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Azteca network trims workers

Newscast production shifts from Glendale to Mexico to cut costs.

May 29, 2008|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Spanish-language television network Azteca America is now producing its U.S. national and local Los Angeles newscasts from Mexico City.

The company, a subsidiary of Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca, until this week had originated its news programs for the U.S. from its facilities in Glendale. The network and its flagship station, KAZA-TV Channel 54 in Los Angeles, made the switch to save money amid a weak advertising market.

Azteca America has laid off about 30 people in the last week, including 19 in its news division, the company confirmed Wednesday.

The network has long struggled to make inroads in Los Angeles, the nation's largest Latino market, where entrenched rivals Univision Communications Inc.'s KMEX-TV Channel 34 and NBC Universal's KVEA-TV Telemundo Channel 52 dominate.

"It was too expensive for them to produce the local news here," said Roxane Garzon, broadcast media director for Casanova Pendrill, a Costa Mesa-based agency that specializes in Latin media. "They just can't compete with Univision or Telemundo. This is a revision of their business model."

News anchors will be based in Azteca's Mexico City studios, and Los Angeles anchor Nancy Agosto has become a reporter. News Director Maria Elena Jauregui resigned but is serving as a consultant, the company confirmed. Prominent reporter Alicia Unger was let go.

Azteca America will continue to have reporters, producers and assignment editors in Los Angeles and correspondents in New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Washington, said Adrian Steckel, chief executive of Azteca America.

"News is not a profitable activity for us, although it doesn't have to be," Steckel said.

"This was a cost issue and an efficiency issue. We actually think that it will work better by shifting some personnel and production facilities," he said, adding, "Our commitment to news is not going away."

The Spanish-language network is not the first to make cuts. NBC Universal's Telemundo trimmed jobs in 2006 and began producing news from a centralized facility in Texas. In March, CBS Corp. cut high-profile anchors in several cities, including Los Angeles.

Julio Moran, executive director of CCNMA: Latino Journalists of California, said that although many news organizations have made cuts, the retrenchment is having a disproportionate effect on Spanish-language outlets, which already had fewer resources.

"It's really a shame because the real losers are the viewers," Moran said.

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meg.james@latimes.com

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