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WA anchor launches independent Spanish newscast, seeking to fill void

By Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times
Published: January 14, 2024, 6:02am

LYNNWOOD — In his son’s former bedroom, Jaime Méndez delivered the news.

He had ditched the suit and tie he wore for almost 17 years as a Univision anchor. Instead, as he recorded this conversational newscast, broadcast on a variety of online platforms, he wore a casual button-down shirt.

Méndez stood in front of a wall draped with green fabric, superimposed with a map of the world on viewers’ screens. Bright lights illuminated his face. He read his Spanish-language script from a prompter as his wife, Diana Oliveros, and a digital engineer in Mexico City stood by to help.

“For now, this is what we can afford,” Méndez said of his Lynnwood home studio. He hopes that will change as his and Oliveros’ new company, Se Habla Media, grows.

This was day four of Jaime Méndez News, which began streaming last week on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram Monday through Friday at 6 p.m.

With the newscast, Méndez and Oliveros, a former community outreach director for the Mexican consulate, aim to fill the void in local Spanish-language news created when the Sinclair Broadcast Group ended its affiliation with Univision in Seattle. Méndez co-anchored Sinclair station KUNS’ local newscast, the only Spanish-language program of its kind in Western Washington. It had its last broadcast Dec. 31.

One million Latinos in Washington, many of them primarily Spanish speakers, suddenly lost access to regional news, said Mexican Consul Héctor Iván Godoy Priske, speaking at a Pioneer Square launch party for Se Habla Media. “That is a major blow.”

He thanked Méndez for stepping up, calling the former anchor “one of the most recognized figures in the state of Washington.” Dozens of other Latino leaders also attended the Friday launch, crowding around Méndez in a hush as he delivered the news live for the first time and then celebrating with margaritas and other drinks, food from three Latino-owned restaurants and a D.J. playing Latin music.

Méndez and Oliveros also launched a weekly interview program at the event, recording the first one that evening with the Latino owners of coworking space Kolors Studio, which hosted the celebration. The broadcasting couple plans to co-host a podcast about immigrant life, as well. Méndez hails from Colombia, Oliveros from Mexico.

In a way, Méndez said, Sinclair did him a favor when it nixed its Univision affiliation, letting him and his wife have the only Spanish-language newscast in town.

Bellingham-based KVOS-TV took over the region’s Univision affiliation this month, and its newscasts can be seen in Seattle. But the station is running national content and does not have a local news show. “We are looking at options to add local programming,” said Steve Farber of Weigel Broadcasting, which owns KVOS.

Still, Méndez and Oliveros don’t have the backing of a major network, and running their online operation, funded initially with their savings, presents new financial and creative challenges.

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“We’re not pretending to compete with national network news,” Méndez said.

His so-called news “briefs” last only about 10 minutes. Each takes on a handful of items he judges to be of interest to local Latinos. For the Thursday night broadcast, freelance correspondent Cesar Canizales interviewed people outside the Mexican consulate and downtown about the new Seattle council members.

The newscast also covered efforts to ban cellphones in classrooms, light rail interruptions, the danger of online scams and the forecast for snow.

Other days, the newscast might turn to international news. Méndez is working with a couple of freelancers in Mexico for coverage of Latin America and one in Switzerland for European reporting.

When he worked for Sinclair, Méndez’s had access to photos and video footage taken by KUNS sister station KOMO TV. Now, he and Oliveros rely on what they get from their few freelancers, what they shoot themselves and mostly generic material from free video and photo banks.

Jaime Méndez News looks surprisingly polished considering the limited resources. There’s a slick opening sequence with views of the Seattle skyline and up-tempo theme music. An advertising spot from a boisterous car dealer comes on next. An immigration lawyer and a jewelry business have also signed on to advertise, and others have expressed similar interest, Méndez said.

Unencumbered by everything that goes along with maintaining a TV studio, he said costs for the online operation are relatively modest. And the program is attracting an audience, with more than 11,000 viewers for each of the first couple shows.

Whether he and Oliveros can sustain and build upon that audience is yet to be seen. But he and his supporters are optimistic.

“It has to work,” Canizales said. “Where else is the local Hispanic community going to get news and information?”