Cover Photos by Kristina Dixon, Studio Photos courteous of Spectrum News 1
Watch the latest news in Los Angeles and invariably you'll see high-speed car chases, ravaging wildfires, and stories about senseless murders. It's known in the industry as 'if it bleeds, it leads' journalism. It's the kind of news reporting that Cater Lee, Vice President of News and Content, said that she and other executives at the network made a commitment to refrain from when Spectrum News 1 was launched last November.
“Through our research, we knew there was a unique opportunity in Southern California to deliver highly localized news in an unbiased, non-sensationalized manner. And to connect with viewers by telling positive and uplifting stories. We wanted to celebrate our communities and deliver news, programming and impactful storytelling to address the deeper needs and interests of the diverse communities and neighborhoods throughout Southern California.” Has Spectrum News 1, as it marks its one-year anniversary, been able to achieve this lofty goal? Based on the positive feedback to the stories and programs airing on the 24-hour news channel available to 1.5 million homes in greater Los Angeles that receive Spectrum's pay-tv service, the answer is a resounding yes.
Spectrum News 1's coverage of the death of Nipsey Hussell exemplified its commitment to in-depth reporting that addresses the deeper needs and interests of the diverse communities and neighborhoods throughout Southern California. When Hussle was murdered, the station had boots on the ground. Spectrum News 1 anchors, Giselle Fernández and Melvin Robert, said that coverage of the rapper, entrepreneur, and community activist's death was one of their proudest moments of this past year. Fernández expressed how they made it their priority not to cover the story as observers, but as members of the community. “We found voices within the community to share with us the grief and the loss not from our observation coming from privilege, but from the hood.” Robert echoed her sentiments when he said, “We really honored the legacy, we honored the community, and we were able to honor and celebrate his life in a very dignified and graceful manner.”
And the Emmy goes to…
Spectrum News 1's original programming also speaks to the network's mission to tell community- and character-driven stories about the people in the neighborhoods it serves. Three such programs are: LA Stories with Giselle Fernández, the network's first Emmy award-winning show, hosted by Fernández that highlights people who shape lives and create an impact throughout the community; The SoCal Scene, an Emmy-nominated show hosted by Robert, as the ultimate guide to arts, culture, and entertainment in Southern California; and Inside the Issues with Alex Cohen, hosted by fellow co-anchor Alex Cohen.
Reflecting on this past year, Lee said, “We've had an incredibly positive year. I honestly thought it would take us longer for the audience to find us. The media landscape is so cluttered right now and it's so hard for content to breakthrough. And we have actually been found very quickly. That's been surprising and exciting and a little terrifying. The audience is telling us every day they see what we're doing. They see that we're in the community in a different way. They see that we're doing local news in a different way and they're responding to it and that's incredibly gratifying.”
When asked about plans for 2020, Lee said that she's excited about the upcoming national election and that in true Spectrum News 1 fashion, the network's coverage will be comprehensive. “We have anchors and multimedia journalists who will go in-depth to present unbiased coverage of the candidates and issues on the ballot in 2020.” She also remarked that the network will cover the entertainment industry as it embarks upon award season. “We will focus on telling stories behind the business of the entertainment industry and the amazing creative work and projects that drive the people and their successes in film and television. We are also planning an exclusive special about the future of Southern California to give viewers a glimpse into what the future in the region might look like in a few years.”
A five-time Emmy Award-winning producer, reporter, and anchor in Los Angeles, Lee specialized in reporting breaking news, investigative stories and local features for KCAL/KCBS and KNBC. She also worked at the West Coast Bureaus of CNN and NBC's Today Show in Los Angeles. Her extensive knowledge of the Los Angeles market and deep industry expertise led her to serve as an adjunct professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism from 2010 – 2012. Lee earned a Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism from the University of Southern California and a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia.
Local Hiring of Reporters is Key to Success
Traditionally, in television, news reporters and anchors work their way up through the various markets. They start in small markets, advanced to medium markets, then if lucky, land in Los Angeles. However, Lee believes that no matter how experienced or talented a reporter is, if they reside outside of Southern California, it would take too long for the reporter to get to know and understand Los Angeles. With that in mind, she said that the network focused on hiring people from Southern California. “We wanted people who knew the stories that mattered, cared about the stories that mattered themselves, and wanted to make a difference in their own hometown.”
Two such hires are Giselle Fernández and Melvin Robert, co-anchors along with Alex Cohen and Lisa McRee of the morning news show, The Beat on 1, helping Southern Californians get all the information they need to start their day. Fernández' and Robert's on-air and off-air chemistry is palpable. The pair mutually admire and respect each other. Confirming the latter, Lee said, “We had hired Giselle and then we saw lightning in a bottle with Melvin and Giselle. They were instant friends plus they really bonded over the mission of the network.”
Giselle, who has worked with Dan Rather, Matt Lauer, Bryant Gumbel, and basically with every major newsman throughout her career, said she has never worked with anybody that has more range, more intelligence, and more depth and empathy for the community he serves than Robert. “Melvin is not cookie-cutter in any way. I think he's got a huge career. He's literally a joy to work with. Our chemistry is not manufactured. It's real. I've found a kindred spirit with Melvin. He really comes from this place of deep empathy for humanity, and as such, he's not just reading the news.” Fernández went on to say that “Robert is not just trying to be a star, but that he's on a mission to make this a better a place and that I'm honored to sit alongside him.”
Robert said that when he arrived at his screen test, he did not expect to see Fernández— a true heavyweight in the industry with a stellar career. Her presence there confirmed for him that what he was embarking upon would be truly special. He admits his nerves were trying to get the best of him, but that after talking to Fernández, he began to calm down. Moreover, on several occasions during the screen test, she took Robert's hand. That kind gesture meant a lot to him and helped to further ease his nerves. He began to see Fernández as his guardian angel. “Giselle has had an extraordinary career and she didn't have to necessarily go out of her way to mentor me, support me, and encourage me, very genuinely. And she really did that for me when I got this job. Every step of the way she has really been there.”
“The Emmy for an outstanding informational series goes to Giselle Fernández for LA Stories with Giselle Fernández!” Those were the words that rung out at the Television Academy's Saban Media Center during the 71st Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards in July. What an amazing achievement for Spectrum News 1's Production Team and Giselle Fernández, who was born in Mexico and raised in Southern California. When asked how it felt being honored, she said, “Awesome. I was so excited because we had just launched the programs at Spectrum News 1, so we hadn't even been on the air for a year. And our original program, L.A. Stories, hadn't been on a year. So to have that kind of validation was just sensational and it showed that we're moving in the right direction and that we're doing it right.”
Reflecting on the past year, Fernández said, “It's been so extraordinary to have been a part of not just a new network, but a new idea where you're hyperlocal, where you really validate the local experience and the local community.” She said “being able to honor, validate, and give a voice to the diverse communities in Los Angeles is a dream come true. I remember interviewing for the job and afterward thinking to myself that if they really mean what they say and their vision is truly what they say it is, which is to really be a voice for our diverse community of Los Angeles, then I'm the right person for this job, because I care deeply about people in this city receiving equal coverage and having an equal voice.” She said Spectrum News 1 is the kind of place she's always wanted to be. “Even though it's new and it's local, to me it is the biggest, greatest platform there could ever be because what's more important than to give a voice to those in the city who often have not had a voice?” When asked why she feels Spectrum News 1 is doing well she said, “People are gravitating toward us because our coverage is decent, human and right.”
Fernández has been known for her cutting-edge reporting in hot spots throughout the world and interviewing prominent global and local leaders. She has held many titles throughout her career. Aside from anchor and journalist, she's also been deemed author, philanthropist, as well as president, director, and producer of her own production company and strategic messaging company. In addition to her six Emmys, she's the recipient of numerous honors and awards in the fields of journalism and philanthropy. Out of Fernández's portfolio of reporting, a notable moment for her was the rare interview she did with Fidel Castro. She is also incredibly proud of her documentary titled, “Our Story,” which raised awareness of the healthcare crisis facing low-income children in the Latin community.
“OMG, the show I'm a correspondent on, “The SoCal Scene” on Spectrum News 1 SoCal was just nominated for an EMMY!” That was a Tweet posted in June by Alison Martino. Needless to say, Robert, who hosts The SoCal Scene, shared Martino's excitement.
Robert, a proud African American gay man, who has been inspired by other gay men in news and entertainment, such as Don Lemon and Neil Patrick Harris respectively, said he appreciates how management at Spectrum News 1 does more than give lip service to the saying “Just be yourself.” “In the entertainment industry oftentimes the employer will say, 'Just be yourself, but not this slice of yourself or that slice of yourself or that slice of yourself.' And at the end of the day, you're saying, 'But that's not really myself.' Here at Spectrum News 1, authenticity is the thing that is of paramount importance.”
What makes Spectrum News 1 a standout? According to Robert, it's Spectrum's commitment to the community. “Our term here is 'hyperlocal,' so you'll see stories here that you may not traditionally see on other local news outlets. We're not just covering the community, but we're in the community. We're walking hand and hand with the stakeholders and residents to make sure that their voices are being heard and that we're telling stories in a way that's authentic and true to what's actually going on.”
Robert said hyper-localism was very much indoctrinated into who he's always been. Born and raised in Inglewood, he attended elementary school in South Los Angeles, middle school near downtown, high school at Loyola in Mid-City, and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Westchester. His family owned F & M Market on the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Arbor Vitae Street. “Inglewood is a huge part of my life,” Robert said. “It was very important to my family that my brother and I were a part of the community and a part of the store.”
Reflecting on this past year, Robert said, “I have exceeded what I thought was possible. There are a lot of ups and downs in entertainment, and I've always dreamed of this. What's most amazing is that working at Spectrum News 1 is a new thing, and it's great to work somewhere where I can celebrate every aspect of myself.” From an early age, Robert knew that he wanted to inspire a large audience. A proverbial triple threat - a talented and versatile singer, actor and television host, it's no wonder, Robert has realized his dream.
Robert started his career in education, and over the span of 11 years, worked from elementary to university, and everything in between. He holds his MA in Educational Studies focused on human development and counseling. Robert is no stranger to the camera either, having appeared on The Wendy Williams Show, Access Hollywood LIVE, KTLA Morning News, Good Day LA, and The Young Turks. Additionally, he has appeared in films, musicals, and has been featured as a soloist in several concerts across the southland.