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Originally published July 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 7, 2007 at 2:05 AM

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Area's first TV news in Spanish to debut

Like a veteran anchorman, Jaime M...z sat behind the desk in the KOMO-TV studio in Seattle and presented the day's news: a shooting...

Seattle Times staff reporter

"Noticias Noroeste"

What: The region's first nightly local newscast all in Spanish.

When: Weeknights at 6 and 11.

Where: KUNS, broadcast on UHF channel 51 in Seattle. On Comcast cable: channels 28 or 29. On Dish Network: channels 50 or 51. DIRECTV: channel 972.

Sources: Univision, Fisher Broadcasting

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Like a veteran anchorman, Jaime Méndez sat behind the desk in the KOMO-TV studio in Seattle and presented the day's news: a shooting in Skyway, a recap of a big July 4 fireworks show and the hiring of a new Sonics head coach.

But this was no everyday KOMO newscast.

For one thing, it was just a dress rehearsal.

And for another, it was all in Spanish.

Méndez, his co-anchor, Roxy De La Torre, and their team of producers were making the final preparations for "Noticias Noroeste" — "Northwest News" — which will debut Monday on KUNS-TV, Seattle's local Univision channel, part of the multibillion-dollar media chain that dominates the national Hispanic market.

Univision hit the air on UHF channel 51 in January through a partnership with Fisher Communications, which owns KOMO. The newscast, which will air Monday through Friday at 6 and 11 p.m., is the first locally produced, all-Spanish commercial news program to hit the airwaves in the Puget Sound region.

For Univision and Fisher, the effort means staking a claim on the region's fast-growing Hispanic population that is both thirsting for local news and ripe for advertisers.

It "just recognizes that there's obviously a market out there," said Michael Sotelo, president of the Washington State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "The numbers are pretty incredible as far as the growth is concerned."

Numbers behind decision

In fact, the decision to launch "Noticias Noroeste" was all about the numbers, officials for Fisher and Univision said.

The Hispanic population in Washington has increased at least 31 percent over the past six years, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates reported in May. Hispanics in Washington now number at least 580,000 out of the 6.15 million total population, according to those estimates.

In addition, there are more than 200,000 illegal immigrants in the state, according to a 2006 study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

In the Seattle area, Hispanics spend about $6.4 billion a year on consumer goods, according to a financial forecast Univision commissioned. Nationally, Hispanic consumer spending is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2010, said John Lippman, a Univision senior vice president.

"That's a market that we are trying to serve by growing to vibrant markets such as Seattle," he said in an e-mail.

Such a market has already spawned other local Spanish-language media. More than a half-dozen Spanish newspapers, mostly weeklies, are published here, and Spanish-only radio stations have recently taken to the air.

"There is a growing interest in advertisers to cater to Hispanics," said Jorge Rivera, editor of La Raza, a weekly Spanish newspaper launched in Everett last year by The Washington Post Co., which owns the Herald in Everett. "The demographic is growing fast."

In Yakima, the Herald-Republic newspaper, which is owned by The Seattle Times Co., publishes a Spanish-language weekly called El Sol de Yakima.

The growth in the market wasn't lost on Seattle-based Fisher. Since 2005, the company has acquired nine Spanish-language stations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

But a locally made newscast is important for KUNS to make a real connection to the local Hispanic community, said Jim Clayton, the general manager of both KOMO and KUNS.

"We know for a fact that Hispanic viewers are very loyal," he said.

More than entertainment

When Araceli Hernandez moved to Seattle more than a decade ago, it was nearly impossible to find a Spanish TV channel. Univision was not available in all areas, and the only other option was purchasing pricey Spanish packages through satellite services.

And for many immigrants, TV is more than just entertainment, Hernandez said. It can help them connect with the countries and cultures they left behind.

"The first thing immigrants do to feel integrated is get a television," said Hernandez, who works for Casa Latina, a nonprofit immigrant day-labor center in Seattle.

Hernandez said a nightly newscast will help important news spread faster through her community. She points to last year's deadly windstorm, when it was difficult to spread safety tips to immigrants.

But the KUNS broadcast also will be a Northwest regional effort, its producers say.

Along with Méndez in Seattle, who is already known for a morning radio show on a Spanish station, anchorwoman De La Torre will report from Portland, where Fisher owns another Univision affiliate. Yakima's Univision station also will send news stories.

Logistical obstacles

That will create logistical obstacles, the producers say. And Mauri Moore, Seattle's show producer, said having a "skeletal" staff of only one anchor-reporter and a cameraman in Seattle will be tricky.

But she added that with the help of KOMO's resources, coverage will improve. And Clayton, the general manager, said he expects KUNS will eventually get its own studio.

The newscast will be taped at midday and updated an hour before it goes on the air.

Meanwhile, KUNS plans to offer segments focusing solely on community issues. It plans to bring in local experts. For example, an interview with an expert from Public Health — Seattle & King County about diseases such as West Nile virus has already been filmed.

At the dress rehearsal last week, Méndez interviewed a KUNS employee, Teresa Jones, pretending to be a relationship expert.

From the control room across the hall from the studio, a director and producer guided Méndez with rapid-fire directions through his earpiece in both Spanish and English. Méndez had three minutes to fill. Tres minutos.

On the giant plasma screens in the control room, De La Torre, in Portland, waited for her cue and intently watched what was happening in Seattle.

Méndez and Jones, before a plasma screen flashing the Univision emblem, chatted about tips for singles to find dates. They were the only ones in an empty studio.

At the end of the interview, Jones mentioned she was glad this news program was finally in town.

"Aqui estamos," Méndez replied. "Y no nos vamos."

"We're here. And we're not leaving."

Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Manuel Valdes: mvaldes@seattletimes.com or 206-748-5874

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