Telemundo Boston plans to launch its first local Spanish-language newscasts this summer, the latest step in a push by parent company NBC Universal to add programming for Hispanic viewers.
The company says it will hire five journalists to produce two half-hour newscasts on weekdays at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. — traditionally the most important time slots for local news. WNEU-TV will share studio space, footage, and sometimes personnel with New England Cable News, another NBC Universal property with an editorial staff of about 130.
WNEU currently airs a national Spanish-language newscast at 6:30 p.m., when the city’s NBC, ABC, and CBS affiliates show network newscasts. It runs a drama called “Decisiones” at 6, and a second national newscast airs at 11.
NBC Universal’s investment in local news at Telemundo Boston follows its unveiling of Spanish-language newscasts in 14 other media markets last fall.
“We’re looking to provide this Spanish-language service to everyone who speaks Spanish in their homes as the dominant language or even people who are bilingual who feel more comfortable getting their news in Spanish,” said Michael St. Peter, NBC Universal’s general manager in Boston. “The Boston area has been underserved in this regard for a long time.”
Some stories on general interest topics will be translations of NECN reports, but St. Peter said the station’s calling card will be sending reporters to converse with Spanish speakers in Greater Boston and produce stories that may be missed by English-language media.
Telemundo’s local news initiative aims to expand a currently limited menu for the growing number of Spanish speakers in Greater Boston. The 2010 Census showed Hispanics constitute 17.5 percent of the city’s population, up from 14.4 percent a decade earlier, but many have only one local TV news option.
“Noticias Nueva Inglaterra,” which translates to New England News, airs live at 6 p.m. on Univisión and replays at 11. Telemundo’s nighttime newscast will be the only live local news program in Spanish at the later time.
“This is a long time coming, and you wonder what the barriers were,” said Cindy Rodriguez, senior journalist-in-residence at Emerson College and a former board member at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. “The demand for local news that is presented in Spanish, primarily for Latinos, is very strong. We’ve had this huge, sleeping giant of a community.”
In cities with large Hispanic populations, the Telemundo broadcasts have caught on quickly. Telemundo had the most-watched newscasts in any language in Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix during the May sweeps period.
The sprouting of Spanish-language newscasts aligns with the latest Census Bureau projections showing that Hispanics will continue growing as a share of the national population: 18 percent this year, 20 percent in 2025, and 23 percent in 2035.
Still, such widespread spending on local newscasts is rare at a time when declining viewership has prompted other station groups to trim programming. Stations cut an average of 12 minutes of local weekday news from 2011 to 2013, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association.
The audience for early evening local newscasts declined 3 percent from 2010 to 2014, and late-night viewership fell 6 percent in the same period, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Telemundo Boston plans to start with a producer, anchor, meteorologist, and two field reporters. St. Peter said the station is interviewing bilingual candidates and hopes to begin broadcasting in late July.
The content sharing between NECN and Telemundo in Boston will work both ways. Telemundo might find stories that wind up being translated into English for NECN.
“These will not be a clone of NECN newscasts,” St. Peter said. “We’re definitely going to have unique stories of interest to our Spanish-speaking communities.”