When Jesús Ayala started working at ABC News more than 20 years ago, he was the only Latino in the newsroom. Countless news assignments, dozens of awards and a teaching career later, the veteran producer turned college professor is an inspiration for the next generation of journalists of color. 

Today, Ayala, 43, is an award-winning news producer and an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach.

During his successful career at ABC News, he worked with the biggest names in the business – Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, David Muir, Ted Koppel, among many others. He won multiple Emmy Awards and Edward R. Murrow awards, and helped launch the careers of hundreds of journalists around the country.



Ayala graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in ethnic studies. In pursuit of his pre-law degree, he realized that he didn’t want to be a lawyer.

“It just wasn’t for me,” Ayala said. “At one point, it clicked. I realized that I don’t wake up every day and feel excited to do this work.”

Ayala took a media law class before graduating and became fascinated by how media can shape public opinion. He started believing that his destiny was somewhere in the media.

During his internship at the community affairs department of Univisión in San Francisco, Ayala often peered around the corner from his office to watch the station’s bustling newsroom. On the eve of the 1998 general state election, Ayala looked across the hallway and saw reporters and producers discussing politics and how they could best report it.

Ayala was getting warmer. His future was in journalism.

Internship in D.C.

After graduating from Berkeley, Ayala became a news intern at the Washington, D.C. office of ABC News. Through the internship, he realized why he needed to major in political science.

“Nothing happens by accident,” he said. “When I was an intern at Washington, D.C., quite honestly, my background in poli-sci came in more handy than if I had majored in journalism.”

In Tijuana, Mexico in 2019, Jesús Ayala helps his students cover the arrival of the first migrant caravan.
In Tijuana, Mexico in 2019, Jesús Ayala helps his students cover the arrival of the first migrant caravan. Courtesy Jesús Ayala.

His extensive knowledge of politics aided him in covering stories about presidential candidates and Congress, especially later in his career. Now, he strongly encourages his students to get expertise, either through a double major or minor, in another subject.

While out on the field covering a story during this internship, one of the cameramen asked him to get an IFB, an earpiece that on-camera reporters wear during live television.

Embarrassed, Ayala did not know what an IFB was. He had no choice but to ask the cameraman to tell him what it looked like.

“I was starting on a bad note,” he said. “I had no idea what these people were talking about. News is such an unforgiving industry, and you only have one shot to make a good impression.”

Ayala knew that changing careers meant that he needed a good place to start. This led him to pursue a master’s degree from the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California. For him, this was a blessing in disguise because what he didn’t anticipate, however, was that he eventually needed his master’s to become a professor several decades later.

First producing job

After graduating from USC, Ayala used his connections at ABC to get his first producing job. Shortly after his career began, the young producer got his big break when he was assigned to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For stories as big as this, ABC sent their ‘A-Team,’ which comprised the best and brightest anchors, reporters and producers. Despite only being a junior producer at the time, Ayala was paired with Ted Koppel and produced his stories.

Ayala’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina catapulted his producing career. The station continued assigning him to major stories, including Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, the earthquake in Haiti, and the rescue of 33 miners trapped in a mine in Chile.

Ayala’s former production assistant, Stephanie Mendez, recalls being in awe whenever she saw Ayala’s name printed next to the big stories. When she first worked for the station full-time in 2013, Mendez was the only Latina production assistant.

Collaborating with Ayala and watching his achievements “meant everything” to her.

“I just remember being inspired and thinking, ‘Wow, if Jesús can make it here, I can too,’” she said. “To see the representation of somebody with the same identity making it [in the industry], it helps your morale. It helps give you that motivation that you need to succeed, even if you are already meant to succeed.”

In December 2014, Mendez followed in Ayala’s footsteps and became a producer at ABC News. She now produces for 20/20 and has won multiple awards.

“Now that I’m a producer, I feel like it’s my turn to give back and help guide other Latinos,” she added. “It’s my turn to pay it forward and help guide others, just like [Ayala] did with me.”

Hard news

For 17 years, Ayala often produced news coverage for elections, humanitarian issues, and virtually every natural disaster – earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and more. After doing it for a long time, he didn’t find it exciting anymore.

It became traumatic.

On an assignment to cover a series of wildfires around Northern California, Ayala had his first panic attack because the large flames almost enveloped him. A special California law allows journalists to have access to areas that are off-limits to the public, so Ayala and his team were within inches of the flames.

“I just had an epiphany – my body had enough,” he said. “For the panic attack to be happening as a result of a story, I realized something bad was happening here.” Ayala’s panic attacks became more and more frequent. Something as simple as getting a phone call from the newsroom gave him intense anxiety.

“Basically, my body was saying, ‘You’re done, homie!’” Ayala said with a slight chuckle. He realized that he needed to find his passion elsewhere.

Next chapter

Jennifer Fleming, head of CSULB’s journalism and public relations department, invited Ayala to speak to college students about broadcast journalism. He gladly accepted.

Speaking to a large group of students of color, Ayala answered their questions about broadcast news, shared stories from his producing experiences, and gave his perspective on many aspects of the industry.

After his speaking engagement, interested students flooded him and persisted with their questions about the broadcast journalism industry. He enjoyed every minute of it.

As Fleming approached him at the end of the event, Ayala told her, “Oh my god, that was so exciting! I could do this all day!”

Fleming said in reply, “Well, why don’t you? Have you ever thought about teaching? Teaching journalism?!”

As someone who worked behind the scenes for his entire career, Ayala never thought that being front and center in a classroom is something he could enjoy. Thinking about what was next for him, Fleming’s advice continued to ring in his ears.

He went for it.

Jesús Ayala going over a script with one of his students while they reported on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jesús Ayala going over a script with one of his students while they reported on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Becoming a professor

After teaching as an adjunct professor at California State University, Fullerton for one semester, the university offered him a full-time position, which he kept for five years. One of his most notable achievements was leading a group of Latino students to win a student Emmy for best newscast.

“To take a group of students who no one else believed in, who didn’t believe in themselves, and make them Emmy winners,” he said. “It was just a reflection of how hard they worked and the power I have as an educator.”

In his sixth year of teaching, Ayala transferred to CSULB for the fall 2022 semester and currently teaches several broadcast journalism classes and leads the student-produced newscast, Beach TV News.

“When I talk about returning to Long Beach, it was a full-circle moment because that’s where it all started for me,” he said.

Senior Anasazi Ochoa became Ayala’s student during his first semester at CSULB. For the spring 2023 semester, Ayala made her an executive producer for Beach TV News.

“I am very grateful that Jesús came to Cal State Long Beach when he did,” she said. “I am grateful that I was able to spend my last year being mentored by someone who is exceedingly knowledgeable in his field and pushes us to a potential that we didn’t know we had.”

Ayala says that out of all the accomplishments he had, he is most proud of the legacy he is cultivating through his students.

“I always thought my purpose in life was to be a journalist,” he said. “But once I started teaching, I realized that my purpose in life was to be a journalism professor.”

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Raya Torres is a freelance writer for CALÓ NEWS. Born in Los Angeles, Raya was raised in Vietnam, where she attended a British international school for 10 years, and subsequently moved to the Philippines...