White House promotion reminds Avila of Chicago roots

Jim Avila’s promotion to the White House beat for ABC News this week brought back fond memories of the 14 years he spent as a hard-charging local television reporter in Chicago.

“This is a great opportunity to return to my roots as a political reporter,” he told me Wednesday. “A skill I learned in the best political lab in the world — Chicago City Hall — where I covered Mayors Byrne, Washington and Daley, Council Wars to snow storms.”

Avila, 57, ABC’s senior national correspondent based in Washington and a regular contributor to 20/20, will join chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, according to an announcement by ABC News president Ben Sherwood. Later this year, Avila will become the first White House correspondent for a new joint venture between ABC and the Univision Spanish-language network.

“In addition, he will lead the charge for ABC News on covering Hispanic America, immigration reform, education, politics and other issues vitally important to the Latino community, the fastest-growing segment of our population,” Sherwood said in the announcement.

ABC and Univision are teaming to launch a news and lifestyle network targeting Hispanics with on-air and digital programming in English. That means Avila, a graduate of west suburban Glenbard East High School and son of Jim Simon, the late broadcasting executive and talk radio pioneer, won’t have to worry too much about his Spanish.

“My Spanish needs improvement and I am working on it,” Avila told me. “Talking to mom in her native language as much as possible. But fortunately the new ABC Univision channel is an English channel and is aimed at people like me — second-generation Hispanics who speak primarily English but want to remain tied to Latino culture.”

Avila, who began his career at KCBS-AM and KPIX-TV in San Francisco, worked as a reporter at ABC 7 here from 1980 to 1984 and as a political reporter and news anchor at CBS 2 from 1984 to 1994 before joining NBC as an investigative reporter for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. Two years later, he moved up to the network, returning to Chicago with the Midwest bureau of NBC News and eventually becoming national correspondent for NBC Nightly News. He joined ABC News in 2004.

Citing Avila’s “passion, creativity and drive,” ABC’s Sherwood said: “Jim’s reporting over the past year about food, drug, consumer, transportation, environmental and other regulatory issues has made a tangible difference in the lives of our viewers. He also brought his incredible storytelling to the biggest law and justice stories around the country — most recently to coverage of the Penn State scandal, the death of Whitney Houston and the trial of Conrad Murray.”

Avila also will continue as a contributor to 20/20, Sherwood said.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)