September 30, 2003

Pursuing Readers in Spanish: Embracing a Class

Newspapers took another big step yesterday away from being part of the mass media and toward being a class medium with the launch of Al Día, a six-day, Spanish-language daily produced by the Dallas Morning News.

The Dallas-Fort Worth region contains 1.3 million Hispanics - 22 percent of the population and expanding (estimated to reach 38 percent by 2006) - and even though the circulation of the Morning News, unlike that of many other metros, has been growing it inched up only 3 percent in the last two years to 515,000.

By comparison, the number of Hispanics in the North Texas areas covered by the Morning News grew more than 14 percent in the same time. The Morning News wanted to reach that Hispanic audience, but it couldn't do it in English and so Al Día was born.

In response to Al Día, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which has been battling the Morning News' for supremacy over the Interstate 30 corridor that connects the two cities, expanded its own twice-a-week Spanish publication, La Estrella, into Diario La Estrella, creating a unique situation in American newspaper publishing in which two major newspaper companies (Belo and Knight Ridder) and competing head to head with non-English daily publications.

Expect more newspapers to follow suit. The number of Hispanic households in the United States is forecast to double to 19.4 million in 2020 - and account for nearly 40 percent of all household growth. Spanish will be spoken in two-thirds of these households (about 42 million people). The lure of this market is too powerful for newspapers, which desperately need new readers, to ignore.

Already, media companies are forming alliances and staking claim to territory.

The Tribune Company, owners of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and Newsday, among other newspapers, intends to form a national network of Spanish-language dailies in the four largest Hispanic markets (New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago) based on its successful (90,000-plus circulation) New York tabloid Hoy. [ Read: Los Más Nuevos Periódicos ]

After Hoy rolled out a Chicago edition, four other Spanish-language newspapers - the venerable La Opinion in Los Angeles, Knight Ridders' El Nuevo Herald in Miami, El Diario/La Prensa in New York (the nation's oldest daily Spanish newspaper) and La Raza (a Chicago weekly) - formed a network that will market itself to advertisers as a national buy.

(Ironically, the Tribune Company owns 50 percent of La Opinion, a stake it acquired when it bought the Los Angeles Times in 2000, so if Hoy expands into Los Angeles then Tribune will, to an extent, be competing with itself for the attention of L.A.'s 6.8 million Hispanics, more than 40 percent of the population.)

As I've said before, the newspaper as a mass market medium is dying. Its future depends on developing products that reach out to and serve the various classes, whether they are defined by language, age or platform preference.

Still, newspapers are not going to disappear any time soon (even Ted Turner got that one wrong), but in order to maintain relevance and influence they need to abandon the traditional one-market, one-paper model and pursue readership opportunities wherever they may be.

Think about the New York Times, whose circulation strength at first might seem to reinforce the belief that the mass market remains intact. But a closer look at the Times' audit numbers shows that its readership is geographically fragmented - nearly half lives outside the New York-New Jersey-Pennslyvania area, with the West, New England and the South Atlantic coast contributing 10 percent each to the overall circulation of 1.13 million.

The Times' market is not geographic; it is demographic: A class of people attracted to the Times' brand (I'll let others argue over the characteristics of the brand).

The Times' model, and those of the Morning News, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune and other papers that are now publishing in Spanish or spinning off tabloids aimed at younger readers, transcend the traditional definition of a newspaper and embrace the idea that what counts is readership not format.

"News" doesn't need to be delivered on a 13.5-by-23.5-inch page. "News" doesn't' have to be in English. "News" doesn't' need the phrase "according to" in the first paragraph. "News" doesn't even need to be "news" at all - it can be information or interaction, commentary or comics, written by professionals or contributed by readers.

Congratulations to Gilbert Bailon, the editor of Al Día, and those others who brought the new paper to life. They've gambled a few million dollars on a vision of a bilingual future. It is a bold move. And the newspaper industry needs more like it.


 Editor & Publisher Spanish Newspaper Network Created

Posted by Tim Porter at September 30, 2003 09:18 AM

Really good story that suggests there definitely are people who want to see information that affects their lives on paper.

Interesting about the New York Times demographics.

Posted by: d rabin on September 30, 2003 01:23 PM
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