It was done neither quietly nor stealthily, but rather naturally. By focusing on hard work and the most basic market forces – recognizing a niche and filling it – Spanish language and bilingual newspapers found success in an age where many long-standing flagship papers are struggling or vanishing into oblivion, as Denver’s Rocky Mountain News did in February 2009.
In every major or mid-level city or town in the country there can be found, a well-established Spanish-language or bilingual paper. (La Voz Bilingue has served Denver for forty years.) But, over the last twenty-five years, Spanish-language or bilingual papers have sprung up in towns rarely thought of as Latino population centers.
Today, you are as likely to find a bilingual or Spanish-language paper serving Latinos in Lancaster, Penn., or Little Rock, Ark., as you are finding one in, say, Miami. Bilingual/Spanish language print is now as Main Street as Calle Ocho. And, just as likely, many of these papers are often the ones capturing the day’s or week’s biggest scoops.
Interestingly, the largest Hispanic population boom in the country is not in traditionally Hispanic-rich markets like Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. A 2013 DMA (designated market area) study, a gauge used by media companies to measure population and economic data, found Charlotte, N.C., as having the largest Latino population growth in the country. Both traditional and on-line bilingual or Spanish language papers serve the city and region. And just as their predecessors have for generations, they remain committed to the same journalistic standards and responsibilities.
“One of our biggest strengths is that we’re very community oriented,” says Eddie Escobedo, Jr., current president of the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP) and the publisher of El Mundo, Las Vegas and Nevada’s largest and oldest Spanish language papers. “We embed ourselves with the activities or the fights in our communities, whether it’s voting rights, immigration or economic issues. We want to keep our readers informed.”
Of course, it also does not hurt that the nation’s youngest and fastest growing population is Latino, now approaching 55 million. The number also represents serious economic clout. According to a 2012 study conducted by the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, the U.S. Hispanic consumer market outpaces all but 13 countries in the world in spending power. U.S. Latinos now control $1.2 trillion in economic clout – the amount spent annually on goods and services for everything from automobiles to appliances.
While experiencing many of the same challenges as all newspapers in the U.S., La Opinión, one of the country’s largest and oldest (founded in 1926) Spanish language paper, recognized and benefitted from the immigration boom.
“The constant influx gives you a new wave of readers every couple of years,” says Francisco Castro, City Editor of La Opinión. “Recent newcomers need to know what the country offers, things that you need to become accustomed to.” But it is not just an immigrant readership or the more long-standing readership that the paper is focusing on to remain relevant. Just as many business have done, La Opinión has sharpened its coverage and gaze on the children of immigrants and younger Latinos, in general.
“That is one of our biggest pushes,” says Castro. “We want a connection to those readers who want to go to a website or read a tweet.” The whole idea of instant news, he says, is the new reality for all newspapers. “We have a complete section that is devoted to the internet. We try to go from the internet to print so that those readers can get first access to it.”
The day of traditional deadlines, says Castro, has gone the way of the evening paper. “The whole idea of having a deadline at five or seven is no longer there. The deadline is ‘now’ and we have to be a lot more mobile than ever. It’s definitely a challenge but you’re trying to put a good product out there fast enough for today’s readers.”
Spanish language or bilingual papers are holding their own and thriving along with a growing Latino population. El Diario in New York, Atlanta Latino, El Dia in Houston and El Latino in San Diego, La Voz Bilingüe Denver, Al Dia in Philadelphia remain vibrant in their markets. Next week, the National Association of Hispanic Publications celebrates its 32nd year with its convention outside of Chicago.
Miami’s el Nuevo Herald, by a wide margin, continues to be the nation’s largest Spanish-language daily. It also boasts 1.7 million on-line monthly readers. Each Sunday, el Nuevo also prints nearly 65,000 copies. It remains one of Florida’s most influential papers in all traditional news categories.
Former blogger, ESPN Deportes editor and owner and editor of Hoy Dallas, Sandra Velasquez says companies that may have once been hesitant to spend with smaller, niche papers have come to realize that ‘brown is the new green,’ and that readers of Spanish language news and information are consumers with money that will be spent somewhere. “They want exposure,” says Velasquez of the cellular companies and retailers who now have Spanish-language advertising budgets.
After English, Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the country. Since 1980, the number of Spanish speakers – ages five and above – has grown by more than 230 percent to 37 million.
While electronic or Internet are the biggest players in the media game, newspapers will continue to occupy their own rung on the ladder. And that, says Hoy Dallas’ Velasquez, means that advertisers risk the same fate as struggling papers if they fail to court Latino media and, by extension, Latino consumers.
“They need to pay more attention. Otherwise, they are missing a long-term opportunity.” And that opportunity begins now in the current election cycle where political money is being tossed around like confetti but not always proportionate to Latino media, says Velasquez. “They need to invest in this community because the numbers are reflecting that we are growing. They need to invest – beginning yesterday! We are going to be voting long after today’s politicians are gone.”
There is little argument among Latino publishers across the country about the vitality of Latinos as consumers, whether it is in buying refrigerators or political messages.
“Hispanic print is more relevant than ever before,” says Pauline Rivera, owner and publisher of La Voz Bilingüe. La Voz is Colorado’s #1 Hispanic-owned, and oldest and largest bilingual paper. “Two languages match up with the nation’s trends in population.” In fact, La Voz just expanded their reach into southern Colorado, whose Latino population is close to 50 percent. Like most of her newspaper colleagues, Rivera does not understand the reluctance of some large corporations and politicians to tap into this emerging consumer market and voting bloc. “There’s still an apprehension, especially from political campaigns. If they are trying to reach Latino voters and the Latino market, we’re where they need to be.”