Leverage Bilingual Skills in a Broadcasting Career

Leverage Bilingual Skills in a Broadcasting Career

More radio and TV stations have sprung up all over the US since the '90s, sparking an insatiable demand for new talent. But Hispanics/Latinos should be aware of both the obstacles and opportunities that await them.

Bilingual? We Might Have a Job for You

First, the opportunities. In certain English-language media markets, the Hispanic/Latino job candidate, especially one who is bilingual and speaks English without an accent, has an edge. And opportunities in Spanish-language radio and television continue to grow.

“With all the news being broadcast now, there's a great hunger for material, and being bilingual can definitely be an advantage,” says a leading TV executive, himself bilingual and of Hispanic/Latino heritage. Like other executives in English-language media interviewed for this article, he asked that neither he nor the company he works for be named.

Being bilingual is also important in the Spanish-speaking media. While good Spanish is the first requirement, on-air reporters in particular must also have a good command of English, says Blanca Rosa Vílchez, New York bureau chief for El Noticiero de Univisión (Nightly News).

“We've tried at times with a person who didn't have much English because of other good professional qualifications,” says Vílchez, remembering talented young professionals from Latin America. “But if you send him out to do reporting, and he doesn't know the city, he gets lost, and of course he couldn't interview officials in English,” which is essential to getting local stories.

The bilingual advantage is greatest in media markets with large Hispanic/Latino populations, especially Miami and Los Angeles, and New York to a lesser extent. That's because the activities of Spanish-speaking people in those areas have a greater impact on the whole region, so even English-language newscasters need people who can interview Hispanics/Latinos and read their newspapers.

For a job in any English-language station, a person must speak “unaccented English.” But if that person also knows Spanish, that can sometimes be a springboard to better opportunities. The executive quoted above started as a low-level off-air reporter -- in effect, a producer, gathering information for the newscasters -- when breaking news in Latin America made the station turn to him, because he was the only one who spoke Spanish. He quickly became an on-air reporter out of necessity. He later worked briefly in Spanish-language TV news before switching to the English-language station where he is now.

Why It Can Be Hard to Break In

Although there are opportunities throughout the country, there are still obstacles that Hispanics/Latinos must face when trying to break into the field. The industry continues to lag behind when it comes to hiring Hispanics/Latinos and other minorities. Nationwide, Hispanics/Latinos, now 13.5 percent of the US population, held only 6.5 percent of positions in local television news in 2003, down from 10.1 percent in 2001, according to a study by the Radio and Television News Directors Association.

A major problem for young people entering the business is their perception of success, says the executive. “The failure rate is very high,” especially for those who have their hearts set on becoming news anchors, he says.

Other jobs behind the camera tend to be more secure, he says, and a producer's position “may grow into management. However, the money is clearly on the on-air side.”

Work Your Way In

The best way to break in is, as Vílchez puts it: “Internship, internship and internship.” It is the only way a person can find out what the job is really like.

College students can earn course credits for a semester of work at Univision, says Vílchez.

After the first day of a student's intense internship, Vílchez and her cameraman already have a pretty good idea of the intern's abilities and inclinations. She will say to her cameraman, “Ese es de tu bando -- that one belongs on your side,” or he will say, “No, de tu bando -- your side,” meaning on-air. And the only way to find out if the business is for you, on or off-air, is to try it out.

For more information, contact the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Learn more about media careers.

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