Jorge Ramos: Newsman of the Americas
Univision's Jorge Ramos receives lifetime achievement award
by Laura Martínez -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/19/2008 8:00:00 PM
A few days after officially becoming the Republican Party's presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain agreed to sit down with a television anchor for his first post-convention interview in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The 15-minute conversation was not with ABC, NBC or CBS, but with Univision's Jorge Ramos, the network's star reporter and anchor of Noticiero Univisión. Ramos seized the opportunity to zero in on issues relevant to the nation's nearly 50 million U.S. Hispanics — from Iraq to immigration to McCain's support for a proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.
Noticiero Univisión, which Ramos has co-anchored since 1986, is the highest-rated newscast among U.S. Hispanics and the most-watched newscast, regardless of language, in New York and Los Angeles. Every evening at 6:30 p.m., when he and co-anchor María Elena Salinas deliver the news, the show reaches an average audience of 2.2 million viewers, with over 1.1 million in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic — consistently beating the English-language networks in the time period.
In September 2007, Ramos became the host of Al Punto, Univision's first Sunday-morning political show, which is currently watched by an average of half a million viewers ages 18 to 49 each week.
Ramos, 50, a Mexico City-born, Emmy Award-winning journalist, will be presented with a Lifetime of Achievement Award in Hispanic Television by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable on Oct. 23 at the sixth annual Hispanic Television Summit in New York City. (For complete coverage of the summit, click here.)
FROM THE FRONT LINES
He has covered five wars (in El Salvador, the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq), and on March 23, 2003, he became the first U.S. evening network TV news anchor to broadcast live, comprehensive coverage of the Iraq invasion from a location in the Middle East.
A soft-spoken, baby-faced man who doesn't wear a watch, Ramos is also the only U.S.-based journalist to have participated in three national presidential debates, two with his own network, Univision, and one alongside CNN's Campbell Brown.
The father of two children — Nicolás, 10, and Paola, 21 — Ramos is also a syndicated columnist, a radio commentator and a best-selling author, with nine books to his credit.
A ubiquitous figure in the world of Spanish-language media, Ramos has been credited with changing the way news is approached in Hispanic television.
“Jorge Ramos has professionalized the way news is delivered in Spanish-language television,” said Federico Subervi, a professor at Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the Latinos and Media Project in San Marcos, Texas. “Unlike others, who are merely readers of a teleprompter, he studies and analyzes the issues that are relevant to his audience, especially on Al Punto.”
Ramos is certainly cognizant of his own — and his network's — influence on the U.S. political landscape. “No presidential candidate will ever be able to reach the White House without going through the Spanish-language media, and without going through Univision,” he said in a recent interview. “U.S. politicians used to forget about us [Hispanics] but now, they cannot live without us.” Ramos this year completed 25 years — exactly half his life to date — living in the U.S., a milestone that encouraged him to finally seek U.S. citizenship.
Jorge Gilberto Ramos Ávalos was born in Mexico City on March 16, 1958. His childhood was spent in a relatively tranquil and large household — with his parents and younger brothers and sister Alejandro, Eduardo, Gerardo and Lourdes — in an adjacent suburb of Mexico City, Bosques de Echegaray.
A classical guitar aficionado and active athlete (he dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete, but a back problem wouldn't let him pursue sports), Ramos ultimately settled on journalism and enrolled in Mexico City's prestigious Universidad Iberoamericana (1977-1981) where he majored in communications.
But his journalistic career in Mexico was short-lived. As a young graduate working on his third assignment on Grupo Televisa's 60 Minutos, Ramos experienced first-hand the rampant censorship at the media monopoly while working on a report about the Mexican psyche. The show's editors cut entire segments and interviews they perceived as critical of Mexico's political establishment and the president himself.
“I didn't want to be a censored journalist, so I quit,” he said. He was only 24 years old.
Ramos began a journey that took him to the University of California at Los Angeles in January 1983, where he enrolled in a TV journalism class, paying $5 per day for a student apartment and working shifts as a waiter to pay for his meals.
Shrugging off critics, who point at his middle-class status as a preppy guy from the Ibero, Ramos maintains he had to work for his U.S. adventure, selling his guitar and an old Volkswagen Beetle to be able to afford the trip.
As luck had it, only a year later he got a gig as a local reporter with KMEX in Los Angeles, an affiliate station of the Spanish International Network (now Univisión). By 1986, he was transferred to Miami as co-host of Mundo Latino, a two-hour morning show, alongside Lucy Pereda.
“It was very clear to everybody on the set that all the fun stuff had to go to Lucy [Pereda] and that the serious, newsy things had to go to Jorge,” said Chiqui Cartagena, managing director of integrated marketing at Meredith, and former assistant producer for Mundo Latino.
Cartagena, who was 23 at the time, remembers Ramos as a passionate journalist, often writing his own segments and getting to the heart of the news.
“His passion [for the news] was very clear from the beginning,” she said. Indeed, soon enough Ramos was assigned the top co-anchor position at Univision, becoming one of the youngest national news anchors in the history of American television, at 28, in November 1986.
Ramos, who jokes about being like those Japanese executives who spend their entire careers working for the same company, has worked at Univision ever since. He has witnessed some of the most dramatic changes in the company's history, including its 1992 acquisition from Hallmark by Jerry Perenchio and partners Venevision and Grupo Televisa worth some $550 million, and all the way through the 2006 purchase for $12.3 billion by a private-equity consortium.
“I remember a  meeting called by Jerry Perenchio at the Univision studios in Miami to clear up any doubts with respect to the purchase of the company,” wrote Ramos in his autobiography, No Borders: A Journalist's Search for Home (HarperCollins, 2003). “I armed myself with courage, raised my hand and asked the question that many of my fellow journalists had on the tip of their tongues: 'We all know that both Televisa and Venevision practice censorship of the press in their respective countries … can you assure us that will not occur here in the United States?'”
Perenchio told Ramos that he would personally guarantee complete editorial freedom, encouraging him to give him a call should he encounter any problems.
“I never had to call him,” Ramos said.
Despite his 24 years at Univision, and the occasional temptation to move on to something else, it looks like neither Ramos nor his bosses are ready to part ways.
“We have been very careful to have many long-term contracts with Jorge,” said Alina Falcón, executive vice president and operating manager of the Univision network. Falcón, who joined the network around the same time as Ramos, has seen him grow personally and professionally.
Perhaps most importantly, she has witnessed Ramos' contribution to the unprecedented growth of Noticiero Univisión, which in 1999 received its first national Emmy Award for coverage of Hurricane Mitch, making Univision the first Spanish-language network to win such an award.
Another milestone came in September 2007, when Ramos and co-anchor María Elena Salinas moderated the first ever presidential candidate forum in Spanish. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson participated in a 90-minute forum that broke audience records, with 4.6 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Fast National Ratings. That's compared to an average reach of 4.3 million viewers who watched the English-language debates on ABC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
A few months later, Univision made history, again, with the broadcast of the first Republican forum, also moderated by Ramos and Salinas.
“It's been fascinating to witness the growth, not only of Ramos and Salinas as professionals, but also in terms of our influence and the importance of the network's news department,” said Falcón.
VOICE OF THE VOICELESS
On May 2008, as hundreds of marketers, media buyers and planners gathered at New York City's Jazz at Lincoln Center for Univision's annual upfront presentation, a group of mostly Hispanic waiters, caterers and bartenders tried to get an up-close glimpse of some of the faces so familiar to them from their TV sets.
“Oh my God! Is that Jorge Ramos?” a waitress asked a reporter. “Do you think he'll give me his autograph?”
The scene is not uncommon. Spanish-language newscasts are often more like advocacy than traditional journalism, with anchors and reporters showing sympathetic views to undocumented immigrants and often encouraging viewers to join national immigration rallies or register to vote.
Ramos himself is seen as someone who is just like his audience, working to get ahead in his adopted country.
“Hispanic news audiences are very different from mainstream audiences,” said Salinas, who is Ramos' longtime friend. “We have a very special connection to our audience and they expect much more from us than simply delivering the news. We are a bridge to their community, to their countries of origin.”
The U.S. born Salinas is a well-known advocate for immigrants' rights.
Neither Ramos nor Salinas, who have worked together for over two decades now, have any problem with expressing their opinions. “We are forced to become opinion leaders,” said Ramos. “People expect from me to go out and defend the rights of immigrants; to be the voice of the voiceless.”
To be sure, Ramos has capitalized on his fame and influence to become a crusader for issues important to U.S. Hispanics, notably immigration reform and Latin American politics. Unlike TV anchors in mainstream America, he doesn't shy away from putting forward his point of view on hot button topics, using his syndicated national newspaper column as well as multiple appearances on mainstream television. Throughout his career, Ramos has been tapped to comment on the “Hispanic issue” on shows such as CBS's TheEarly Show; ABC's Nightline; CNN's Larry King Live, Crossfire and Lou Dobbs Tonight; and PBS's Charlie Rose.
Ramos' views on politics and immigration have not escaped parody. During a six-minute appearance on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report in early August, Stephen Colbert introduced his guest as the anchor of the most popular news program in the country, Noticiero Univisión, “which I believe is Spanish for 'Let's Invade America,'” said Colbert, while his Hispanic alter ego, Esteban Colberto, commended Ramos for his “gravitas, his balls and his power over las chicas.”
Ramos has also stirred up controversy among ultra-conservative media bloggers and commentators who label him a “cultural separatist” or as someone who is “not even a citizen of the U.S.” mingling in the country's affairs.
Still, the more he may rile some in the mainstream media, the more sympathetic he remains to his core audience. “People flock to him simply because they trust him,” said Julio Rumbaut, a Miami-based Hispanic media consultant and principal of Rumbaut & Co.
Ramos prefers not to discuss his personal life, though he confessed recently to accumulating over 2 million miles visiting his girlfriend, Mexican actress Ana de la Reguera, who lives in Los Angeles. He also talks candidly about some “musical obsessions” of his, including Maná, Shakira, Ana Torroja and Sting, and cites Mexican writer and intellectual Elena Poniatowska and Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci as the muses who inspired him to take up journalism.
LOYAL FEMALE FOLLOWERS
One thing he does not acknowledge though is that on top of his journalistic achievements, he is also considered a sex symbol of sorts, with a loyal base of female followers who leave sexy messages on his personal page on Univision.com. “We are very fortunate that not only he has a lot of great skills, but people love to watch him,” said Univision's Falcón.
Ramos concedes having certain political ambitions (“After seeing so much, sometimes I feel like doing something,” he said), but claims to have a long way to go as a communicator, with an itch to interview the Dalai Lama (whom he has met once) and, perhaps even more ambitiously, Pope Benedict XVI.
In the meantime, Ramos is hoping to obtain his U.S. citizenship in time to join the estimated 12 million Hispanics who are expected to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
“Curiously enough, and for the first time in my life, I feel I no longer have to choose between Mexico and the U.S.,” he said. “I am a Mexican who lives in the United States. That is what defines me.”
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