WPLG debuts a Havana-based reporting team
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
WPLG Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela and photojournalist Brian Ely
have become the ABC affiliate's men in Havana.
The pair arrived last Wednesday to become the South Florida station's
full-time Havana-based crew. That gives WPLG the distinction of being
the first local station in the United States to have a news crew in Cuba
on a full-time basis.
Local 10 News Havana officially debuts Monday, but when news broke last
Thursday that the United States was ending its policy of allowing the
entry of Cuban migrants who arrive without visas, the pair had their
first big story since the Cuban government granted them approval to set
up shop on the island.
WPLG, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, doesn't call its new office
a bureau, but rather refers to the arrangement as having a Havana-based
news team that lives and works in Cuba.
"Our goal is for this to last and be there for the long haul," said Bill
Pohovey, the station's vice president of news. "At this point it is not
a permanent thing; it is a trial run. We have to see how this works for us."
The news team had planned to spend last week settling in and organizing
their new office in Havana's Vedado section, but as often happens, news
Station management had been working on placing the news crew in Cuba on
a full-time basis for a couple of years, with several meetings in both
Washington and Havana before finally getting the green light from the
Cuban government, Pohovey said.
He said there were no strings or conditions attached by the Cuban
government to granting approval for WPLG's Havana-based reporting team.
"Hatzel and Brian are free to cover the stories they choose to cover,"
Pohovey said. "The only request from the Cuban government was a promise
that our coverage would be fair."
"We've made a point of getting dissident voices in our stories. We've
done that every time we've been here. But the complete story isn't about
that. It's an array of things," said Vela in a phone interview from Havana.
WPLG has made a commitment to be in Cuba as big events have unfolded as
part of the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba that began
on Dec. 17, 2014, but it wanted to expand its coverage beyond just
reporting on events.
"I think we have to deliver what's happening on the ground," Vela said.
"We need to take coverage further and really penetrate and become a part
of Cuban society and show how people in Cuba live, survive and resolver
"What happens in Cuba is local news. We've taken ownership of the Cuba
story, and this now takes it to a new level," said Pohovey.
"We will have the time to seek out stories we couldn't tell on previous
trips due to the limited time we could spend inside the country. This
will be something unique in South Florida television," said WPLG
President Bert Medina.
Unlike Vela, Ely doesn't speak Spanish. He is planning to take an
immersion course. Vela describes him "as your average white American."
But because WPLG wants its coverage to resonate with all viewers — not
just Cuban Americans — he said it's important to get Ely's perspective
and see stories through his eyes, too.
While basing a crew in Cuba is costly, Pohovey said, "We think it's a
good investment that will serve our viewers. We are fortunate that we
work for Warren Buffett [chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway]."
Vela joined Local 10 in 2014, and he quickly carved out a Cuba beat,
covering a string of big events related to the rapprochement from the
release of U.S. AID subcontractor Alan Gross from a Cuban prison to the
reopening of embassies and the first commercial flight and cruise from
the United States to Cuba in more than half a century.
He most recently covered Fidel Castro's death and was in Cuba for
President Barack Obama's visit to the island last March and Pope
Francis' 2015 visit. In 2015, he traveled across the island for 15 days
and delivered a 30-part series called "Cuba Coast to Coast."
Since coming to WPLG, Vela has traveled to Cuba more than a dozen times
on reporting trips.
Born in Nicaragua, Vela grew up in South Florida, but the Emmy
Award-winning reporter earned his journalistic chops elsewhere.
Vela was a reporter at WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.,
where he created an immigration beat; the ABC affiliate in Phoenix; and
WCSC-TV, a CBS station in Charleston, South Carolina.
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Source: WPLG Local 10 News becomes the first local TV station to put a
full-time news crew in Cuba | Miami Herald -