USC Annenberg
University of Southern California

KMEX: New Opportunities

Courtesy of Lisa Salazar Johnson

The life changing decision that Ruben Salazar took when he decided to leave what he called a “very satisfying job as a reporter for the West’s largest newspaper”, the Los Angeles Times, to become news director of the much smaller KMEX Spanish-language television station baffled many.

On April 28, 1970, Salazar typed: “For years I have privately decided television news as unworthy of ‘real newsmen’—newspaper reporters.” But that did not stop the move to KMEX. Mario Garcia wrote in his introduction to Border Correspondent Selected Writings, 1955-1970 Ruben Salazar, that incumbent KMEX news director Danny Villanueva ”could not understand why Salazar would want to leave a secure position at a mainstream news institution”, but concluded that many factors contributed to his decision to leave the Times.

One plus factor that may have influenced his decision to take the position at KMEX was a huge increase in his pay. According to Salazar’s 1970 application to teach part-time at the University of California Berkeley his annual salary increased from $13,000 at the Times to $25,000 at KMEX, a boost of $12,000 a year.

In addition, the Times paid him $50 each week for a Friday column he began writing after he joined KMEX. Through the Times columns Salazar was able to break away from the basic objective reporting of a staff writer and express his own views as he explored more in depth the issues raised by Chicano Movement activists. His outspoken column shook the Los Angeles establishment and gained Salazar national attention.

“In one column Salazar asserted that the word ‘Mexican’ has been ‘dragged through the mud of racism since the Anglos arrived in the Southwest.’ In another he explained that the word ‘chicano’ is “an act of defiance and a badge of honor for the Mexican-American activists.’ He has called a California high-school text on Mexican-American culture ‘a racist or pornographic tract,'” Newsweek magazine reported in a June 22, 1970 story about Salazar’s move.

At the same time he had a broader outreach to the Spanish-speaking community through the news broadcasts he directed at KMEX. In a May 13, 1970 interview with Bob Navarro on CBS television station KNXT, Salazar said he moved to KMEX because “I wanted to really communicate with the people about whom I had been writing for, for so long.”

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