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    WPLG debuts a Havana-based reporting team

    WPLG debuts a Havana-based reporting team
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
    mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

    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
    intervened.

    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
    [solve problems].’’

    “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.

    FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI

    Source: WPLG Local 10 News becomes the first local TV station to put a
    full-time news crew in Cuba | Miami Herald –
    www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article126614684.html