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Spanish-Language Newspapers La Opinion, El Diario to Merge

The new company hopes to create a chain aimed at the growing U.S. Latino population, executives say.

January 16, 2004|Abigail Goldman and Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writers

The two largest Spanish-language newspapers in the United States said Thursday that they had joined forces to create a publishing empire that would compete with major media companies for Latino readers.

Executives said the merger of the parent companies of La Opinion, the dominant Spanish-language daily in Los Angeles, and El Diario/La Prensa, its New York counterpart, was the first step toward building a network of newspapers serving the nation's fastest-growing minority group.

The combined company, Impremedia, would be run by the Lozano family, which founded La Opinion in 1926, and the private investment group CPK Media, which owns El Diario/La Prensa. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

Jose Ignacio Lozano, the former publisher of La Opinion and the vice chairman of the new company, said it would have enough capital to begin buying existing weekly and daily newspapers across the country within the next 18 months.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday January 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
Newspaper deal -- An article in Friday's Business section and a brief in Sunday's Business section about the merger of two Spanish-language publications incorrectly stated that El Diario / La Prensa in New York was one of the two largest Spanish dailies in the United States based on circulation. In fact, the largest is Los Angeles-based La Opinion and the second-largest is Hoy New York, which is published by Tribune Co., which also owns the Los Angeles Times.

"We're hitting the ground running by starting with the two strongest titles in the two largest markets, and we think this gives us a great springboard from which to build this company," said Lozano, whose sister, Monica Lozano, succeeded him as publisher and chief executive of La Opinion on Thursday.

As the Latino population in the United States continues to grow, more and more advertisers have embraced Spanish-language media. Latinos now constitute nearly 14% of the U.S. population and have more than $452 billion in buying power, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

During the last decade, Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications Inc. of Los Angeles has raked in billions in advertising revenue from its popular TV networks. Hoping to grab a piece of that ad spending, General Electric Co.'s NBC network acquired Telemundo two years ago, and Mexico's second-largest broadcaster, TV Azteca, crossed the border with its own network -- Azteca America. In Los Angeles, Liberman Broadcasting introduced KRCA-TV Channel 62, offering local newscasts, talk shows and a popular dating program.

The print media has embarked on the same road: Newspapers targeting Latinos, most of which are published in Spanish, have an estimated total daily circulation of 16 million.

Impremedia -- whose two newspapers combined have a daily circulation of about 175,000 -- could face challenges from many large U.S. newspaper companies that have started or plan to start their own Spanish-language publications.

For instance, Knight Ridder Inc. publishes Spanish-language papers in Miami and Fort Worth, and Belo Corp. publishes a Spanish paper in Dallas.

Tribune Publishing, a division of Tribune Co., publishes a Spanish-language daily in New York and Chicago called Hoy. Many media experts have speculated that Los Angeles would be the natural place for Tribune, which also owns the Los Angeles Times, to launch its next Spanish paper. A Tribune spokeswoman would say only that the firm was examining opportunities within each of its markets.

Chicago-based Tribune acquired a 50% stake in La Opinion in 2000, when it bought Times Mirror Co., which had first invested in the Spanish paper in 1990. Impremedia executives said Thursday that CPK Media helped the Lozano family buy back control of the L.A. newspaper.

Newspaper analyst John Morton, president of Morton Research Inc., said that with a newly formed company "going after the Hispanic market, it's understandable that those who have traditionally been publishers of Spanish-language dailies are concerned." Morton added that it was smart for the L.A. and New York newspapers "to join forces and try to take advantage of the strength that brings."

But Felix Gutierrez, a visiting professor of journalism at USC, said Impremedia wouldn't have it so easy.

"This is not going to be an instant money machine for anyone," he said. "They're dealing with a newly competitive market. They have to work harder to attract the audience, and that involves editorial resources."

News of La Opinion's union with El Diario/La Prensa was welcomed by some readers of La Opinion, who said they were eager to see the newspaper's content strengthened.

"Hopefully by merging they can increase the amount of in-depth coverage," said Felipe Aguirre, a Maywood reader of the paper who heads a community organizing group. "They need to have more journalists in their ranks."

Jose Benavides, an assistant professor of journalism at Cal State Northridge, said the merger also could serve the community by offering more news sources.

"Both Tribune and La Opinion need a competitor," said Benavides, who is establishing a Spanish-language journalism program at CSUN. "I think the readers benefit."

A Spanish-language chain also could lead to nationally circulated stories about the diverse Latino communities growing in different parts of the country, said Harry Pachon, director of USC's Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

He pointed out that El Diario/La Prensa leans toward the Puerto Rican and Caribbean communities, and La Opinion covers people of Mexican and Central American background.

"With the dispersion of the national Latino community, it makes sense that somebody tries to capture that market," Pachon said. "In a way, you would have an ideal blend of coverage of the Latino community."

Impremedia said it would have operations in both Los Angeles and New York and that no decision had been made about its headquarters.

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Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.

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