Journalist talks being bilingual in media industry

By Harold Lopez

For Hispanic journalists, figuring out which language to use on the job is the first step, according to a Telemundo 51 and NBC 6 reporter.

Nathalia Ortiz spoke to students at the Biscayne Bay Campus on Nov. 9 as part of the Leadership Webinar Series hosted at the Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Center for the Advancement of Women in Communication.

Ortiz began her career in 2006 as a weekend reporter for Univision’s local station in Miami, and then moved to New York City two years later to report for several News 12 stations.

She also created the Hispanic media department and led the launch of a digital and print newspaper for the Spanish-speaking Catholic community in Brooklyn and Queens. In 2012, she joined Telemundo NY’s local station as an anchor and reporter.

Three years later, she returned to Miami to report in Spanish for Telemundo 51 and in English for NBC 6 News.

It became obvious to her at the start of her career in Spanish language media that she thought and thinks still in the English language, Ortiz said. Ortiz is from Miami, FL, she spoke a lot of Spanish back at home, allowing her to be fluent enough in the language.

“That’s a question that many of us don’t really think about or ask ourselves because it is just kind of automatic,” said Ortiz.

Ortiz’s suggestions for student journalists is to first work in their primary choice of language for at least three years.

“You want to establish yourself in your career as soon as possible. If you decide that long term and your primary language in the one you want to really grow in is let’s say, English. My advice is to start there and then you can pick up a job in your alternative language,” Ortiz said.

News directors often see reporters using one language and it is hard for them to imagine that they can do the other, Ortiz said, even if they see a demo reel (a video or audio representation designed to showcase the reporter’s talent) with that other language, but they pigeonhole the reporter.

Sometimes news directors have a hard time knowing and believing that a reporter can adjust to another language, according to Ortiz.

“I wasn’t always as bilingual as I am now. I had to really work hard at it — and my mother will attest to the many times when I was starting out at Univision 23 here in South Florida as a weekend reporter. I couldn’t think of the word because it’s something that is outside of your normal vocabulary,” said the Telemundo Reporter.

Ortiz would have to call her mother in a panic while carrying a little dictionary about her use of Spanish words while focusing on making it on time before going on-air.

“Some people feel that they have to become very neutral; their Spanish has to be very neutral. I have a relatively neutral accent when I speak in Spanish versus the Columbian from my father and Cuban from my mother,” said Ortiz on cultural neutralization.

The Telemundo reporter does admit that there are double the job opportunities and that the Hispanic community is viewed as the largest minority in the country. While, it is best to mention that you speak two languages in a job interview for a media company.

“Branding yourself bilingual can be powerful, but it is not a free pass,” said Ortiz.

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