Balitang America @ 15: The inside stories of the Filipino Channel’s reporters, producers


NEWS ANCHOR. That is my job title. I present the news every day. You see me on camera leading in to stories or doing live interviews, moderating debates, and weaving all the stories together.

BUT I am in the safety and convenience of our studio. Behind the cameras are the true newsmen who go out wherever the leads take them and chase the stories. They are the engine that propels Balitang America (BA) to be your source of information, your voice in the community so your stories may be told and heard despite being part of the under represented minority in America. They are our reporters, producers, and every member of the BA family. They work long hours, wear several hats — reporter, writer, producer, cameraman, production assistant, driver, make-up artist, etc. just to bring you the news that connects and stories that empower.

As a prelude to your watching our documentary “Beyond News: 15 years of Balitang America,” airing on Sunday, November 12 at 7:45 p.m. on TFC, let me share with you who some of these people are, and what motivates them as journalists.

Troy espera, executive producer

“I took over as producer for BA as the roller coaster ride of the 2016 U.S. presidential election race got started. Our news team was hungry to report on the candidates and to tell the stories of Filipino Americans who were involved at every level of the election process. There were also countless stories about Filipino American voters that helped us understand the diverse perspectives held within our own community when it comes to presidential politics. As the new EP of BA, who witnessed the high bar for election coverage that had been set by producers who trained me, I felt so activated to get to work and dive in with the rest of the team. In my role, I get to support our journalists who are in the field, and bring all their work together into a cohesive newscasts every night. During the election year, I didn’t want to miss out on anything, staying in step with the reporters and with our viewers through all the twists and turns of the presidential race.

I’m proud to say our efforts paid off in BA’s most comprehensive U.S. election coverage ever. As a matter of fact, our election day newscast and our election special “The Fil-Am Vote: 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” have been recognized by award giving bodies like NAMIC, the Telly Awards, and New America Media. I know every year is not an election year. But when I look back at 2016 and the work we all did during the presidential race, I can’t remember a time when I felt more activated in my role as a disseminator of facts and amplifier for unheard voices. It was an unforgettable year and I’m grateful to have been able to experience it as a member of the BA team.”

Henni Espinosa, Senior Reporter, News Desk Editor

“Telling the stories of everyday Filipinos is much more fulfilling for me than interview the rich, the powerful and the famous. It’s especially rewarding to know that through BA, the voices of the most vulnerable, most underrepresented sectors in the community — the poor, the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the undocumented — are heard.  Early on in my work with BA, I was able to do these stories and I felt a deeper purpose in my role as a journalist. Their words matter. How I tell their stories matter. And so, I took my profession more seriously and worked hard to be better at what I do.

I was honored to receive an Emmy Award, NY Festivals Nomination, Telly Award – for the docu, “Filipino Champions of SOMA,” which was about ordinary Pinoys doing extraordinary things for the community. And then of course, my second docu was on homelessness – so I really value stories that come from everyday, struggling Pinoys – kasi it means they trust us to tell their stories.

Box City is a documentary on homeless Filipinos in San Francisco who leaned on each other for support as they lived together in one area called “Box City”. While the city worked double time to shut down encampments, these Pinoys turned their despair into hope — that one day they would get a shot at the American Dream.”

Don Tagala, Correspondent For New York/ New Jersey And The East Coast

“When I started covering in-depth stories of Filipino survivors of human and labor trafficking, I thought it was cool and at the same time important to expose the subhuman practice of these abusive employers and recruitment agencies.

I only hoped that other Filipinos who wants to come to the U.S. learn from these bad experiences as told by victims and survivors of trafficking.

What I did not realize was that there were other victims who got to watch these stories and learned from them and eventually had the strength and motivation to escape from their abusive after watching my stories.

I learned from Damayan Migrant Workers Association and other individual stories that many of those who recently escaped and filed cases against their own abusive employers or recruiters have seen my recent story on human and trafficking and was inspired that they too can stop their own suffering by getting help from Damayan or from other Filipino organizations or friends who have lawyer friends.

When my somehow story saved the life of another Filipino or inspired them to end their suffering and do something about their situation then I know I did my job as a journalist.”

[Don Tagala is an award-winning Video Journalist of ABS-CBN North America’s “Balitang America.” He has won a total of 10 Bronze Telly Awards since 2012.]

Steve Angeles, Los Angeles And Southern California Correspondent

“I couldn’t think about the first moment, because an incident came up today; a Filipina woman was attacked in a parking lot. It’s not the first, and won’t be the last moment, but these things show that these moments of being a journalist and serving the community happens every day in any way. It’s been my duty for the last 12 years.

My first story was a dog show, second was the FilVets, a few months later I scored my first big interview with Dave Bautista while he was still a wrestler. Each of these moments represent different aspects of our community; Filipinos doing incredible things, veterans fighting for equity, and Filipinos making it in the mainstream and waving our play with pride. All these moments have added up over the years, reminding me each day of being a journalist. And I’m blessed I’m in general assignment to a specific community, these are all stories that empower, educate, and enlighten a historically underserved and even marginalized group.

Moving forward, I want to do deeper documentary stuff now. But also more digital storytelling with the way the journalism world has gone..”

Bev Llorente, Nevada Correspondent

“As a journalist for over a decade seeking and always in pursuit of truth, being able to tell that story to the public in an accurate and fair manner has always been my goal for each of the stories I file for Balitang America.  Being a journalist has given me the privilege to cover stories, promote and  advocate change, educate people in the most informative way as possible. Representing the community, championing the underdogs, and helping others have their voices heard are among the most fulfilling part of being a broadcast journalist in Las Vegas. My personal most unforgettable political stories include my one-on-one with Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, and my report on President Barack Obama’s announcement on DACA. Among the biggest coverages I am proud of was the 2008 Dream Match of between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao. Aside from reporting stories of major sporting events in Las Vegas, I was also part of BA’s comprehensive coverage of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election during U.S. President Barack Obama’s frequent visits to Nevada, as well as top senators. I  was one of the last journalists to interview “Smokin’” Joe Frazier before his passing in 2012. In that report, Frazier recalled his “Thrilla in Manila” experience wherein he waged war against fellow boxing great Muhammad Ali..

My BA report also spurred the Royalties of Saudi Arabia when she covered the story of Dondon Lanuza, an overseas Filipino worker who came close to being executed for killing an Arab national. Locating Lanuza’s family in Las Vegas, I diligently closely followed his case until he was eventually freed by paying blood money to the victim’s family.

What is super fulfilling is when the people I helped say, “Thank you. Because of your story, something happened really good to us. Because of it, they heard us.”

[Bev Llorente has been working and serving Kababayans behind the scenes as well, like in the most recent terror attack on October 1 in Las Vegas. She worked tirelessly to comfort the victims, and honor the Fil-Am first responders, nurses, volunteers who are true heroes who helped save lives. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told her: “You are sharp and do excellent work. I have watched you develop into a credible, upstanding, and respected communicator.”]

Rommel Conclara, Northern California Correspondent

“I really felt I was fulfilling my role as a journalist was during my very first story for Balitang America. I was assigned to cover how Ryan Manansala desperately needed a bone marrow donor after relapsing from leukemia. I never knew how low Filipinos make up the national bone marrow registry. In the moment, I stuck to what I was taught. Get the facts.

Communicate with your cameraman. Write in a way that it could be absorbed and retained.. But it wasn’t until I saw the end of my report in the control room that it was my responsibility to not just share Ryan’s story to save his life, but to possibly save more.

Afterwards, I really understood why the news is such an important part of our society and as the storytellers it is imperative that we tell the truth and ensure the public is informed.

Fortunately, I have the pleasure to work with an amazing team of producers, editors, and camera operators. It is because of this team I have the pleasure to have been recognized for some of my stories. The Philippine American Press Club awarded me a Plaridel Award in 2015 for “Best TV Community Reporting” for my story “The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration”, where a grandson is shown creating memories with grandmother through art. In 2016, I was awarded another Plaridel Award for Best Television Documentary for my story on “Filipino Chef Sharwin” In 2015 I was received a Telly Award for my work as an assistant producer on Balitang America’s 2015 Year Ender Report. In the same year, I also received a Telly Award for my work as a writer on “The Prodigy”, which tells the story of a young Filipino-American Muay Thai champion. I was also nominated for a San Francisco/Northern California region Emmy award for “The Prodigy”.

Yong Chavez, Entertainment News Reporter

“As an entertainment journalist I try to dig deeper than what’s usual. Trying to find the Filipino connection in my subjects is a given but my responsibility first and foremost is to tell a good story for our audience. So if they don’t have an obvious Filipino connection – I play that role. As in: “This is a story by a Filipino reporter on a global subject.” My job is to provide a story that will be at least at par with mainstream reports on the same subject. Both Pinoys and non-Pinoys tell me they watch these interviews. So whether it’s asking Keanu Reeves about grief or telling an up-and-coming Fil-Am filmmaker’s remarkable story about making a dream come true, my goal is to connect.

When our viewers tell me that the subject’s story inspired them, or that they found something compelling or touching about the subject because of the interview, I feel like I did my job. I know that when I attend a big red-carpet event or go on one-on-ones with A-listers, I represent us Filipinos. It is an honor, a responsibility, a privilege, and a joy to do so.

What Fil-Am talents tell me all the time was really fulfilling too. They say that even when they book high-profile / mainstream / hard-to-get jobs, their Pinoy parents are happy but not AS HAPPY and proud as when they see my interviews with them on TFC. Parang yung ang measurement nila that their kid has arrived: if they’re on my Showbiz or on my TVP reports. After that, mas may support na sila from Pinoy family kasi finally they understand the their family member’s struggles and success through our show.”

* * *

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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