By Angelo Falcón
(The following commentary was originally published by the National Institute for Latino Policy.)
When earlier this year the Argentinian newspaper, La Nación, bought ImpreMedia, the publisher of El Diario-La Prensa, La Opinión and other US-based Spanish-language newspapers, they made assurances, like most buyers initially do, that not much would change. However, recent changes they have announced for their new properties seem to point to the real possibility that El Diario-La Prensa’ s days may be numbered. The city’s Latino community may have to speak up now if they want to see this historic paper (and now news site) to continue to operate.
Champion of the Hispanics
With its famous motto, El Campeón de los Hispanos (“the Champion of the Hispanics”), El Diario will be marking its 100 anniversary next year, making it the largest and oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper in New York City (and the oldest in the United States). However, all of that history may soon itself be history as a result of the increasingly pervasive process of media consolidation, this time under the control of a foreign corporation.
US Hispanic Media Inc., a subsidiary of Argentina’s S.A. La Nación, bought a 90 percent stake in ImpreMedia in March, the latest development in the changing ownership of El Diario since it was created in 1913. The current incarnation of the newspaper was the result of a 1963 merger between La Prensa (established in 1913 by Rafael Viera. a Spaniard) and El Diario de Nueva York (established in 1947 Porfirio Dominicci, a Dominican doctor), when they were purchased by the now legendary O. Roy Chalk, who, among other things, founded and owned Trans Caribbean Airlines. In 1981, Chalk sold it for $10 million to Gannet.
In 1990, Carlos D. Ramirez, Peter Davidson and their investment group, El Diario Associates, bought it from Gannet for just over $20 million, and in 1995 they joined with the Entravision Latin Communications Group. In 2003, Canadian speculator John Paton, current head of the MediaNews Group, purchased El Diario-La Prensa and merged it with the Los Angeles-based La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language daily in the United States, to form ImpreMedia, which he founded and largely owned. Then in March, the Argentinian company took over 90 percent control of ImpreMedia. The rumored buy by S.A. La Nación of the whole of ImpreMedia was around $6 million; considering that in 1980 El Diario alone was worth around $20 million, it looks like the Argentinians got a real bargain.
S.A. La Nación’s operations include publishing magazines and managing news and information websites. Another of its subsidiaries, Dridco, runs online classified websites for jobs, real estate and cars in Latin America and Spain. Its consolidated revenue reaches $250 million per year and it employs 1,500 people in all its companies.
No. 1 Hispanic News Co.
ImpreMedia, which bills itself as the No. 1 Hispanic news and information company in the U.S. in print and a key online player, reaches 25 percent of all US Hispanics with an audience size of almost 11 million and a footprint in 15 top Hispanic markets. Over the past year it has experienced an unprecedented 34 percent growth in total audience and has almost doubled its online audience.
However, its New York property, El Diario-La Prensa, has been having serious circulation and labor problems, especially in the last few years. From a peak circulation of 80,000 in the late 1980s, its latest paid circulation according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, was just 38,325 as of March 31, 2012 (23,467 for its Sunday edition and 29,954 for its Saturday edition), down from 42,974 only a year earlier.
Why So Low?
This is perplexing to many since it is published in the 2nd largest Latino media market in the country with 4.6 million Latinos, 56 percent of whom are Spanish-dominant. El Diario, however, estimates that, including paid and pass-on readers, it reaches 286,351 daily readers, which they say translates to 1 million readers a month of both its print and online editions. This means that El Diario estimates that its total readership is more than six times its paid readership, probably using a formula from a past sample survey or surveys they conducted. .
The new owners recently announced major changes in the operation of ImpreMedia that raise questions about the future of El Diario. Keeping Monica Lozano as the company’s CEO, they designated Francisco Seghezzo, the former Corporate Planning Director of S.A. La Nación, as ImpreMedia’s COO in charge of all operations of the company, while dismissing a number of its executives.
Popular Publisher Out?
With respect to El Diario, however, it is changes in the role of its popular publisher, Rossana Rosado, that makes one wonder what is going on with the New York part of their operations. Rumors have begun to spread in the community that Rosado was on the way out, whether voluntarily or otherwise. Seghezzo, the new COO, told La Portada that Lozano “will be responsible for developing high-level business opportunities for the company and building our brand and influence externally. Rossana Rosado will work directly with her to implement an impactful external agenda that builds solid and lucrative relationships with leading business, civic, political and community partners.” Sounds like a demotion or preamble to a buyout to me!
This raises the question, are the new owners planning to move Rosado out as publisher? Does this mean that they are rethinking their support of El Diario-La Prensa as they place the paper in this reorganization under their new Business Unit East, which will oversee the print editions of El Diario, La Raza, La Prensa and Vista?
From the Bottom Up
While the talk is that they plan to invest more to increase circulation, it is not clear how foreign owners who know very little about the Latino experience in New York will be able to shape a more relevant content that would drive greater circulation.
Rosado has been Publisher and CEO of El Diario-La Prensa since 1999. Starting as a desk assistant for WCBS-AM in the early eighties while she was still a student at Pace, she joined El Diario in the 1980s as a general interest cub and city hall reporter, and columnist, and eventually became the first woman in the paper’s history to hold the position of Metro Editor and, after leaving to work for the city, returned as the first female Editor in Chief in 1995.
Rosado clearly is in the unique position of knowing El Diario’s operations from top to bottom as well as having street creds as a reporter. She has received many awards, including an Emmy, a STAR award from the New York Women’s Agenda, the Peabody Award for Journalism, the New York Press Club’s President’s Award and, most recently, the 2012 Ruben Salazar Award for Communications from the National Council of La Raza.
Conservative vs. Liberal
The takeover of El Diario and ImpreMedia by this politically conservative Argentinian newspaper raised eyebrows in light of El Diario’s largely liberal political leanings. But now the question is not so much whether its political orientation will change but whether its new foreign owners will shut it down or allow it to fail. There has been much speculation about this even before the Argentinian takeover, but now this appears to be a more serious possibility.
El Diario-La Prensa has been an integral part of New York City’s Puerto Rican and now broader Latino community for close to a century. Journalists like Luisa Quintero, Manuel de Dios Unanue, Conrado Hernandez, Fernando Moreno, Evido de la Cruz, Gerson Borrero and others helped to define the Latino experience in this city and its editorials once had enough clout to affect the city and state’s political priorities. But with the general decline of the newspaper industry, the competition from new media and an increasingly diverse Latino population, among other factors, it has been tough going for this important community institution.
Before the La Nación takeover, Juan González and Joseph Torres, in their book, News for All the People, described El Diario-La Prensa’s position as follows:
“Few of the surviving Spanish-language dailies in the United States today are owned or controlled by Latinos. Even the most prestigious, such as El Diario/La Prensa and La Opinión, are controlled by non-Hispanic investors. ImpreMedia, which acquired La Opinión and New York’s Hoy from the Tribune Company, and purchased El Diario separately, has emerged as the largest publisher of Spanish-language dailies in the country, with the Lozano family, former owner of La Opinión, holding a minority share. Founded by Canadian entrepreneur John Paton in 2003, ImpreMedia is a joint venture of three private equity firms — ACON Investments, Clarity Partners, and Halyard.”
Non-US Owners and Labor
Since then, this media consolidation has gone from one dominant foreign investor from Canada to now another even more dominant foreign investor from Argentina. The paper currently, for example, outsources much of its production to cheap labor in Monterrey, Mexico, undercutting local union workers in the process.
So will we being seeing more of this under the Argentinian owners? What this means for the future of not only of El Diario but for Spanish-language dailies in the United States as a whole is anybody’s guess at this point. But it certainly has important implications for the way millions of Latinos will be getting their news and defining their issues.
Some observers have noted that there may have been greater concern about the future of El Diario-La Prensa, except for the irony that Rosado’s credibility and long history with El Diario and the Latino community may have led our community to let their guard down and be less demanding. But regardless of this, it appears that now is the time to not only be concerned but to act to assure that El Diario not only survives but that it returns to be the vital community institution it once was, “El Campeón de los Hispanos,” by keeping up with the changing times, technology and rethinking its relationship to New York’s Latino community.
(Editor’s note: Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), for which he edits The NiLP Network on Latino Issues. He has been a guest columnist for El Diario-La Prensa from time to time over the years and has been quoted extensively on its pages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Angelo Falcón