Latinas Who Make News
Ana Cabrera is making history at NBC News
By Patricia Guadalupe
For Ana Cabrera, hitting the ground running comes naturally. The anchor of MSNBC’s weekday morning news program Ana Cabrera Reports went to college on a track and field scholarship and hasn’t stopped since.
“Our team meets at 6 AM to go over different stories, ideas, and guests. And it’s a bit of a juggling act, especially with breaking news and a lot of moving parts to bring viewers the most relevant up-to-date news. Every day is a new chance to reset what’s happening in the day and make the most of it,” Cabrera tells LATINO Magazine.
"Then I get home and kind of start my second job," she laughs. "Choir, piano, sports, dinner, lunches, playing games with my two kids, in 6th grade and 2nd grade. It helps keep things in perspective for me. My biggest outlet is running – long-distance running. I also love board games, and puzzles as a way to unwind and relax."
Cabrera grew up in Denver as one of five children in a Mexican American household where education was the focus. It was in school that she caught the journalism bug, she recalls. “I had a couple of opportunities in high school to do some recordings, and it was fun.” At Washington State University, she was able to combine her love of running with her studies at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication. To this day, she’s still in awe of where she is: “I never really envisioned even after college in Spokane that I would end up on a national platform of some sort.”
She was working at a local station in her hometown when CNN came calling and she says that’s when her career path took a different turn. After serving as an anchor and national correspondent for that network, Cabrera joined MSNBC and says it's an incredibly interesting position and an exciting place to be. “What I have found at this level is you get to touch so many rich stories and the level of learning is invigorating and stimulating. It really fills the tank to be part of this organization and contribute to understanding the issues at a greater level. That’s what keeps me going and excited about the opportunity to have an impact far and wide,” she says.
Cabrera adds that she takes her very role very seriously. “Representation matters, and growing up I can’t recall seeing a Latina in a major news anchor role. So I know that people are looking at me as a role model and specifically are connecting with me because I’m Latina and I look like them and they see some of their own stories,” she says. “It reminds me to always be open to a lot of diversity within my own team and the guests that we put on the air. That allows us to understand more broadly what issues and stories are meaningful to viewers.”
That’s also what Monica Alba says. The White House correspondent for NBC News says she feels “honored” and “lucky” to do what she is doing. Alba started in Washington as a producer and then covered the 2016 presidential campaign, moving into her current spot at the beginning of the Trump administration.
“I view what I am, a first-generation Mexican American, as an asset. I try to bring my whole self when I am covering any issue,” she says. “Any day that you are asking the president of the United States an important question that reveals news, with an answer that informs the public, I really take that as a responsibility and a privilege.”
Not surprisingly, covering the White House is an intense assignment, but Alba finds it exciting to be on the front row of history in the making, with trips abroad as a highlight. “There truly is no typical day in White House coverage. I’ve been to places that I’m sure I wouldn’t have gone – I’ve been to Singapore and Vietnam with Donald Trump; I was with President Biden in Lithuania and Finland for the NATO summit; I got to go to Geneva when he met with Putin. It’s an incredible range of places and experiences I’ve been fortunate to have,” she says.
Other trips that have been personally meaningful for her were traveling with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to Mexico. “I was doing live shots around the corner from where my grandparents met, which was kind of a remarkable thing. Being able to bring some understanding from my background and being able to speak Spanish is really special for me and anytime I get to go cover something and then get to go see my grandmother is for me a full circle moment.”
Naturally, a highlight is traveling on the iconic Air Force One. “It’s so unbelievable because it’s so different than any other flight you’ve ever taken and you feel a sense of wonder going up those steps. There’s no wi-fi for the reporters on Air Force One so you’re kind of cut off from how one travels nowadays, and it’s refreshing to be unplugged for a bit. You get close to the flight attendants and the food is great!”
Ana Cabrera and Monica Alba are just two of the many Latino journalists featured across the multiple platforms of NBCUniversal, which encompasses NBC, MSNBC, NBC News Now, and CNBC – where financial journalist Bertha Coombs offers a different perspective on the news. Some 15 years ago, she started focusing on the fast-growing topic of health care, such as covering health stocks and fleshing out some interesting stories.
“You’re always watching for signals and watching for stories that are coming up,” Coombs says, adding that she’s happy that she can report for all of NBCUniversal’s different platforms. “One of the great things about NBC is all these different venues to report on and everybody appreciates the economic impact of things regardless of the audience. Our health care system is so complex it’s nice to be able to explain it to audiences.”
Coombs has been in the business long enough to remember when that was even more of a rarity on the air than it is today. “With my name, some people don’t know that I’m Latina. ‘Immigrant’ is an integral part of my identity,” says Coombs, a native of Cuba who came to the U.S. with her family at age 4. “I grew up in New England and being the ‘other’ helped me become a journalist because I grew up observing, looking at people, reading the room, and finding the right moment to speak up. The observational habit is something that has served me well. That’s one of the things you do as a journalist.”
Coombs says she also remembers when Latinos and Latinas were not in the top positions and is happy that at NBCUniversal it’s not the case at all. “This is the first time that I’ve worked under a news director who is Latino and it’s really interesting to have people who look like me as bosses and leaders,” recalling with a laugh the time she was at a company function with NBCUniversal News Group Chairman César Conde. “And here I was dancing salsa with these executives! I have been in this business for 40 years and that has never happened. That is amazing and they’re good dancers!”
NBC is walking the walk about the importance of diversity and reaping the benefits with healthy ratings, according to Emma Carrasco, NBCUniversal News Group Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs.
“A truly important dimension is that we are representing all of the communities that we serve because if people do not see themselves or hear themselves or read about themselves in our coverage, there’s no opportunity to deeply connect. Seven in 10 adults in the U.S. consume content from the NBC Universal News Group and that’s a huge responsibility, and central to our public service mission of providing trusted accurate journalism and ensuring that it is reflective of the communities we serve,” she says.
“César set out to ensure that the NBCUniversal News Group had as its north star the importance of reflecting the audiences that we serve. He recognized that it was a competitive advantage and the results are speaking for themselves in terms of the reach, the engagement, and the representation found in all our content,” Carrasco continues. “As a Latina, I am so proud to work for an organization that really gets it and whose commitment to earning audience trust with diversity as a core tenet, and it’s really rewarding to work with César. When you have people in the organization who really understand our community, we get really rich stories, we find angles. It makes a big difference.”
The NBCUniversal News Group is the only English-language news organization led by a Latino. In addition to Carrasco, senior management includes Janelle Rodríguez as Executive Vice President for Programming at NBC News and the only Latina in charge of a streaming news network, NBC News Now. Another senior executive is Beau Ferrari, Chairman of Telemundo. NBCUniversal leads the news industry with nine Latino anchors and 14 Latino correspondents, including José Diaz Balart, Tom Llamas, Alicia Menendez, Morgan Radford, Gadi Schwartz, and Gabe Gutierrez, to name just a few. It also has several dedicated verticals focusing on diverse issues, including NBC Latino.
“Those of us who grew up with being the first or the only and fighting for greater representation, we know what that’s like and we know it’s the right thing to do,” Carrasco says. “It’s a reflection of the new America when you look at the journalists who cover the news for us.”