News has been a part of local television programming since the beginnings of television in Puerto Rico on March 28, 1954. According to the archives of the Federal Communications Commission, the first broadcaster in Puerto Rico to transmit complete programming was Channel 2 (WKAQ). Evelio Otero presented the first news show on this channel, called Telenoticias del mundo. The second news show was El observador Kresto Denia on Channel 4, which began several months after the inauguration of the station on April 9, 1954.
The production of both programs was very simple. Only the host, or ancla (from the English word “anchor”), appeared in the form of a “talking head” as he read the news in front of the camera. Visuals were rarely used. The only stories accompanied by images were international news reports, with images acquired from the news agencies. Channel 2 used film clips from United Press International (UPI) and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
A notable exception came on Channel 2’s second day on the air when it broadcast its first news visual that showed the arrival of the United States Navy on Vieques on March 29, 1954. The film was captured by Elías C. Lamas during the morning and broadcast at six in the evening of the same day. It was made in collaboration with the United States Navy.
From the beginning of television, other short news programs, called “news magazines,” were developed simultaneously, such as Telerevista, broadcast on Channel 4 beginning in 1954, and Noticiario Warner Lambert, also on Channel 4 until the end of the 1950s.
Evelio Otero became an important figure in television. Until 1962, he served as anchor and producer of Telenoticias. His style was to editorialize about the news content, making comments about what he read on the air. Also, when the news dispatches arrived in English, he translated them as he read them.
From the beginning, the news programs were shown in prime time, between five and six in the evening. This hour was the block of time when the most people were home after work. However, the production budgets were modest. The production team was minimal and usually consisted of the anchor, as mentioned, and one or two studio technicians.
In this early era of television, the news shows were conceived of as supplementary programming that met the objective of providing service to the community. Through experimentation with new technologies and the central role that television placed among the public, the economic potential of the small screen became evident in the decades to come.
The daily news shows underwent great changes during the 1970s. The changes were reflected in all aspects of the production of the Puerto Rican news shows. Social and technological factors fed the evolution of television and its news shows.
In the middle of the 1970s, there were notable changes in the production of television news shows in Puerto Rico. The local daily news shows, like those in much of the rest of the world, were influenced by the production styles United States. Television news production in the United States had begun to become more sophisticated. The format was based on images with impact, dynamic editing and general interest stories. On the island, Channel 11 (WKBM), created in 1960, promoted this new type of television journalism by creating, in 1975, the program El once en las noticias. This daily news show, directed by Nephtalí Rodríguez, created a panel of news presenters, incorporated reporters and integrated the use of visuals to alternate with shots of the anchors in the studio.
This news show began with Carmen Jovet as anchor and Ernesto Díaz González as sports anchor. They were later joined by Luis Francisco Ojeda, Hiram Collazo, Ramón Enrique Torres and Sylvia Gómez, who replaced Jovet in 1978. That year, Pedro Zervigón assumed direction of the news show and integrated more reports and interviews into the production of the program. He also encouraged each reporter to project his or her personality on camera.
During the two years following the creation of El once en las noticias, Channel 2 and Channel 4 made similar changes. In 1977, Channel 2 changed its format from a male anchor and created Telenoticias en acción, directed by José Manuel álvarez. Aníbal González Irizarry was joined by Bruni Vélez, Ramón Enrique Torres, Jorge Rivera Nieves, Raúl Quiñones and Junior Abrahams on sports.
A year later, in 1978, Channel 4, under the direction of William J. “Bill” Pérez, emulated its competitors. It used a panel format consisting of Enrique Cruz and Guillermo José Torres as anchors. Pérez, who was a reporter for the United States network NBC, brought a more dynamic and “American” style to the news show: more people on camera, more commentaries, more reports. Under his direction, Luz Nereida Vélez and ángel Oliveras joined the broadcast team.
As shown by the facts above, it was the middle of the 1970s when women were included as anchors and reporters, posts that had previously been held exclusively by men. Thanks to the feminist movement, in 1969 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared labor discrimination against women illegal and from 1971 on, the telecommunications businesses had to report annually on the number of women employed and the roles they performed.
Another innovation, this one technological, contributed to the implementation of the new format for news shows. In Puerto Rico, at the end of the 1970s, film was replaced by three-quarters inch video tape, called ENG (Electronic News Gathering). From that time on, it was no longer necessary to take so much time to develop footage. Video brought immediacy, speed and agility, giving the news shows more flexibility and time. The equipment made possible certain other structural changes, including program interruptions, schedule changes and live transmissions.
During the 1980s, the news shows underwent a period of growth. The news channel CNN (1980) brought a rare twist to television news in the United States with its 24-hour format. News shows were valued for their immediacy and visual impact, aspects that made television viewers “eyewitnesses” to events.
In Puerto Rico, in the middle of the decade, Channel 24 was created with an objective similar to CNN’s. Meanwhile, Channel 4, following the same strategy, adopted the use of news updates that were interspersed among the regular programming. In this way, viewers did not have to wait until the late night news to know what had happened.
Live transmissions also rose during the 1980s. These direct reports emphasized the timeliness and veracity of the information. In 1983, Telenoticias, under the direction of Antonio González Caballero, began to insert direct transmissions into the weather report. The same year, WAPA acquired a satellite station, El Coquí, and the first mobile unit, “La Pionera.” This vehicle allowed live transmissions from outside the studio.
Other innovations incorporated in those years were the betacam, which replaced the three-quarters inch video tape, and the teleprompter, which made the presentation by the anchor more natural, as it allowed him to read while looking at the camera.
Meanwhile, figures from the entertainment world were incorporated into the news shows in those years, and were generally assigned to art and culture reporting. Among them were Camille Carrión, Angela Meyer and Elia Enid Cadilla on Channel 4 and Johana Rosaly on Channel 2.
In 1988, Channel 4 began an effort to deinstitutionalize the way the news was delivered, or in other words, to focus the news show on how the news affected the average consumer. This meant a change in the way events were covered. As a result, an emphasis on police news emerged. This new approach was also adopted by Channel 2, under the direction of Berta Castañer. During this decade, the desire for realism was supported by new technology, which was instrumental in bringing television viewers closer in time and space to the news events.
The technological changes in telecommunications that resulted from signal digitalization, satellites, and fiber optics that appeared during the 1990s led to changes in the formats of television news shows. These changes allowed the programs to be produced much more quickly.
Live transmissions, which were a luxury at first because of the high costs, became more common. It is not surprising that when the Channel 6 news program, Notiséis, returned to the air in 1995 under the direction of Jorge Inserni, it acquired three mobile units for the show. These not only allowed live transmissions, but also allowed edited reports and visuals captured remotely to be sent to the station. Direct transmissions increased the feeling of realism and made the viewer a direct witness to events.
Other changes also occurred during this decade. The number of news programs grew, the newsrooms were computerized, the teletype was eliminated and special radar was acquired for the weather reports.
As market analysis of the television audience became an indispensable practice for surviving the competition, television stations began to make changes in their content with the public’s wishes in mind. Consulting firms analyzed all of the components of news shows to measure the size of the audience and the viewers’ preferences.
News programs made changes in all aspects of their programs, based on the findings of the market studies. One of these was set design. The set was made to project the editorial approach that each news program wanted to present. For some, set design allowed them to show themselves as modern and technologically oriented, while others identified themselves along national lines. Thus, for example, Channel 2 in the 1990s began to include a Puerto Rican flag as part of the set design to reaffirm the national identity of the show. In 1995, meanwhile, Notiséis incorporated a luxurious, two-level set design that included a robotic camera mounted on rails that provided a view of the entire studio in action. The visuals, colors and textures of the set design, as well as the program’s music, became indispensable parts of the production.
The changes in set design led to variations on the positioning of the anchors, which began to show up as early as the 1970s on Channel 11. In the 1990s, it was not uncommon to see that the anchors had left behind the traditional norm of remaining seated. In the case of Channel 11, in the 1990s, it was common to see the anchors walking around the studio, which was divided into various spaces corresponding to the different segments of the news program. This made the format more dynamic and added visual variety.
The changes in the news programs were also reflected in terms of content. During this era, dependence on official sources of information from government authorities (the police, La Fortaleza, the Capitol, the courts) as the primary source of news increased. This trend had declined among local news programs since the 1970s. Coverage of news conferences given by politicians, government officials, public figures and organizations became an integral part of the news programs.
Production teams grew in size during this era. In 2001, the Channel 2 news team consisted of 41 people to produce two news programs. Channel 6 had 30, for its two news programs, and Channel 11 had nearly 100 to produce its four programs.
Once again, technological advances changed the way news was delivered. The integration of communications media – through the telephone, internet and digital technology – took news programs beyond the traditional confines that set a particular hour and a specific medium or format for accessing information. In any case, the dividing lines between media were crossed and the audience dispersed beyond the traditional boundaries of television.
News programs began establishing partnerships with cellular telephone and pager companies to transmit headlines and news advances and some programs began to simulcast their shows on the radio, such as Channel 2 in 2001.
Currently, news programs operate in a multi-pronged media axis and disseminate information by television, radio, cellular telephones and the internet. Television news programs have moved beyond the confines of television to become multi-media journalistic enterprises that include radio journalism, electronic press and the telephone, extending the national borders of their public.
Author: Lourdes Lugo Ortiz
Published: September 12, 2014.
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