BY DAVID KRONKE > TV WRITER
Last weekend, Linda Alvarez had plans to host her friends and colleagues at KCBS and KCAL at a party celebrating her final evening tonight anchoring the Channel 2 news. All would laugh and swap war stories.
Instead, one last war story cropped up - the Malibu wildfires - and, like any good journalist, Alvarez put her personal life on hold, postponing the party and keeping viewers up-to-date on the latest fire to pummel the Southland.
For the TV journalist, Alvarez says, covering big breaking news stories "is what we do best. When we're doing it on the fly, it is more difficult. But that's where experience and knowing your city really helps, because I know the area, and can talk about where things are happening and what has happened before," she adds. "We as anchors - and reporters, too, but especially anchors - it's our job to give a perspective to what's happening. What is the bigger picture, and how does that affect you?"
"I've particularly enjoyed doing live reporting with her on breaking news," says Harold Greene, who anchors newscasts on both KCAL and KCBS. "When you're reporting live, you're literally writing your story as you're speaking it. When she's reporting in the field, she has a knack for coming up with a unique angle. She has great news instincts."
Tonight, however, will signal Alvarez's final newscast for Channel 2. Though she recently signed a three-year contract, after 14 years at KCBS and 22 years in Los Angeles TV journalism, Alvarez is taking a break.
"I don't consider this really a retirement; I think of it as starting a new chapter," she says. She and her husband, Leo, will travel, she'll continue to write, and she hopes to learn Italian.
Like any good journalist, Alvarez, winner of a dozen Emmys, knows a reporter shouldn't be part of the story. "I hate this," she says jokingly as she sits down to be interviewed in the station's new high-def newsroom in Studio City. "I like to be the one asking the questions."
Yet she discusses her career graciously and at length.
Ann Martin, a friend and colleague at channels 2 and 9, says, "You just like her. That's it. She's a very likable, dear person. Partly because there's always an enormous compassion to everything she touches. When you see a story through compassionate eyes, that's a lovely way to look at the world."
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Alvarez first was a teacher in Chicago. There she also landed on-air work at a local TV station before being hired for her first reporting job in Phoenix.
"I didn't really change careers, I just changed the venue," Alvarez suggests. "Helping people understand things is what we should be doing in journalism."
When she returned to Los Angeles in 1985 to join KNBC, she made history as the first Latina to anchor the news five nights a week.
"I knew it was important; I thought it was overdue for Los Angeles. So, yes, it felt significant, and I was glad because I knew there were many other young men and women Latinos who should be reporting and have since."
She moved to KCBS in 1993. Nancy Bauer Gonzales, who oversees the joint KCBS/KCAL news operation, recalls one event in particular as exemplifying Alvarez's determination and humanity: In order to interview a woman who had spent 10 months in a 150-foot-tall tree to prevent it from being cut down, Alvarez scaled the tree herself.
"That one story in a nutshell captured Linda, in terms of her love for humanity, her sense of grace and her determination to get up that tree. Those three things said, this is Linda, pure Linda," Bauer Gonzales recalls.
"I had to - she wasn't going to come down," Alvarez says with a laugh. "I try to have my antennae going so that I see what it is about this person or this story that is unusual or special. When I get an opportunity to do a story about a person and what motivates and empowers that person, that's what I focus on."
(Portions of this story will be presented in an on-air tribute to Alvarez on Saturday's 11 p.m. newscast.)
Moreover, Alvarez has throughout her tenure demonstrated her commitment to the local community. One of the most sought-
after personalities at Channel 2, she appears at dozens of charity and speaking events yearly and mentors young people. She says she intends to maintain her community involvement.
"Her work outside of the television station was outstanding," says Don Corsini, president and general manager of KCBS and KCAL. "She's a hard worker, a great reporter; she gives you 1,000 percent."
And Corsini gives a reporter not in his employ an assignment on Alvarez's behalf.
"Do a nice story for her," he says. "She deserves it."
Photo of Linda Alvarez by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Also on LA.com: Linda Alvarez's most memorable stories
Official Linda Alvarez bio