KNBC’s Commitment to Diversity Questioned Following Demotions of Hispanic Talent

By Andrew Gauthier 

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has sent a letter to Los Angeles NBC O&O KNBC and its corporate parent Comcast expressing concern over an alarming number of recent demotions among the station’s Hispanic on-air talent.

According to data compiled by a KNBC staffer and shared with NAHJ, the station has taken action against the majority of its Hispanic on-air staff this year. Of the nine Hispanic anchors, reporters, and weathercasters at KNBC, since January 10th, five have either been demoted or terminated. And as of last week, none of the station’s on-air hires in 2011 are of Hispanic heritage.

KNBC, which just announced the promotion of Robert Kovacik and hiring of Stephanie Elam to anchor weekends, currently has no Hispanic anchors on its prime p.m. newscasts while 30% of reporters appearing during these programs are Hispanic. This seeming lack of Latino representation is especially significant in the Los Angeles market, where nearly half of viewers are Hispanic.

“We’re very concerned about what’s being reported,” NAHJ president Michele Salcedo tells TVSpy. “It’s very important for a newsroom to reflect the community in which it operates.”

NAHJ’s letter comes a week after KNBC president and general manager Craig Robinson (left) was tapped as chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal.

In announcing Robinson’s appointment — in which he’ll oversee NBCU’s diversity commitments and report directly to CEO Steve Burke — the company praised his accomplishments at KNBC. But NAHJ’s letter puts into question the station’s ongoing commitment to diversity under Robinson’s leadership.

In addition to a lack of Hispanic representation among its on-air staff, the station has a disproportionate number of Hispanics behind the camera. According to NAHJ, Latinos comprise 15% of news photographers, 10% of producers, and no executives.

Last summer, in a letter (embedded below) to the FCC during the processes of acquiring a controlling stake in NBCU, Comcast pledged its commitment to hiring and retaining Hispanics.

Some at the station indicate that Robinson may have lost sight of his diversity goals over the past year and perhaps given too much control to new VP of news Vickie Burns.  Burns, who has held newsroom jobs at NBC stations in Chicago, Washington and New York, moved to KNBC last summer. She has aggressively shuffled KNBC’s on-air roster, and, say insiders, diminished the presence of Latinos along the way.

“Everything Vickie Burns wanted to do, Craig Robinson did,” a KNBC staffer tells us.

Robinson has been traveling this week and unavailable for comment. A station spokesperson attributed the recent demotions to the fact that “news talent and assignments change and evolve all the time.”

“It’s important to note that nearly half of KNBC’s employee base are ethnically diverse,” the spokesperson told TVSpy via email. “In fact, under Craig Robinson’s leadership, the station’s Hispanic employee base has increased in real numbers and percentages.”

NAHJ president Salcedo met with Robinson for over an hour this week and discussed the association’s concerns about the dwindling number of Latino representation at the station under his leadership. Salcedo says Robinson assured her that he found it unacceptable.

Following this meeting, the station announced they had hired general assignment reporter Antonio Castelan. Castelan comes to KNBC from San Diego CW-affiliate XETV.

Here’s NAHJ’s letter to KNBC…

And here’s Comcast’s “Memorandum of Understanding” letter to the FCC…