NBC 5 hires former Fox Chicago exec as news director

Debra Juarez, who headed the news operation at Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 for 12 years, is returning to Chicago to become news director of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.

Juarez is expected to join the station early next month from New England Cable News, a 24-hour news channel in Boston, where she’s been news director since June 2010. The move can be seen as a transfer for Juarez, since both NBC and New England Cable News are owned by Comcast Corp.

In a memo announcing her appointment Tuesday, Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president of news at NBC 5, told staffers: “Debra brings a wealth of news and production experience, which will be a great asset for us as we strive to become No. 1. She will report to me, and will oversee all of our day-to-day newscasts and news coverage, as well as key strategic initiatives. I am delighted she has agreed to return to Chicago for this role.”

Earlier this summer, NBC 5 announced the appointment of Shannon Hammel, managing editor at KXAS-TV in Dallas, as assistant news director. But citing “personal and family reasons,” Hammel changed her mind and opted to stay in Dallas. The No. 2 position in the newsroom has been vacant since May when Chris Pena left to become managing editor at NBC News in New York. In deference to her experience, Juarez will step in as news director — a title last held by Camille Edwards, who left NBC 5 in 2008 to become vice president of news at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C.

Juarez served as vice president of news at Fox Chicago from 1993 to 2005 during a time of major news expansion under former general manager Stacey Marks Bronner. Shortly after Bronner was forced out, Juarez left to form west suburban Oak Park-based Deca Productions, which she ran for four years. At New England Cable News, she reunited with Bronner, who’s been vice president and station manager since December 2009.

A graduate of the University of New Mexico, Juarez previously was an executive producer at the Telemundo Spanish-language network and at WSVN-TV in Miami.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)