Fox News Channel’s Ailes Apprentice Program has graduated its 10th class. The diversity initiative, launched by Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, provides four people a paid yearlong deep dive into Fox News’ operations. Vice President of Fox News Latino Francisco Cortes was a 21-year-old production assistant when he got the tap in 2003.
“I was thinking I was getting a call from the newsroom director because I did something wrong,” he said. Cortes, who had recently left the U.S. Army, called the program “boot camp for up and coming journalists.” He would learn about various departments and “the ABCs of the business” from company executives he said, and the year culminated in meeting Ailes.
“You’re not just given a certificate, given a pat on the back,” Cortes said. “You’re given continued mentorship after that, continued support from Mr. Ailes and his executive team.”(Cortes, a network executive, said he still refers to Ailes as “Mr.” – a habit he attributes to his military background.)Bryan Llenas works as an on-air reporter for Fox News and an online reporter for Fox News Latino. He joined Fox in 2010 after graduating from the University of Miami and was selected for the program that fall. He appreciated the overview of the network operations but already knew he wanted to be a reporter, he said: “For me, it was less about figuring out what I wanted to do and more about learning from people who are already there.”
Ailes was very much a presence during his apprenticeship, Llenas said. They had lunch together and he attended many of the program’s events. “He knows your name, he knows where you’re at, he’s there at graduation,” he said.
The program brought in journalists from then corporate sibling The Wall Street Journal to address participants. They talked about things they were proud of, and things they wish they could redo.
“Look, I haven’t taken a normal track to be a reporter,” Llenas said. “In school, they tell you you should go to a local station. I took a chance and I came to this program and you learn, yeah, it is about taking chances. That was the biggest thing for me: There is no right path to the top.”Llenas said the benefits don’t attend only to participants but are also a way to increase diversity at Fox News. “We bring in people that are talented to bring in other people in their networks,” he said. “This is a chance to really help other people get their foot in the door.”
Llenas also said the platforms the network provides him have given him the opportunity to tell stories that might not have made it on Fox otherwise, like one about Teresa Ortíz, a woman from El Salvador who explained why she entered the U.S. without legal permission.
“When you put a story like that on a platform like the Fox News channel, it gets amplified,” Llenas said. “This wasn’t a story that was put on in garbage time.”
Fox’s program is “One of the most successful and comprehensive apprenticeship initiatives I’ve observed,” Hugo Balta, the former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told Poynter. “The attention given to [participants] by seasoned professionals who answer their questions and guide them on the path to success is invaluable,” he said. “Alums are the true legacy of the APP; talented young people who have gone on to successful careers thanks in great part for having undergone through the experience.”
After he graduated, Cortes helped develop Fox News Latino, an opportunity he said he might not have gotten without going through the program. The program is “special to Fox News, it’s special to Mr. Ailes, it’s the reason it’s lasted 10 years.”