Calderón doesn't want to leave the impression Tijuanans don't like San Diego's TV newscasts. Quite the opposite. It's like eye candy. And that's what worries him.
"People in Tijuana like the American newscast, because they have a lot of visual elements. They're always looking for those eye-grabbing shots. In many cases [the stations] go too far in that. They'll throw on video footage when there's no story. We do that here too, more and more." Still, he says a Tijuana audience will happily stay with one news story for a full three minutes -- a lifetime in television time. "I don't think that would be the case in the U.S. But with three minutes you can explain your story better. You can put together all the elements."
Sometimes it gets out of hand. "Something that we still do in Mexico is allow television reporters to write as if they were writing for a newspaper. And they just throw the pictures over their text. Some are trying to change. TV Azteca is trying to become more image-oriented. Faster. Using more arresting footage, like the California newscasts. The Real TV kind of stuff."
Calderón admits working for Tijuana television news carries a slew of problems. "It would be difficult to convince an American reporter to work in the conditions that many of us work in in Tijuana," he says. "The standards in television in Tijuana are not necessarily very good. A lot of mistakes get to air and remain uncorrected. But journalists working in television have a lot fewer resources than you do in the U.S."
They are also saddled with a tradition of bowing to control by the governing PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional). Back in the '80s, when Calderón was working for the Televisa station, Channel 12 (the largest, oldest TV station in Tijuana), he says candidates' access was weighted toward PRI candidates. "You could do a package on the PRI candidate, complete with long sound-bites, but you would only do a 'bio' on the opposition candidate. No sound-bites."
Then in 1985, a small once-a-week TV news operation called In Synthesis, run by an SDSU graduate named Carolina Aubanel de Bustamante, started giving opposition candidates airtime. Soon it was running daily newscasts. "They put a lot of pressure on the competition," says Calderón. On radio, it was suddenly open-mike talk shows. "Every Tijuana radio station was open-mike for a while, while it was kind of taboo in Mexico City or in Guadalajara or in Monterrey. Along with [the Tijuana weekly] Zeta, and the fact that the American media was coming to cover the electoral race, you had more options to get your news."
Now little In Synthesis is a big part of TV Azteca Tijuana. But the best news is that Tijuana journalists' traditional self-censorship has started breaking down, says Calderón. "Control is [still] a lot stronger in Mexico City, but here, now in Tijuana, if you don't put a [balanced] story on the air, people will find out the real story -- in some cases from the American news. So journalists are forced to try to be more objective."
Despite the progress, Tijuana journalists still have a hard time with support and pay. "When I was earning $500 a week as an anchor for Channel 33, I was considered to be very, very well paid," Calderón says.
He was a psychology major when he decided to try applying his skills over the airwaves. But the only job he could land was spinning norteño discs at Radio Ranchito, earning $45 per week. "I was a student, so it didn't matter," he says. "But they fired me. After that I got a contract with a television station. They gave me about $130 a week."
When Channel 12 sent him to San Diego to cover Latino news, he couldn't believe the "$30,000, $40,000, $50,000" pay packets his American colleagues told him they earned. "I remember when the Union-Tribune bought Ford Escorts for its reporters, and they all complained. On Channel 12 we were happy to have VW bugs! When I worked for Telemundo, you had to have your own car. When they had an urgent story to assign, it would pretty much be the guy who had the car who got the job."
But the biggest difference, he says, is what he calls the "infrastructure."
"When you work in Tijuana as a journalist, you work practically on your own. You are your producer, you are your writer, you are sometimes your editor. It's just the photographer and yourself. The assignment desk works very differently in Tijuana. They tell you only basically what to do. It's expected that you will bring your story, or if not, another story. For newspapers it could be half a dozen stories you're expected to find in one day. You have your quota. No time for research. So there's this kind of network. Reporters help each other. You get to some meeting, and you say to your fellow reporters, 'Hey. What's going on?' And we share. It's informal but real. That's the way you do stories in Tijuana."
But Calderón says even as the Tijuana TV stations get richer and the pay gets better and their American audience gets bigger and American TV news influences their style, one thing won't change. "Our newscasts will remain more formal. We are more ceremonious than you. Mexican people are less to the point, less direct, less in your face. Courtesy is more respected here than in the U.S. We had a time of kings and aristocrats in this country, and although we are an independent republic, that sort of Spanish formality is still part of who we are."