Newspapers Rock en Espanol

By: Mark Fitzgerald

To introduce readers in Racine, Wis., to the first-ever Spanish-language page in The Journal Times, Editor Randolph Brandt chose an admittedly unusual but, he figured, appropriate salutation: Guten Tag!

His point was that Racine had a long tradition of publishing newspapers in the language of new immigrants. This city along Lake Michigan was once home to the German-language Racine Volksblatt, the Slovenian-language Slovan Amerikansky, and a host of papers in Norweigan and Danish. Little Racine once published the biggest Bohemian-language newspaper in America, Brandt reminded readers.

Now people from the Mexican state of Oaxaca were arriving in big numbers in Racine, and

creating a burgeoning commercial strip in the traditional “second downtown” along Douglas Avenue. So running a full page of news in Spanish with an English-language summary seemed a natural way to serve the latest group in this city of immigrants.

This would be more than just a feel-good project, too. Local advertisers were clamoring for a Spanish-language vehicle, Brandt says. And looking beyond Racine, the Journal Times saw that some of the smartest chains in the newspaper industry ?Knight Ridder, Belo, Tribune Co., MediaNews Group Inc., and Freedom Communications ? are betting on a strategy of publishing in Spanish.

And why wouldn’t they? The Hispanic population exploded by at least 58% to 35.3 million between 1990 and 2000. In roughly the same period, ad revenues for Spanish-language and Hispanic papers soared 565%, according to figures from the National Association of Hispanic Publications. The chains that made America’s family-owned hometown paper an endangered species are now targeting a market that until recently was served largely by precariously financed Mom-and-Pop operations.

In fact, so many chain-owned papers have jumped into Spanish-language print that they are beginning to compete not just with established Latino newspapers, but each other. In the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Belo’s Al Dia contends with Knight Ridder’s La Estrella. This week in Los Angeles, Tribune Co.’s Hoy kicks off a three-way competition with MediaNews Group Inc.’s free-distribution weekly Impacto USA and Impremedia LLC’s La Opinion. (The Los Angeles-based La Opinion remains the leading Spanish-language daily in the United States.) This fight for Hispanic readers is now happening in the toniest neighborhoods. In West Palm Beach, Fla., The Palm Beach Post’s brand-new La Palma, launched on Feb. 6, already has competition from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which began home delivery in Palm Beach County of its weekly El Sentinel the day after La Palma launched. This spring, two Spanish-language weeklies will contend in Southampton, one of Long Island, N.Y.’s most exclusive communities.

Daily newspapers beset by declining readership and changing market demographics are increasingly exploring the Spanish-language market. They look with envy on the success mainstream papers have achieved with Spanish-language papers. El Nuevo Herald in Miami became the fastest-growing newspaper in the Knight Ridder chain when it was loosed from The Miami Herald. Tribune Co.’s Hoy, based in New York, in just four years grew to be America’s second-biggest Spanish-language daily, and that was before launches in Chicago and Los Angeles ? let alone the seven other heavily Hispanic markets the tabloid intends to conquer.

And while it may seem that established dailies ? desperate to stem circulation losses ? should be trying to bring readers directly to their papers, a recent study suggests separate ethnic papers reinforce their flagships. Latinos, like other immigrants, will eventually come to the English-language paper, concludes a major study of San Francisco Bay area ethnic media by Rufus Browning, a professor at San Francisco State University.

Latino immigrants rapidly increase their use of general media the longer they have been in the United States, Browning wrote. Released in December, the Ford Foundation study concludes that relying solely on the news media in their own language is a “temporary condition” for new immigrants. “The other good news is that [ethnic papers] don’t isolate groups, but bring them into the American mainstream,” Browning said in a phone interview.

But there are reasons for caution. Consider the Racine experience.

Latino populations are growing fast in places never before considered Hispanic, such as Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina ? and Racine County. There, the Journal Times, a Lee Enterprises paper, figured there were at least 5,000 households in its circulation area where Spanish was the first language. “We knew for some time that we wanted to serve this market, we just weren’t sure what form it would take,” Editor Brandt says. Publishing a page of news in Spanish labeled “El Mundo Latino” three times a week plus a page of community events on Saturday seemed like a modest start.

But when “El Mundo Latino” debuted Jan. 14, it was a sensation ? for all the wrong reasons. “Some readers really hated it,” Brandt says with considerable understatement.

Not all readers, of course: One high school Spanish class sent 26 fan letters. But in the fraying-blue-collar town with a high unemployment rate and an inchoate resentment of illegal immigrants, the sudden transformation of the “A” section’s second page from English to Spanish unnerved ? even unhinged ? some longtime readers when it first appeared.

“We anticipated some complaints. What we didn’t anticipate was that the reaction would be so vociferous,” Brandt says. Scores of readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. A couple of dozen actually did, and it began to look like the cancellations would continue every time the page ran. Not only was the test failing to expand readership, it jeopardized the rest of the paper, Brandt says.

“El Mundo Latino” was cancelled eight days after it began.

Miami advice

The Journal Times’ pursuit of its local Latino market isn’t over and may yet have a happy ending, but it is also a cautionary tale for the many daily newspapers who now face the increasingly common strategic decision: How to target a new and rapidly growing audience that seems to have no interest in reading the English-language newspaper.

As Racine’s experience shows, the Field of Dreams strategy (“If you build it, they will come”) does not work. The good news, though, is that mainstream dailies now have enough experience under their belts to know what works and what doesn’t in reaching Spanish readers. Newspapers as widely diverse as The Orange County (Calif.) Register and The Daily Citizen in Dalton, Ga., are boosting revenues and readership with Spanish-language products.

The first paper to show the way was the Miami Herald. If the movement of mainstream newspapers into Spanish-language publishing has a godfather, it is Herald Publisher Alberto Ibarg?en, who in 1998 showed that a mainstream newspaper’s Spanish-language paper could thrive outside the cocoon of its English-language flagship.

“We’ve been publishing in Spanish for the last 30 years, roughly,” Ibarg?en says. “We’ve tried just about everything and we’ve made just about every mistake ? but we also have had some spectacular success.”

It was not, however, an overnight success. The Herald dipped its toe into the Spanish market some three decades ago in the same way that many papers are starting now, with a couple of pages in the language. That became a section called El Herald and that grew into what Ibarg?en calls “almost a newspaper in the newspaper” called El Miami Herald.

Another redesign, another relaunch ? this time as El Nuevo Herald, but the paper remained hidden inside the fat Miami Herald, “a pound of English covering a quarter-pound of Spanish,” Ibarg?en says. When he arrived in Miami, Ibarg?en roamed the stores and sidewalk counters dispensing Cuban coffee in Little Havana and saw the business consequences of forcing that combined “sale.”

“The customer was taking the Spanish-language paper out of the Herald, putting the English-language paper back and leaving a quarter on the counter ? at a time when the Herald cost 35 cents. The store owner pockets the quarter and we give him credit for an unsold paper,” Ibarg?en says. The market, he adds dryly, had spoken in favor of a separate paper.

But just separating the papers was not enough, Ibarg?en says now. El Nuevo Herald did not really take off until Ibarg?en convinced the legendary designer Carlos Casta?eda to reprise the magic that made El Nuevo Dia a hit in Puerto Rico. “My one instruction was to give me a newspaper that could not be confused with the Miami Herald,” Ibarg?en says. “And he sure did.”

The lesson, Ibarg?en says, is almost too obvious to underscore: “The first thing you’ve got to do is look at what your market really is. Looking at the market through a rearview mirror as it used to be or as you wished it were and reluctantly, almost grudgingly, making changes in your paper… will not work.” Knowing your market means knowing where the local Hispanics come from, and, especially, in what language they learned to read: “The newspaper is an intimate pleasure, and people don’t really want to work that hard at a pleasure.”

Another lesson is that the Hispanic market itself can change, as it has in Miami. Once solidly Cuban, the city attracted a growing population of Nicaraguans, Colombians, and other Latin Americans. So the newspaper changed from emphasizing news of Cuba to becoming a more “pan-American” paper.

Now, El Nuevo Herald is changing again. This month it will become more focused on local news of metropolitan Miami, Ibarg?en says, because its readers are increasingly putting down permanent roots in the city and suburbs.


For all his success, Ibarg?en says he has one regret about El Nuevo Herald: “I wish we had changed (the name) to almost anything else. Though we changed the paper, the name of the publication suggests something that it is not. This is not ‘the new Herald’ ? this is something completely different.”

Tribune Co., he says, did it right by naming their paper Hoy: “It’s not ‘El Newsday’ or ‘El [Chicago] Tribune’ or ‘El [Los Angeles] Times.'”

It couldn’t be, explains Louis Sito, who came up with the idea of a separate tabloid Spanish-language daily when he was executive senior vice president of sales for Newsday. Like USA Today, Hoy is made to look the same in all markets. Publisher and CEO Sito, who last year became Tribune Publishing’s first vice president/Hispanic media, says Hoy succeeds because it has a clear business goal.

“Our mantra is that Hoy is a national brand that is easily recognizable and that is very easy for advertisers to access,” says Sito.

The five-year-old Hoy became truly national last fall when it launched an edition in Chicago, which Sito says is surpassing expectations. The Chicago Hoy will report a paid daily circulation of about 20,000 copies in the Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX for March 31, he says. A Los Angeles version of Hoy launches this week. Sito won’t talk about the timing of future launches ? “L.A. is a big nut to swallow,” he notes ? but it’s a good bet they will accelerate.

Sito does talk freely about where Hoy is going, though: The tabloid will be published in the top 10 Hispanic markets that together cover 75% of American Hispanics. That leaves Miami, San Francisco, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and San Diego among the markets that sooner or later can expect to see the distinctive blue and yellow Hoy newsboxes on their street corners.

So far, Hoy has only launched where Tribune already publishes a daily. That, Sito says, will change: “We may partner with a paper, but if not we’ll create our own infrastructure.” In fact, Hoy is already creating a structure independent of its Tribune siblings.

Deep in the heart of Tejas

Right from the start, Sito says, Hoy was never going to be anything less than a daily, mostly because it started in New York ? which was already served by two daily Spanish-language dailies, most notably the venerable El Diario La Prensa: “If we really were serious in establishing a relationship with this community, we couldn’t do it one day a week in a market with two dailies.”

There was no daily Spanish-language competition in The Dallas Morning News’ market back in 2001 when it folded a direct-mail product called La Fuente and formed a team to come up with an editorially driven product. But the Morning News, too, concluded daily publication was the best way to reach its market, says Vice President and Executive Editor Gilbert Bailon, who headed the project: “The number [of Spanish-speakers] plus the level of sophistication of the market convinced us that we needed to offer daily, timely news.”

The launch of Al Dia demonstrates another lesson for papers looking to publish in Spanish: It isn’t necessarily cheap. Belo has committed to invest some $4 million in the paper in the next year and a half — including the separate newsroom of 32 and an Al Dia-only sales staff of 11. Bailon says, “In a city approaching almost 40% [Hispanic] population, we’ve got to make this work, because there are too many people who are not reading the Dallas Morning News in English.”

Just before Al Dia launched with a circulation of 40,000, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, aided by help from its Knight Ridder sibling paper El Nuevo Herald, relaunched its twice-weekly La Estrella as a daily named Diario La Estrella.

There’s good news for both new dailies ? and for their parents, according to research released Jan. 30 by Dallas-based Rincon & Associates. By a rate of 12.7% to 6.3%, Diario La Estrella is rated better in covering “Latino people and events” than Al Dia, but both papers have an equal reach of 19% so far, while Al Dia is read more frequently than Diario La Estrella. Those gains are not coming at the expense of Latino readership of the English-language dailies, the papers found. However, the corporate-owned Al Dia and Diario La Estrella are already cutting into the readership of other area Spanish-language papers, Rincon found.

Spending for an ‘Impacto’

Like the Star-Telegram’s Diario La Estrella, some mainstream chains are already into a second-generation of Spanish-language papers.

For more than a decade, MediaNews Group used rack and store drops to distribute 100,000 copies of a free tabloid weekly called El Economico in Long Beach and other parts of Los Angeles. “We always had a problem with the name. People would see it and think it was a financial paper,” says Publisher Fernando Paramo.

In January, MediaNews relaunched it as a broadsheet called Impacto USA, and expanded its distribution to 250,000 Hispanic households in four zones. Using a distribution model of the Latino Newspaper Network, the paper is delivered to households with a minimum income of $35,000 in blocks that are at least 85% Hispanic and located within five miles of a major shopping area, Paramo says.

He acknowledges it was not a cheap move: “Going into direct targeting increased our costs tremendously ? perhaps 10 times as much as rack distribution.” But the payoff, Paramo adds, is worth the cost: “This positions us as the number-one home-delivered Spanish-language product in the nation.”

What’s true in the nation’s largest Hispanic market is also true in the smaller but fast-growing Latino pockets around the nation, says Jimmy Espy, executive editor of The Daily Citizen in Georgia. Five years ago, the 13,492-circulation Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI) paper created the free tabloid weekly El Informador to serve the rapidly growing number of Mexicans working at the town’s carpet mills. Last year, El Informador made the biggest contribution to the bottom line of any of the paper’s operations, including the Daily Citizen, Espy says. The paper is attracting ads not only from the local car dealers and Mexican grocery stories, but Budweiser, Coca-Cola and other national advertisers.

Because of El Informador’s success, Espy says, “I get calls from editors all over the country, and almost every time it seems they are trying to do it so cheaply and on the margins that I think it’s bound to fail.” In his neck of the woods in northwest Georgia, numerous thinly capitalized papers have failed in the past five years, many after only an issue or two.

The same thing has happened in Nebraska, where Mexicans and other Latin Americans working in meat-packing factories and other agribusiness have tripled the Latino population of some rural counties. Nebraska Press Association Executive Director Allen Beermann says several attempts with “some pretty good products” have failed because there was not enough Spanish-language readership or businesses. “They’d last for a few months, maybe a year, and they just kind of ran out of money.”

That’s why some papers faced with new Hispanic populations take it slow. Utah’s third-biggest daily, the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, tried a bilingual page a few years ago that failed in part because of resentment by English-language readers. But this Christmas it tested a seasonal product called El Estandar that did quite well. “Advertisers wanted to jump on the bandwagon for this niche, and once the Standard-Examiner was involved, why, they’d say, ‘ We want to be involved,'” says Publisher W. Scott Trundle.

The paper figures to launch a weekly product sometime this spring ? with one condition: “It may start at a loss,” Trundle says, “but it won’t stay at a loss very long.”

Racine redux

In Racine, Wis., the Journal Times is still determined to make a go of it. Just days after canceling the regular Spanish-language page, it launched a four-page Spanish section that runs on Thursdays. There is more ad support for the section than there was for the page, Editor Randy Brandt says, although he worries that readership might not be as strong with only a weekly product. Handling the section is Steve Lovejoy, the paper’s editorial page editor, and Guadalupe Rend?n, a former Racine cop who trained at the Freedom Forum’s Diversity Institute.

“We’re hoping this takes off and gets a revenue stream going so we can expand the staff a little,” Brandt says. “Because we know we need to do this.”

Clarification published March 11: This story referred imprecisely to research conducted earlier this year by Rincon & Associates about the reach of Al Dia, published by The Dallas Morning News, and Diario La Estrella, published by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The story correctly reported that both papers had an equal reach of about 19% of foreign- and native-born Hispanics, but did not note that the statistic referred to residents in the Dallas Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA). The Rincon report says that in the total Dallas/Fort Worth market, Diario La Estrella has a reach advantage of 4.1%.

The original story may also have suggested incorrectly that corporate parent Belo’s $4 million investment commitment to Al Dia did not include the cost of hiring a separate newsroom and advertising team. It does.

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