News Column

La Opinión Blossoms into a Media Powerhouse

Feb 27 2001 12:45PM

By Rick Laezman

March 2001 - La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, will celebrate its 75th anniversary in September, a milestone founder Ignacio Lozano Sr. probably couldn't have imagined when he launched the publication on Mexican Independence Day in 1926.

Mr. Lozano's descendents like to describe La Opinión as a Mexican newspaper published in the United States that evolved into a Spanish-language American newspaper. "My father never became a U.S. citizen," explains Ignacio Lozano Jr., who became the publisher of La Opinión in 1953, when his father died. "He focused more on events in Mexico."

Under the younger Mr. Lozano's leadership, the paper shifted its focus to U.S. domestic issues and grew in popularity. When he retired in 1985, his son, José Lozano, took over, ushering in another era of change.

José Lozano says two developments have greatly influenced the newspaper during his tenure as publisher. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 gave amnesty to millions of immigrants, and it brought "an entire underground economy out into the daylight." This created an immigration backlash – Propositions 187 and 209 – which energized the Hispanic community.

According to Mr. Lozano, La Opinión forcefully responded to these events and, to a certain degree, helped trigger the cycle. "We see our role as advocates of self-empowerment," he says. "Don't expect government to help. Economic achievement must be earned through participation." He says La Opinión helped get IRCA passed by supporting voter registration, through "active assistance to the institutional process," and through its editorial emphasis.

Mr. Lozano also notes that La Opinión has had to recognize that its audience is no longer a "monolithic" community. "Because of the influx of Central Americans to Southern California, La Opinión has become more pan-regional," he says. "We represent all communities in the city."

Monica Lozano, José's sister and the president and chief operating officer of La Opinión, says the family-owned newspaper has joined the ranks of major metropolitan newspapers. "With over 600,000 readers, we are the fourth-largest daily in Southern California and the fastest-growing paper in the nation," she says.

La Opinión celebrated a banner year in 2000. Its circulation grew an impressive 11 percent while its readership swelled by 17 percent, according to Gallup. (Daily circulation averages 120,000.) The company also saw a revenue increase of 8.5 percent and augmented its staff by almost 15 percent. All told, La Opinión employees number more than 600.

Ms. Lozano says the prospects for continued growth are encouraging, given the fierce loyalty of the newspaper's readership. "Only 12 percent of our readers are monolingual," she says. "Our readers are vulnerable, and ninety percent of them are foreign-born. We have adopted an approach of civic journalism that gives them the tools to learn a different system. We've turned the news into a civics lesson."

Because of this philosophy, she believes, readers come to rely on La Opinión to explain the issues that are important to them. "Our focus groups tell us that readers have come to regard us as a trusted source, like a member of the family, doctor, or priest."

Editor Gerardo Lopez describes La Opinión's hands-on approach to election issues as an example of how the paper has won the respect of politicians. "During election time, we ask readers to tell us what they would ask the candidates if they could speak to them directly."

According to Mr. Lopez, both readers and candidates have responded to this approach. "At our town hall debates, candidates speak directly to our readers. They address the issues that were raised by the readers and the paper."

As La Opinión continues to grow, the Lozanos envision an enhanced Web presence and possibly expansion into markets beyond Southern California. Both emphasize caution, however.

José Lozano points out that while La Opinión does not want to lose any of its audience to the new media, the paper is in no hurry to venture into uncharted waters. "We will not expand at a pace that we can't manage," he explains.

La Opinión plans to celebrate its 75th anniversary in September with a traveling photo exhibit at public places throughout Los Angeles. The exhibit will be accompanied by symposiums featuring panel discussions and analysis of important issues in the Spanish-language community.

As September approaches, times and dates for anniversary events will appear in the pages of La Opinión.

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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