DAILY newscast? Does this market, already saturated with more than 20 hours' worth of daily local TV news and info programming, need more?

In this case, insist those behind the latest foray into local news, the answer is, "Sí."

Today's launch of "Noticiero Telemundo 62," on WWSI-TV, Channel 62, gives the region its first local, Spanish-language news program coproduced by an English-language network affiliate.

More than a Spanish translation of NBC10's daily newscasts, "Noticiero," which airs at 6 and 11 p.m., has original content aimed at the Delaware Valley's burgeoning Hispanic population.

"It's about access to key information from government, information about jobs," said Claribel Collazo, the broadcasts' assistant news director. "And access to weather information that isn't available in Spanish. That information is not often in regular newscasts

"It's more for the local community - their needs and aspirations. It's information they need."

The partnership between 10 and 62 resulted from last year's purchase of the Telemundo network by NBCUniversal, which owns and operates NBC10. The newscasts are part of a campaign by Valari Staab, who oversees NBCUniversal-owned stations, to upgrade the stations' local news coverage. Under her supervision, those outlets have added some 1,500 hours of news programming in the past year.

Although Channel 62 has its own facilities near Penn Treaty Park, "Noticiero Telemundo 62," anchored by Telemundo vet Ramon Zayas, is broadcast from a new, state-of-the-art studio inside NBC10's City Avenue complex, making it a full, joint project between the two stations.

"I don't think you can split it," said Zayas, who came to Philly from Miami, where he served as both a local and national news anchor.

"We don't see it as two separate entities, and that's the beauty of what we're doing here. We see it as one single team that is bringing content, both from the Spanish side to the English side, and from the English side to the Spanish side. We have access to anything that's been shot [by Channel 10] and any resources they have, and they will have access to any resources we have.

"We can cover a story that could easily be turned into a story for NBC10, and we will do so."

The reporters are bilingual and have already begun filing stories for NBC10. And even if members of the five-person on-air staff aren't seen on Channel 10, it won't mean that they haven't been part of that station's efforts.

"We make ourselves available to NBC10 reporters," said Zayas. "There may be a language barrier, and we make ourselves available for translations and interviewing. That shows how integrated we are already."

A growing audience

A local Spanish-language newscast is hardly a radical concept. Vineland's WUVP-TV, Channel 65, an affiliate of Telemundo rival Univision, has had one for years. (See sidebar.)

Allentown-based WFMZ-TV, Channel 69, likewise has long offered a nightly Spanish news program. But there appears to be room for another.

According to the Nielsen research organization, the Philadelphia Designated Market Area has a Hispanic population of just under 867,000 (up from 470,861 in 2000), 200,000 of whom reside within the city limits. This makes it the fastest-growing demographic group in the region.

Not surprisingly, this group also is a desirable target for those with goods and services to peddle.

"It makes sense for local advertisers," said Ileana Barcena, whose firm, Advertising & Marketing Initiatives, of Clarksburg, N.J., specializes in buying advertising time on Spanish-language media. Hispanics "answer to the advertisers that speak with them in Spanish. That isn't just the case with Spanish speakers, but with bilingual people, too."

To maximize the newscasts' potential audience, Telemundo 62 recently replaced and relocated its transmitter, which had been at the Jersey Shore. Its new tower is in South Jersey but considerably closer to Philadelphia. Its stronger signal reaches the city's western suburbs.

Every local cable system carries the station, but cable service is a luxury these days, Zayas noted, making clear, free, over-the-air reception crucial.

Staying relevant

Just because something is a no-brainer doesn't mean it's a breeze to do successfully.

"In terms of news content, the challenge we have in the Spanish community is that we have to cover hard news and community events just like NBC10 does," Zayas said. "But in addition to that, we have to look at what happens in the Spanish community as well. We need to squeeze all that content in a half-hour."

Decision-making for on-air content primarily belongs to Collazo, who spent the past nine years as news director at Telemundo's Orlando outlet. She described the task as a balancing act between local and outside-the-market news.

"We have to be local, we have to be relevant," she said. "We will be very passionate about local, aggressive coverage."

Another challenge is the Philadelphia area Hispanic community's diversity, with roots that reach from Puerto Rico to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and South America.

"You have to be aware of who's watching, and where," said Zayas. "But news is news. You cannot really be tweaking the information because of a specific group. It's not an entertainment show, it's a news show, and it has to have integrity. That has to be on top of the list at all times.

"And people want to know what's happening locally, regardless of what country they're from."

Terminology is another challenge in writing a Spanish-language newscast, both Collazo and Zayas said.

"It makes a difference," said Zayas. "There might be words that have a totally different significance and meaning to people from different countries. There are some words that might be totally insignificant to Dominican Republic citizens, but might be very offensive to [people from] Argentina. You have to be conscious of that."

The solution, Collazo continued, is "to use more neutral Spanish that won't offend anybody, but that everybody can understand. Not only the words, but the level of those words. It has to be enough for a person who never went to school, but also for a lawyer."

Added Zayas, "It has to be sophisticated but simple."


Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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