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Associated Press Newswires
Spanish-Language Newspapers Expand As Competition Increases
By LAURA WIDES
March 24, 2004
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Naomi Osorio is typical of the readers driving a boom in Spanish-language newspapers across the United States.
Osorio arrived in Southern California two decades ago from Nicaragua and easily glides between English and Spanish. But she prefers Spanish-language papers.
Her choice is not just about language. The 38-year-old cosmetics vendor said it's about reading news she can relate to, whether it's about immigration laws or Latin pop stars.
"My family has always read La Opinion," Osorio said. "It's the newspaper of Latinos. It fights for us."
As many American newspapers struggle to hold readers, the industry's Spanish-language segment is expanding circulation and seeing competition increase. An influx of Hispanic immigrants and the growing buying power of those who have been in this country for years have motivated major media companies to revamp or launch Spanish-language dailies in about half a dozen major cities.
The competition was heightened in January when major dailies in Los Angeles and New York merged into a single company, Impremedia LLC. The company's goal is to build the country's first independent group of nationwide Spanish-language newspapers.
"There's this speed to market that everyone is ramping up for. Who's going to be first?" said Monica Lozano, a senior vice president of Impremedia and publisher of Los Angeles-based La Opinion, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper.
In recent years, dozens of Spanish-language papers have sprung up in cities and towns across the country, from Yakima, Wash., to Vidalia, Ga. An estimated 344 daily and weekly Spanish-language newspapers published in the United States in 2003, compared to 166 in 1990, according to the Latino Print Network, the sales and research division for the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
"But it's really been the blip of the last year, seeing this as national corporate initiatives rather than local ones," said Felix Gutierrez, a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Southern California who specializes in Hispanic media.
Overall, the U.S. newspaper industry is fighting to hold on to readers and attract new ones. About 54 percent of Americans read a paper each week, down 11 percent from 1990, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Demographics are the main reason for the boom in Spanish-language papers. Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group with 38.8 million people in 2002, or more than 13 percent of the U.S. population. That figure is expected to reach 20 percent by 2035, according to U.S. Census figures.
"Historically, the newspaper industry has counted on assimilation. Eventually, by the second or third generation, everyone reads or speaks English. Nobody worried about it so much," said media industry analyst John Morton, of Baltimore-based Morton Research Inc.
But it is the ties Hispanic immigrants have to their native countries that feeds growth in Spanish-language papers.
Maurico Escobar is a recent arrival. He often grabs a Spanish-language paper in the morning as he awaits the bus on his way to his construction job.
"They have everything," said Escobar, 57, who arrived two years ago from El Salvador. "They have the sports like soccer that aren't covered in other papers, and they have all the news from back home for those of us who are foreigners."
Newspaper groups including Knight Ridder, Belo Corp. and Tribune Co. have also entered the market or expanded existing papers.
Belo, which publishes The Dallas Morning News, The Press-Enterprise of Riverside and The Providence Journal in Rhode Island, rolled out Al Dia, a Spanish-language daily in Dallas last fall. The company already prints a Spanish-language weekly, La Prensa, in Southern California's Riverside County and expects to add more Spanish publications to its holdings.
Knight Ridder, owner of papers including the Miami Herald and the 88,000-circulation Nuevo Herald in Miami, expanded the Spanish-language paper published by its Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That paper, Diario La Estrella, is now published five days a week instead of two in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In September, Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia began publishing a daily of the same name in Orlando, Fla., while Chula Vista-based Healy Media Inc., headed by Mexican publisher Jose Santiago Healy, opened Diario Latino in San Diego in October.
Impremedia and Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, are waging one of the highest-profile battles, competing in New York and Los Angeles.
Impremedia owns La Opinion , which has a weekday circulation 125,862, and New York's 53,000-circulation El Diario, the nation's oldest operating Spanish-language newspaper. The privately held company wants to create a nationwide group of newspapers that shares advertisers and other resources but allows each one to retain local editorial control. It plans to buy existing weekly and daily papers and eventually create new ones in communities with sizable Hispanic populations.
"Our strategy will be to own independently operated newspapers in different markets that are community focused and local to those populations," said company vice president Lozano, whose grandfather founded the paper in 1926.
Analyst Morton said Impremedia's plan has merit but may be difficult to implement if the company tries to move into cities such as Miami and Dallas, where Spanish-language dailies already exist. He said the company may do better investing in weeklies.
Unlike Impremedia, Tribune Co. is banking on name recognition, with one title for all its newspapers.
It opened Hoy -- "Today" in Spanish -- five years ago in New York. It has a circulation of 94,000, nearly twice that of El Diario/La Prensa. A Chicago version opened in September 2003 and has a circulation of 18,000. The company's Los Angeles version debuted earlier this month.
"Our mantra has always been that we want to be a national, easily recognizable brand, with the same format and the same feel of the paper," said Louis Sito, the New York-based publisher of Tribune's Hoy newspapers. "But at the same time, we want to have very strong roots with the communities we serve."
Impremedia hopes the reputation its papers have earned as advocates for Hispanic communities will keep readers loyal.
La Opinion recently published an eight-part series about the nation's borders, partly examining the growing sophistication of immigrant smugglers, and plans to hold a forum about immigration later this year.
Hoy already is giving La Opinion stiff competition for local coverage. During its first week, Hoy's Los Angeles edition revealed the Salvadoran consulate was conducting business in a nearby McDonald's because its offices were overcrowded. A day later, the consulate rented new office space.
Adding to the competition in Los Angeles is the Spanish-language weekly Impacto USA, which started in January. The weekly is published by Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc., which owns 24 daily newspapers in California.
Impremedia Chairman Steve Rader said companies are just beginning to realize the potential for advertising revenue with Spanish-language newspapers.
Estimates for current print advertising revenue vary. The Latino Print Network puts the total for daily Spanish-language newspapers at $540 million annually. Santa Barbara-based Hispanic Business Inc., which publishes a magazine and studies Hispanic business trends, estimates the annual advertising revenue for all Spanish-language newspapers at about $238 million.
Some analysts wonder whether the growing number of Spanish-language papers can remain profitable, but Lozano, publisher of La Opinion, said she is not worried.
"When my dad took over in the 1950s, everyone said ... that we were all going to assimilate and newspapers like ours would go the way of the Yiddish papers of New York," she said. "We're still here because there is a constant refreshing of new readers, because of our proximity with Mexico and because we cover issues that the mainstream media doesn't cover."
On the Net:
Al Dia: www.aldiatx.com
Diario Latino: www.diariolatino.com
Diario La Estrella: www.dfw.com/mld/laestrella
El Diario: www.eldiariony.com
El Nuevo Herald: www.elherald.com
El Nuevo Dia: www.endiorlando.com
La Prensa: www.laprensaenlinea.com
La Opinion: www.laopinion.com