Latino anchor makes news
Cuban-born Raoul Martinez is the first Hispanic to sit in the weeknight anchor chair at a major network affiliate in Orlando.
By Hal Boedeker
Sentinel Television Critic
A WESH-Channel 2 reporter who fled Cuba as a boy will become the first Hispanic to anchor a weeknight newscast on a major network affiliate in Central Florida.
Raoul Martinez, 31, will take the anchor chair of the 5:30 p.m. newscast on Aug. 16.
"He has natural anchor talent that I think is rare," WESH General Manager Bill Bauman said Friday. "He's a good reporter, but anchoring is a hard skill. He has some natural talent that I want to take advantage of."
Martinez's ascension reflects the changing makeup of the Central Florida TV market, which typically has not been mirrored in local stations' personnel.
Bauman acknowledged that Martinez's ethnicity was another advantage in promoting him. (The Orlando Sentinel shares some content with WESH.)
"It's not lost on us that he's Hispanic," Bauman said. "This market has changed, and we need to do better to reflect the market. Diversity will be a significant issue in all of our hiring going forward."
Henry Maldonado, general manager of WKMG-Channel 6 and a native of Venezuela, echoed that sentiment.
"Diversity is a major part of all business, not just in front of the cameras," he said. "It brings a company forward. It keeps everybody in touch with the real character of our viewership."
Martinez joined WESH as a reporter and weekend anchor in 2002. He has been in the business five years, and his only previous TV job had been at KESQ, the ABC affiliate in Palm Springs, Calif. He came to the United States at age 7 in 1980, when his parents left Cuba to escape Fidel Castro's regime.
"When I came here, I didn't speak English," Martinez said. "They put me in a normal second-grade class. Two months later, I'm sitting in front of the TV and speaking English."
He started watching the news at age 9 as he grew up in Orange County, Calif. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California.
"We try to get the voice of the community," Martinez said of the news. "Hispanics are a big part of the community. You have to get that voice out there. Sometimes that voice is lost in the news."
WESH mainstay Wendy Chioji will co-anchor with Martinez in the beginning. But Bauman hopes to establish a second anchor team, made up of Martinez and someone else, to back up Chioji and Jim Payne, who head the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
The growing Hispanic presence in the Orlando market can be seen elsewhere on the television landscape. WVEN-Channel 26, the affiliate of Spanish-language Univision, offers local newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. WTMO-Channel 40, the Telemundo affiliate, plans to launch weeknight newscasts at 6 and 11 in October.
Industry insiders have said Orlando has difficulty competing with bigger markets, such as Atlanta and Miami, in attracting and keeping minority talent. But WKMG's Maldonado said that is changing.
"Good anchors and reporters are being sought after by markets that can pay them better than Orlando," he said. "But they're all over the country. You have to keep looking."
Through 50 years of television history, Central Florida has logged little diversity in main anchor positions. Just three African-Americans have held the job on a 5, 5:30, 6 or 11 p.m. weekday newscast on a network affiliate. Jacqueline London is the sole African-American in the prominent role at the moment; she anchors the 5:30 newscast on WKMG.
Annetta Wilson was the first when she anchored at Channel 6 from 1980 to 1983. Jackie Brockington anchored at WESH from 1986 to 1989. Brockington now works at Central Florida News 13, a 24-hour cable operation, where Wilson is director of marketing. That cable channel has a prominent African-American anchor in Rod Johnson.
In recent years, the most prominent minority anchor in Central Florida has been Chioji, a Japanese-American. Shannon Hori, another Japanese-American who anchored WESH's 5:30 newscast, left in May to move to Dallas.
Hal Boedeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5756.
Projections of Census Bureau data by Orlando Sentinel Marketing Services