News Column

The Small Press Turns into a Big Deal

Page 2 of 1

By Frank McCoy

Homero Luna, 27, is a happy man. Last October, El Tiempo, his four-year-old Spanish- language weekly tabloid, became a two-section broadsheet newspaper. Mr. Luna started the Dalton, Georgia, paper – which prints 28,000 copies – to reach the 35,000 Hispanics who work in northwest Georgia's carpet and poultry industries. Eight years ago, the former college newsletter editor left Mexico and took a job in a local poultry factory. During the next three years, he says, he planned the launch of El Tiempo because "Latino people are working night and day [here], and it's their only way to get the news in their language."

Mr. Luna's success – in a non-traditional Hispanic market like Dalton – reflects the Hispanic population's national expansion and its appetite for daily, weekly, and monthly reading material. The National Hispanic Media Directory reports that from 1970 to 2000, the number of papers it tracks grew from 232 to 543, their total circulation rose from 955,000 to 14.1 million, and ad sales revenue ballooned from $14 million to $533 million. By con-trast, the Newspaper Association of Amer-ica reports that from 1970 through 1999, total U.S. morning and evening newspaper cir-culation fell from 62 million to 56 million and the percentage of daily adult news-paper readers dropped by 21 percent.

Corporations have discovered local print as a way to tap the estimated $282.5 billion in buying power of the nation's 33 million Hispanics. To facilitate regional and national ad buys, the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP) has helped in the formation of Latino Print Network, a group purchasing program with more than 200 member publications. Kirk Whisler, a newspaper industry veteran who heads the program, says typical advertisers come from the consumer goods, hotel, bank, and government sectors.

"A lot of times they ask for the top five or top 10 markets," says Mr. Whisler. "Other times, they specifically look to reach the smaller markets. In some of these areas, Spanish-language print is the only vehicle for reaching [Hispanics]."

Mr. Whisler cites four criteria that affect buys in the print medium: publication quality, circulation, readership research, and ease of purchase. He says local Hispanic print has achieved good quality, with many publications having been in business for 15 years or more. During the last decade years, a push for circulation audits has produced solid numbers on specific Hispanic newspapers. Research represents "one of the weaker points," Mr. Whisler concedes, although 88 publications this year conducted readership studies. And the Latino Print Network's goal is to make it easy to buy comprehensive coverage. "When someone wants to buy Spanish-language TV, they can make two phone calls and reach 88 percent of the audience. With five phone calls, they can reach 80 percent of the Spanish-language radio stations," he says. "We're trying to accomplish the same for print."

Retailers have long utilized the strengths of print advertising, such as coupons and brand identification. Yet as recently as five years ago, Kmart Corp. didn't even target the Hispanic market. Today, 500,000 circulars carrying the Kmart logo flow through Spanish-language newspapers each week. Such campaigns lend credence to the assertion of MediaWeek Editor William F. Gloede, in a report last year on minority media, that an ad "in the right lan-guage (both linguistically and culturally) sells more product among minority audiences than a general ad in a mainstream outlet."

Since retail ads are the bread and butter of daily newspapers, the large chains have tried to enter the Spanish-language game, but the market daunts most. The Tribune Co. acquired 50 percent of La Opinión – the na-tion's largest Spanish daily, with a circulation of 108,000 in Los Angeles – and all of Hoy, a New York daily, when it purchased the Times Mirror Co. And in Miami, Knight Ridder Inc. runs El Nuevo Herald, the nation's second-largest Spanish-language daily.

Andres Tobar, executive director of the NAHP in Washington, D.C., says two-thirds of his organization's member papers publish in Spanish, with nearly all the rest in a bilingual format. What amazes Mr. Tobar about the market's development, however, is its geography. "They are springing up literally all over the place. We are getting more [newspapers] out of the South – places like North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. We didn't even know there were enough Latinos to maintain a publication in some of those places," he says.

Even in a market as small as Dalton, El Tiempo has landed advertising orders from Georgia Power, Ford Motor Co., and Sears, in addition to ads from many of the town's 139 Hispanic companies. And in larger cities and suburbs, Hispanic papers have caught the attention of major media conglomerates. "It's a major market that mainstream media are recognizing," says Mr. Tobar. "It's a vibrant economy that needs tapping, so they are going to pursue it."

Historically, ethnic papers – most of them free and unaudited – provided news about old homelands and lessons about the new one, but the top tier of Hispanic papers must move beyond nostalgia if they expect to survive. Rossana Rosado, editor of New York's El Diario/La Pren-sa, which sells about 53,000 copies per day, says major Anglo papers want a Spanish-language vehicle "to bring added value to their existing English-language product." But in Los Angeles, La Opinión has earned a reputation for cover-age of immigration issues, soccer, and other local matters affecting its target demographic (see "Seventy-Five Years and Counting," Market Watch, March). That pleases Jose Lozano, the 46-year-old publisher whose grandfather started La Opinión in 1926. "It was a Mexican paper published in Spanish in the United States, but we are turning it into a metro paper," he offers. The upgrade has proved expensive, Mr. Lozano says, and led to the Times Mirror, parent corporation of the Los Angeles Times, becoming an investor in 1990.

Miami's El Nuevo Herald leads a pack of Florida-based Hispanic papers. El Nuevo Herald reports an average daily circulation of about 92,000 and a combined circulation of about 443,000 with the Miami Herald. Several factors make El Nuevo Her-ald publisher Carlos Castaneda opti-mistic for the future: Miami is Latin America's financial and entertainment capital, the area's 1.5 million Hispanics have $18 bil-lion in buying power, and thousands of Cubans immigrate yearly. Equally important, Knight Ridder has taken a serious interest in the rise of minority demographics, particularly since it moved headquarters to San Jose, California. Nearly half of the city's population of 909,000 is Hispanic, Asian, or Pa-cific Islander. Thus Jay Harris, the San Jose Mercury News publisher, says creating the ethnic weeklies Nuevo Mundo and Viet Mercury, both of which will be prof-itable in 2000, was "a professional and business imperative, not just the right thing to do."

None of this might surprise Benjamin Franklin, who published the nation's first ethnic newspaper, the German-language Philadelphische Zeitung, in 1732. It didn't last long, but more than one thousand of its descendants are now published in 50 lan-guages nationwide. And according to Mr. Luna, the ones that will prosper know their readership better than anyone else.

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