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Financial Times

America's Latino Market Makes The News


May 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved.

With an expanding population and regional diversity, US Spanish-language papers have plenty of room to grow, writes Holly Yeager. When Hoy, the fast-growing Spanish-language newspaper, hit the streets of Los Angeles in March, media observers were quick to declare the start of a new newspaper war.

But as Hoy does battle with La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language paper in the US, Louis Sito, publisher of Hoy, shies away from the combat rhetoric.

"I'm a little beat up," he says with a smile from Hoy's New York headquarters, "but there is no war." With more than 7m Hispanics in the Los Angeles area, "there is room for two or three daily papers there".

Hoy, owned by the Tribune Company - publisher of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune - also appears in New York and Chicago. Mr Sito has ambitions to publish papers in other US cities with large Hispanic populations. And he is not alone in thinking there is room for more Spanish-language papers to serve the 37.4m Hispanics in the US.

In January, the owners of La Opinion joined forces with the owners of El Diario/ La Prensa, the 91-year-old New York paper that is the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in the US. Together, they plan to create a national group of papers aimed at the Latino market.

In September, Knight Ridder, owner of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, changed its twice-a-week Spanish paper to the five-times-a-week Diario La Estrella. A few days later, Belo, publisher of The Dallas Morning News, stepped up the competition in the region, launching Al Dia, which appears six days a week.

The list goes on. The number of Hispanic daily newspapers in the US has grown from 14 in 1990, with a total circulation of 440,000, to 40, with a circulation of 1.8m last year, according to the Latino Print Network, an industry group. (Those figures are for papers whose primary audience is Hispanic; while most are completely in Spanish, some include some English).

Meximerica Media is the latest contender, with plans to launch Rumbo, a network of Spanish-language papers. The first four are to be introduced this summer in Texas. Meximerica is owned by Recoletos Grupo de Comunicacion, part of the Pearson group, which also owns the Financial Times.

The growth in newspapers, as well as magazines, follows the expansion of radio and television stations aimed at the Hispanic market.

"Print is the final frontier," says Gilbert Bailon, president and editor of Al Dia. His newsroom, which employs people from 10 countries, is bilingual; news meetings are conducted about two-thirds in Spanish.

Speaking at a meeting of US newspaper editors and publishers last month, Mr Bailon said he was pleased that mainstream media groups were increasing the attention they paid to the Hispanic market.

But he cautioned that the Spanish-language market should not be treated as a single entity: "You need to understand your market. There is no monolith."

Mr Sito stresses the same thing. The tabloid Hoy has a similar look and feel in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But editors change the contents for each of those markets, usually beginning on the front page.

The changes are seen in two main areas: local news, about the Hispanic community in each of those cities, and the international news in which each set of readers is interested. In California, that means more news about Mexico; In New York, more from Puerto Rico and Central America.

"Our model is to be a national brand with very strong local roots in the communities where we publish," says Mr Sito, who was born in Cuba.

As his paper seeks to establish itself in Los Angeles, he does not worry about taking readers from his corporate sibling, The Los Angeles Times. "If you're Spanish-speaking, you're not reading the LA Times. If you're bilingual, and the LA Times is your paper of choice, you might pick up Hoy once in a while." And, if you do most of your reading in English, but are "culturally Hispanic", you might choose his paper to maintain that connection, he says.

Mr Sito does not think Hoy is taking readers from La Opinion, either: "We're enlarging the market".

The Hispanic population is itself growing strongly, fuelled by both immigration and a birth rate about 50 per cent higher than most other groups in the US. The Census Bureau projects the proportion of the population that is Hispanic will almost double from 12.6 per cent in 2000 to 24.4 per cent in 2050.

It is that growth that is prompting both mainstream English-language media companies and more specialised Spanish-language groups to focus on Hispanic readers.

But even all-English papers in the US are paying more attention to Hispanic readers as they seek to counter long-term declines in circulation.

"You simply can't have a business whose older customers are dying," says John Lavine, director of the Readership Institute and the Media Management Center at Northwestern University.

Mr Lavine coaches editors on how to attract young readers, as well as African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, by doing things such as using photographs of more young and diverse subjects.

"This population is extremely under-served," says Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a non-partisan research group. "Like all readers, they want to read about themselves."

Mr Suro, a former reporter at The Washington Post and The New York Times, says the news media play a role both in the teaching of American ways and the formation of a distinct Hispanic ethnic identity.

His latest research points to a complicated landscape for publishers. "Nearly half the adult Hispanic population criss-crosses between the two, getting some of its news in both languages," the centre said in a report last month.

"The offerings are divided by language, but the audience is not," Mr Suro says. "The contest for news executives is that audience - the people who are switchers."

Half of first-generation Latinos like to get their news in both English and Spanish; 38 per cent prefer Spanish, and 11 per cent prefer English, according to the Pew centre. By the third generation, 25 per cent like to use both languages; 2 per cent use Spanish and 73 per cent prefer English.

That evolution seems to mirror the experience of other ethnic groups in the US, which, over time, have largely migrated to English-language newspapers.

But advocates of the Spanish press say their community is different. While other immigrant groups were relative small and concentrated within particular cities, the sheer size of the Hispanic population of the US makes continued use of Spanish more likely, says Mr Sito.

And, he says, unlike other immigrant groups, many Latinos go back and forth between the US and the Spanish-speaking world, making it easier to maintain ties to their native cultures.

"People don't stop being Latino because they're here for two or three generations," says Mr Bailon, editor of Al Dia. "The market is not going to go away."

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