Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Interview with Christine Maddela, weekend anchor at WKRN

"News 2 is making a conscious effort to listen to the voices of all Nashvillians, including the Hispanic community."

WKRN-Channel 2 has hired Christine Maddela as a weekend anchor. She is believed to be Nashville's first Hispanic anchor of an English-language news broadcast. Maddela has been in Nashville for a couple of months and has already started posting on WKRN's new Hispanic blog, (story here).

Before the New Year, the Hispanic Nashville Notebook (HNN) interviewed Ms. Maddela about her background, her connections to the Hispanic community, and her thoughts about Nashville:

HNN: What brought you to Nashville?

I moved to Nashville to follow my career. Journalism has taken me around the country, and it was another opportunity to do so. Nashville presented a few interesting opportunities, as well. I am now (I have been told) the only Hispanic anchor in the market, and also the youngest. It's always exciting to move to a city where you can make a difference, and I hope to do that here. Plus, my parents and younger brother live in St. Louis, and I'm closer to them.

HNN: What is your connection to Hispanic issues? It says on your bio that you were a Spanish minor, and your blog is bilingual - do you have Hispanic heritage?

Soy una mezcla! My mother is Spanish and Filipina, my father is caucasian.

HNN: Your bio also says that you have a passion for politics and that you spent some time during college in Washington, D.C. Does that translate into a political focus in your journalism? Are you politically vocal in any way, or do you have to stay more neutral and analytical? Will you be engaging in any political analysis of Hispanic issues in Nashville?

Our politicians shape our society in so many ways. It's important to know what our legislators are working on, so we can voice our opinion. As a journalist, my job is to hold a mirror to society, so my neighbors and viewers can see what's going on in the world, and make decisions based on the information I objectively provide. Good journalists are public servants, just like our police, fire fighters, military, elected officials, etc. Responsible journalism is unbiased and informative. Do I have my own political beliefs? Of course I do. Do I let those beliefs influence my work? No. I will present all sides of the story. News 2 is making a conscious effort to listen to the voices of all Nashvillians, including the Hispanic community. So often Hispanic issues are ignored, and our job, as responsible journalists, is to give voice to the voiceless... to tell the story of those truly affected by the world's events.

HNN: From your short time here, have you been able to distinguish between Nashville's political and public conversations about immigrants, and the approaches of other cities where you've lived? Are we leading, or are we repeating the mistakes of other cities? What might Nashville learn from the stories you've reported on elsewhere?

I moved to Nashville from the border town of El Paso, Texas. The stark difference in demographic makes the two cities drastically different. The vast majority (about 80%) of El Pasoans are Mexican, or of Mexican descent. It is not uncommon to hear the Spanish language any and everywhere you go. Driving down the interstate, the Rio Grande and Mexico are visible, and just a stones throw away. In a border town, it is impossible to ignore immigration issues. Immigration is a way of life, and has been for decades. In a city like Nashville, the immigration debate is a new one. The fact is, there is a growing Hispanic population. Too often in our nation's history, change is met with hostility. From slavery to suffrage, too many people have been discriminated against and persecuted because they are different. In that aspect, history need not repeat itself.

HNN: You visited the Minutemen in Texas and won an award for your stories there. Did you learn anything new by having visited them that you did not already know from existing press coverage? What lessons do you think come out of the Minuteman movement for cities like Nashville?

I spent quite a bit of time with the Minutemen along the U.S. / Mexico border. I still keep in touch with them to this day, and they keep me informed of their progress. After covering the Minutemen, the most profound thing I learned was this: no matter what your stance on their work, one cannot help but be amazed by their determination, perseverance, and dedication. I met men who left behind families, donated tens of thousands of their own money, and joined together to become one of the largest volunteer groups in modern history. As a journalist, I agree with Voltaire's quote: even if "I don't agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We all agree there is a problem along the border. The overall message rooted in the Minutemen movement is this: the problem is bigger than all of us. We need comprehensive reform, and clearly our politicians are unsure of what to do as well. Just because we're far from the border doesn't mean we're not affected by it. If we want change, if we want reform, we must be a part of that change. Don't leave it up to someone else.

HNN: Your bio also says that you have demonstrated community leadership - what kinds of groups have you been involved in?

Too many to count! I have spent a lot of time with underprivledged children. I believe there is such great potential in our youth, and often times those who grow up poor don't believe in their potential, or are simply unable to reach it because of things outside of their control- such as poverty. I try to encourage those kids to pursue their dreams and show them real ways to do it. Many don't even know about all the scholarships, grants, and work study programs available that would enable them to go to college.

I have also been involved in many minority organizations, including one I founded at the University of Missouri. Minorities still face several challenges in each community, workplace, etc. and by acknowledging our differences, we can work together.

HNN: What do you envision your role being in the Nashville community, as a journalist and in the community? Have you already seen any community opportunities you are interested in? As far as your WKRN job is concerned, how does it compare to WKRN Hispanic affairs videojournalist Amy Napier Viteri's job? It seems like your arrival brings the number of people at WKRN who are tuned in to Hispanic issues to two - are there more?

It is comforting to be able to look at the television screen and see someone who looks like you. I am not, and do not strive to be a spokesperson for the Hispanic community. I do, however, represent diversity in the media. I bring a different viewpoint to the table, a viewpoint that has not been represented previously in the Nashville television market. That can influence what stories we cover, and how we cover them. Amy is our Hispanic Affairs videojournalist. She covers stories and events within the Hispanic community. I am News 2's Weekend Anchor, and during the week I cover general assignment stories. Another one of our VJs, Carlos Jasso, is originally from El Paso and of Mexican descent. Now that we've been concentrating on covering Hispanic issues, I'd like to think that the majority of us here at News 2 are now tuned in to the Hispanic community!

Amy Napier Viteri
Carlos Jasso

HNN: How did get started? What is expected of it? is News 2's only bilingual blog, and to my knowledge, none of the other tv stations have one like it. It is an opportunity for those interested in Hispanic Affairs to go to the web, voice their opinion, and chat with both Amy and myself. We are genuinely interested in hearing about the issues affecting the community, and want to make ourselves accessible to everyone.

HNN: How does WKRN differ from the other stations where you've worked? What effect do you think WKRN can have on the Hispanic community and/or the Nashville community's dialogue about Hispanic issues and welcoming immigrants?

In a city like Nashville, where the Hispanic population is a growing one, searching for a niche in the community, News 2's coverage can impact the Hispanic community a great deal. We acknowledge the community exists, and the fact that we face unique issues. That opens up dialogue. The media is a driving force in any city, and having a station so in tune with its neighbors is a positive step! By welcoming Nashville's first Hispanic anchor, WKRN is sending a message to Nashville: Hispanic issues are growing issues, and we care about them.

Editor's note: The Hispanic Nashville Notebook has covered two other Hispanic news anchors in Nashville - Nancy Molina and Susana Pae - but Maddela is the first Hispanic news anchor featured on who broadcasts in English.

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