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Latinos lose an urban voice

A bold bicultural experiment has ended with the folding of Tu Ciudad magazine.

June 21, 2008|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

It was meant to be a magazine for "your city" -- Tu Ciudad. But in the end, the glossy lifestyle publication aimed at affluent, assimilated Latinos failed to find a home in the region's turbulent media landscape.

After more than three years serving as a guide for the city's best mojitos, taco stands and cultural trendsetters, Tu Ciudad magazine abruptly shut down this week. The bimonthly leaves behind a stunned staff of eight, thousands of disappointed readers and millions in losses for Indianapolis-based parent company Emmis Communications, which also publishes Los Angeles magazine.

The demise marks the end of a bold experiment in targeting -- and capitalizing on -- an enormous but elusive demographic. The readers of Tu Ciudad are the children and grandchildren of immigrants who still feel connected to their cultural roots, no matter how thoroughly they blend into the urban mainstream. The dilemma in reaching them arises from the very thing that defines them as a group, their bicultural identity.

The question remains: Do they need a specialty magazine to appeal to their Latino side?

"Frankly, this experience has left me with the feeling that the jury is still out," says editorial director Angelo Figueroa. "I'm not convinced that highly assimilated, U.S.-born, English-dominant Hispanics necessarily want to be separated and marketed to as a group. They don't want a Latino L.A. Times; they just want to be included in the L.A. Times."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, June 23, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Tu Ciudad: The photo of Oscar Garza accompanying an article on Tu Ciudad magazine in Saturday's Calendar was credited to Gina Ferazzi. The photo was taken by Ken Kwok.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, June 24, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Tu Ciudad: An article on Tu Ciudad magazine in Saturday's Calendar section stated that the publication had a staff of eight when it closed. The total full-time staff was 22, with eight in editorial. Also, the article said that the magazine published every other month. It was published bimonthly until February 2007, when it went to 10 times per year.

That's quite a postmortem from the man who helped develop the magazine's editorial plan. Yet Figueroa, who was also founding editor of People en Espanol, wasn't ready to throw in the toalla at Tu Ciudad. "We created a great magazine which never actually got close to its real potential," he says. "I thought our best days were way into the future."

That was one common regret I heard this week from Figueroa, editor in chief Oscar Garza and publisher Jaime Gamboa. They all wish they had had more time.

Launched in November 2004 with a $5-million commitment from Emmis, the magazine was expected to break even early in its fourth year, says Gamboa. It was still losing money -- an estimated $1.3 million this year -- and was lagging 10 months behind projections. But revenue was trending upward, he says, to a projected $3.1 million this year.

The consensus at Tu Ciudad is that the magazine was hit by "a double whammy," as Figueroa put it: a harsh economy that cut overall ad budgets, plus a particularly tough climate for the parent company's radio division that saw Emmis stock plummet from about $20 per share when the magazine opened to less than $3 today. Emmis issued a one-sentence statement saying Tu Ciudad folded because its financial performance failed to meet expectations. Period. Still, some caution not to interpret this setback as definitive. "New Latino media have always had an uphill battle in getting advertisers, whether it's radio in the 1920s and '30s or SIN [Spanish International Network], the forerunner of Univision" in the '70s, says Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. "Now you see a new force in a new area, English-language print, fighting some of the same battles. But in the long term, I think that's where the audience is going. People are becoming more and more bilingual and there has to be a way to reach them."

Latino magazines have enjoyed some success at a national level, in both languages. In 2007, the top two Hispanic magazines with the highest reported ad revenues were People en Espanol ($49.7 million) and the English-language women's magazine Latina ($36 million), published in New York by Latina Media Ventures. According to Media Economics Group, total ad revenue for Latino magazines rose last year by almost 8% to $263.8 million, led by automakers, hair care products and pharmaceuticals.

But that represents a puny share of the more than $5 billion U.S. companies spend trying to reach the Hispanic market, mostly through TV and radio in Spanish. I've had firsthand experience in this field, so I appreciate how hard it can be. As a student at UC Berkeley in the 1970s, I edited a Chicano monthly, La Voz del Pueblo, published by a student/community group known as Frente. In those days, content was driven by activism, and so was the staffing. We were too tiny (and too political) to attract corporate ads, but I was thrilled when the Tamale Parlor in Hayward bought a small display ad.

The Chicano movement, which fueled so much creativity, has long since faded. But the sense of identity it fostered among second- and third-generation Mexican Americans, not to mention their ambition for better jobs and education, helped shape the market that made Tu Ciudad possible.

It was easy to dismiss Tu Ciudad as frivolous, but for some reason I saved every copy. It filled a void, so it felt important, even historic.

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