Redefining Truth and the Power of Instinct with Journalist Giselle Fernández

Giselle Fernández Belatina

Emmy winner Giselle Fernández has interviewed some of the most revered and important artists, elected representatives, and world leaders in a generation — she’s reported from the field and anchored national news desks. Her coverage of events such as the Cuban immigration crisis, unrest in Haiti and the U.S. invasion of Panama caught the attention of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and resulted in his first English language interview in two decades. Other major world events she’s covered include the U.S. military effort in Somalia, the Bosnian war (for which she was based in Sarajevo), international terrorism, Hurricane Andrew in Florida and the World Trade Center bombing trial. Fernandez won an Emmy for her reporting on the Persian Gulf War.

Her work as a journalist elucidates facts which comprise the news, the people who form its voice and communities who create its impact. We caught up with Giselle to hear about her latest projects and insights on our current zeitgeist.

Marcela Davison Avilés: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us about your new projects, your life as a journalist and your leadership in the world of journalism, in the entertainment community and the community at large. We’re excited to learn about your new work. Tell us about this new program. It’s a series of interviews by you with leaders and influencers, right?

Giselle Fernández: Yes. It’s the most incredible opening for me at a time when I really think in depth conversations with people who are having an impact in your community have a platform to showcase what they do and why they care and how they touched people’s lives and the immediate in the here and now — and you know, I get a chance to do what I love, which is to interview them and tell their stories. And this came about last year with Spectrum Communications. News has become so attacked, partisan and divisive. There are shockingly more and more people who don’t trust what they read. They don’t trust the press, which has been a key part of our democracy — a free press.

So, I jumped at the chance when Spectrum came to me and said, listen, we want you to have your own prime-time interview show on Monday night — with millions of viewers — where you can showcase what is happening in your community, who are the impact leaders, who are the, the vigilante mavericks, who are in their communities making change when the establishment can’t always. Who are those leaders in your community? Who are those thinkers, who are those innovators, who are those scientists and artists, poets?

MDA: You’re on the cusp of a key new realization on the part of — not only local communities, but professional journalists and media organizations and people who care about local news, especially with the trend of local newspapers being acquired and then shut down. In Northern California, for example, we’ve had a bit of that, not so much with the actual papers being shut down, but with the staff being cut drastically.

GF: You know, it always comes down to, you know, the art, the privilege and the budget. We live in such a confusing time, this idea of having a platform to really cut to the heart of a community, a city and really get into the really local impact makers, to me was a really breakthrough opportunity. I think people are longing for connection in a real way. And I think sometimes the hyperlocal is always global. We live in such a divided nation and even in a city like Los Angeles, we have such diversity, which is our strength and our magic. In LA, we always say we live in a melting pot. Well, this is a microcosm for the rest of the planet. And yet, if you look on all the television stations, you see one main form of life: upper middle class, the west side of town — and every other community is often covered as a subset or as a lesser.  I’m committed to widening the lens of who we are in this immense diverse populace.

Giselle Fernández IG @ gisellefernanfez Belatina
Photo Credit IG @gisellefernanfez

MDA: Well, you answered my next question: why this program?

GF: The people who are not just making good business and profiting — they’re making good business by investing in communities that can be the future, that are the future of this city, this country — have a lot to say. Really, it’s about the way our city unfolds in this next generation.

MDA: You start with your neighbor and your family and folks that you know and you have relationships with. How can people find it? Is it already on the air?

GF: We launched on November 14th last year, on two Channel One Spectrum cable channels. I host their morning show and a prime time interview show and we will be sharing our content throughout the day.

MDA: Can you recall the best advice from a mentor you’d like to share with our readership?

GF: I think the best advice I ever got was from Francis Ford Coppola. I was interviewing for a movie he executive produced, Mi Familia. I asked him, “when did you know you had talent and you could own your talent, be confident that you had talent?” And I was asking him as much for the interview as I was for myself because as a young journalist I always questioned whether it was the right question or if I did a good job or not? And his response — I’ve never forgotten. He said, “talent? I don’t know if I have talent. That’s for other people to decide — what I have is instinct and that instinct is mine and I trust it.”

MDA: That’s so interesting — because that really is that spark of creativity that everybody has — call it instinct — what makes them unique and makes a curatorial voice stand out.

GF Giselle Fernandez Belantina

GF: Your instinct is your style, your talent, and to deny, to silence, or not hear that calling is avoiding your imprint, your signature way of bringing your vision to life. And that is what makes you unique. – So, I guess my advice to all young people in any discipline is to trust your voice. Trust the way you want to do it.

MDA: It takes a certain amount of living to be comfortable with the idea that you’re on a journey. And that there is something to learn from being in that moment.

GF: And for Latinas especially — it is absolutely mandatory that we wake up. I mean, we control nearly $2,000,000,000,000 in buying power. 86% of us are the breadwinner in our family. To advertisers, we are — the Latina Moms, the Latina breadwinner who over indexes in big ticket items like automobiles and appliances like refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners and services, and cuisine, and entertainment — not to mention our children who over index for 25 percent of box office. I’m not just spewing out statistics to impress – that [knowledge] has power. Y somos como una abuela detrás de un Ferrari — we’re like Grandmothers driving a Ferrari. We should be putting our pedal to the metal and leveraging our buying power. We have to own that power. If you have a mission to share things that are happening around you, don’t feel like you have to wait for funding, wait for a crew, wait for someone to anoint you. The power is in your hands and your heart and your brain. Tell that story.