Saturday, September 02, 2006

Media - Presstime Mag - Ethnic outreach

Published in Presstime, August 2006

Shared Interests

by A.S. Berman | Illustration by Dave Cutler

On June 2, as residents of San Antonio geared up for the quadrennial madness that is the World Cup soccer tournament, a new tabloid hit the area’s Latino grocery stores, restaurants and barber shops.

With 48 pages of predominantly sports-related news coverage in Spanish, the first issue of Cancha put the city’s Hispanic community—nearly 60 percent of San Antonio’s population—on notice that they had a new source for all the upcoming soccer action. It also offered the newspaper industry a new way to look at the foreign-language publication playing field.

While several papers throughout the country are producing their own Hispanic publications, Cancha is the result of a rare partnership between a U.S. newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, and a Mexican media company, Grupo Reforma.

Though unique in its reach across the border, the Cancha collaboration is only the most recent example of a partnership between a mainstream English-language newspaper and an ethnic publication. Whether it’s to enhance content, expand readership, or boost the bottom line through ad-revenue sharing or distribution agreements, such partnerships are slowly catching on at U.S. newspaper companies looking to make cost-effective inroads into new markets.

Borderline Success

In January, representatives of Grupo Reforma, Mexico’s largest newspaper company, approached the management of the San Antonio Express-News with the idea of repurposing content through a partnership. For years, the Mexican media company had been seeking a way to break into the United States’ growing Hispanic marketplace, much the way Univision and other Spanish-language media groups had managed to do with television.
Sergio Salinas of the San Antonio Express-News says partnering with Grupo Reforma to create the sports tabloid Cancha was a smart way to reach local Latino advertisers.
In January, representatives of Grupo Reforma, Mexico’s largest newspaper company, approached the management of the San Antonio Express-News with the idea of repurposing content through a partnership. For years, the Mexican media company had been seeking a way to break into the United States’ growing Hispanic marketplace, much the way Univision and other Spanish-language media groups had managed to do with television.

The conglomerate couldn’t have made its pitch at a better time.

The Express-News, owned by The Hearst Corp. in New York City, started a bilingual weekly called Conexión in May 2004 with the idea of attracting advertising from the small ethnic stores in San Antonio’s Latino community, says Sergio Salinas, executive vice president and general manager of the Express-News. However, because Conexión is aimed at second-, third- and fourth-generation Latinos, it ended up attracting mostly high-end retailers such as Macy’s and Best Buy.

What was needed, the Texas newspaper company realized, was a Spanish-language publication that appealed to first-generation Mexican immigrants in search of news from their native land.

The Express-News quickly signed a deal with Grupo Reforma, whereby the Mexican company would provide all editorial content—Grupo Reforma already published a sports section called Cancha, which means “playing field,” in its Monterrey, Mexico City and Guadalajara newspapers—and the Express-News would sell ads and pay the production costs. Financial details have not been disclosed.

The Houston Chronicle used a partnership to build its own Spanish-language news department, led by, left, Associate Editor Susan Bischoff and Aurora Losada, editor of La Voz.
Originally budgeted for 32 pages, with 16 pages of ads, Cancha debuted as a 48-page tabloid with 24 advertising pages thanks to the tremendous response from the long-coveted “mom-and-pop” businesses. Many of these advertisers—including meat markets, small bakeries and even a truck-driving school—had never advertised before in the pages of the Express-News or Conexión, says Salinas, who’s also the general manager of Cancha. Some ads are sold as a package with Conexión.

With a 25,000-copy print run, Cancha is distributed free every Friday and Monday through hundreds of Hispanic businesses, including barber shops and restaurants. About 60 percent of the paper covers sports, with 20 percent spot news from Mexico, and the rest news features.

“If we’re trying to appeal to a Spanish-only audience, chances are they have very close ties to Mexico and want to read about Mexico,” says Dino Chiecchi, the Express-News’ editor of Hispanic publications. “You can’t beat a product like Grupo Reforma’s—[readers] know the name. Why not give it to them?”

From Partnership to Acquisition

Over the last several years, U.S. newspapers have scrambled to find ways to serve their increasingly diverse markets.

When the Houston Chronicle started looking for a product to address its Hispanic community—hovering around the 40-percent mark—it looked at several options before realizing it already had access to a strong vehicle to reach that market.

In the early 1990s, Olga Ordóñez approached the Chronicle about a partnership with her weekly Spanish-language newspaper, La Voz (“The Voice”). The Chronicle soon began printing the paper, which was founded in 1979, and engaged in some limited cross-selling of advertising under a revenue-sharing arrangement, says Associate Editor Susan Bischoff.

La Voz also was inserted into certain copies of the Chronicle, and some Chronicle stories made it into La Voz after being translated into Spanish.

But in December 2004, after Ordóñez and her husband realized their children were not interested in taking the reins of La Voz, they sold it to the Chronicle.

“When it became clear that we needed to do something [in the Hispanic market], we looked at startups,” says Bischoff, who directs editorial content for the Chronicle’s Spanish-language publications, and helped create its Spanish-language news department in 2004.

However, realizing that they already had a long-standing relationship with a well-respected Hispanic newspaper, those at the Chronicle decided instead to acquire La Voz. “The brand was recognized in the community, and the founders were Latinos,” Bischoff says. “They were established in the community.”

The paper was relaunched last August with a new design that features a single magazine-style feature and some smaller news stories inside. Today, 100,000 copies of La Voz are distributed free throughout the Chronicle’s coverage area, with almost 30,000 of those inserted in copies of the Chronicle.

Prior to purchasing La Voz, the Chronicle formed an agreement with La Opinión, a Spanish-language newspaper published in Los Angeles, to publish a Houston edition of its weekly entertainment magazine, La Vibra (“The Pulse”). The Chronicle receives editorial content and design from La Opinión for a fee. The two newspapers also maintain an advertising sales partnership.

La Vibra, which also includes original Spanish content written by Chronicle staffers about the local entertainment scene, is free and aimed at readers ages 14 to 30, Bischoff says. It has a print run of 100,000 copies, with 70,000 racked in video stores and movie theaters, among other places. The remaining 30,000 are inserted in copies of the Chronicle that are delivered to predominantly Hispanic areas.

Eight full-time employees handle editorial content for both La Voz and La Vibra, with most of their time spent on the former because of its larger demand for local content. Six of the Chronicle’s 200-plus sales reps focus on selling advertising for its Spanish-language products. Because La Voz has had 25 years to build a large stable of steady advertisers, most of the reps’ time is spent selling advertising for La Vibra, Bischoff says.

“It’s been a good business for us in adding to the bottom line.”

Partnering to Spread the Word

WHEN THE CHINA Press in New York City signed a distribution deal with The New York Times Co. in late 2001, both companies stood to gain on the circulation front.

The Times Co. purchases papers wholesale from The China Press, a Chinese-language daily, and sells them for a small profit to some 1,700 retailers and newsstands in the New York tristate area with which it has a relationship. City & Suburban Delivery Systems Inc., a subsidiary of the Times Co. that distributes The New York Times in New York, New Jersey and southern Connecticut, manages all deliveries.

While The China Press, which has an unaudited circulation of approximately 50,000 in New York and 30,000 in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, was able to increase its single-copy sales, the Times Co. has used the popularity of the paper to craft promotions aimed at boosting sales of the Times. The Times Co. often sells its namesake newspaper and one of the ethnic titles it distributes—the Spanish-language paper El Diario, the Russian-language paper Slovo, the Italian-language paper America Oggi or the Greek National Herald, for example—to a retailer at a discounted rate in exchange for the two papers to be sold together, also at a discount.

“While results for the Times varied by publication, our ethnic publication clients enjoyed sales increases throughout the duration of the promotion,” says a Times Co. spokesperson.

— By Jeff Lemberg

Interplanetary Alliance

Last summer, Phoenix Media/Communications Group, publisher of the alternative weekly The Boston Phoenix, bought a 35 percent stake in the free Spanish-language weekly El Planeta (“The Planet”). Though neither side disclosed financial details of the arrangement, Phoenix Executive Vice President Brad M. Mindich makes no bones about why his company was interested in El Planeta and its audience.

“You see a lot of daily newspapers declining as Spanish-language papers grow,” he says. “You can see how quickly it’s growing along with population changes.”

The deal was the result of talks that went on for several years between the two companies; El Planeta is printed by Mass Web Printing Co., which is owned by Phoenix Media. Serious talks began in November 2004, with a final agreement signed in June 2005, says Javier J. Marin, editor of El Planeta and co-founder of its publishing company, Hispanic News Press in Brookline, Mass.

“Citizens Bank, Amtrak, those accounts will look at us as a media outlet for the Hispanic community,” Marin says. “But, because we’re [partially] owned by a long-traditional Anglo media company, they look at us more than at our competitors.”

With Phoenix Media’s investment, the paper went from 15,000 copies a week to 60,000 copies. El Planeta also grew from a single edition to four, covering greater Boston, Lawrence/Lowell and Worcester, Mass., as well as Providence.

Once Phoenix Media decided to enter the Hispanic market, it considered all the possibilities for doing so, Mindich says. It could have started its own product from scratch, or even purchased El Planeta outright, he admits. “Do we like having a controlling interest in things? Of course we do. But while we know how to run newspapers...they know the Hispanic market.”

A partnership made the most sense, he adds, because “if you both have skin in the game, it makes you both work harder. We didn’t want to be just a rep firm for a newspaper. And if you just have [an ad] cross-selling relationship, it sort of barely skims the surface in terms of potential growth.”

Some of the 12 employees who make up the Hispanic News Press team have spent some time at Phoenix Media to see what they could learn about distribution; both papers are free. One of the most important distribution points for El Planeta, it turned out, are small stores where those in Hispanic communities go to buy food, telephone calling cards and other products. The rest of El Planeta is distributed via racks, as well as by hawkers outside 13 subway stations.

Phoenix Media also has helped El Planeta land some regional ads for alcohol products, among others, Mindich says. However, over the last six months, “our biggest push has been presenting to agencies so we can make sure we’re part of the buy, as they’re all looking to reach this particular market. I expect very big things to happen toward the end of this year.”

The Phoenix Media partnership was only the beginning for the paper, though. In June, El Planeta signed a joint ad-sales agreement with the Metro Boston newspaper—in which The New York Times Co. has a 49 percent ownership stake—for a Spanish-language edition of Metro’s Campus Guide, a quarterly supplement covering the area’s colleges and universities.

Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts

Perhaps one of the most interesting types of partnerships today is taking place in a handful of newsrooms around the country.

In September 2005, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami provided a $75,000 grant to the Pacific News Service, founder and now a part of New America Media (—an alliance of 700 ethnic media organizations—to unite ethnic publications with mainstream U.S. newspapers. The pilot program, organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Reston, Va., led to journalists at ethnic newspapers collaborating on stories with reporters at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oakland Tribune and The Sacramento Bee.

“Since many ethnic papers have small staffs, the grant provides money for expenses—especially travel, if necessary,” says Jeanne Fox-Alston, NAA vice president of talent management and diversity.

The first story to be published under the initiative was a February two-part series about the growth of Vietnamese-owned nail salons in South Florida. The stories were written by Macollvie Jean-Francois, a reporter with the Sun-Sentinel, and Dzung Do at the Nguoi Viet Daily News in Westminster, Calif.

“He certainly helped [Jean-Francois] with her approaches in Vietnamese nail salons where they didn’t speak English or feel very comfortable speaking English,” says Sharon Rosenhause, managing editor of the Sun-Sentinel. As the 2005-2006 chairwoman of ASNE’s diversity committee, Rosenhause worked closely with then-President Rick Rodriguez to craft the program.

“The idea was just to see if we could learn from [ethnic newspaper reporters], people who are closer to the communities, and if they could learn from us,” explains Rodriguez, executive editor of The Sacramento Bee.

At presstime, the Bee was gearing up to collaborate with a Sacramento-area reporter from Pacific News Service, a nonprofit daily news syndicate, on an in-depth story about the experiences of several Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia since relocating to California a few years ago. The article will be a follow-up to “Orphans of War,” an award-winning series written by Staff Writer Stephen Magagnini in 2000.

Under the same initiative, the San Francisco Chronicle commissioned a freelance story from Suzanne Bohan, a staff writer for ANG Newspapers in Hayward, Calif., about some of the herbs used in Chinese medicine. The piece examined recently released Federal Drug Administration botanical-testing guidelines.

Bohan co-wrote the story, published in June, with New America Media Reporter Eugenia Chien, who, for this project, was freelancing for the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily, with U.S. news bureaus in San Francisco and New York City.

For their story, The Oakland Tribune and The Afro American Newspaper teamed up to reveal the challenges New Orleans’ African American funeral directors faced immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The collaboration proved so successful that the Tribune is now working on a story with two area Korean-language newspapers—Korea Daily and Korean Times—to shed new light on a controversial police shooting that took place in Dublin, Calif., last summer.

Southern California Synergy

IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, The Orange County Register has long served an audience it could not reach on its own.

Three years after fleeing the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese journalist Yen Ngoc Do started the Nguoi Viet Daily News in Westminster, Calif., to keep his fellow émigrés informed about how to deal with life in their new homeland. Since that time, the Nguoi Viet has grown to a circulation of 17,000, serving Orange County’s more than 135,000 Vietnamese immigrants—the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam.

Over the last 10 years, the Register has worked with the newspaper in many ways, from sponsoring a radio show hosted by Do’s daughter, Anh, to engaging in cross-training workshops with the Nguoi Viet staff. Recently, Marcia Joy Prouse, the Register’s director of photography, and Staff Photographer Cindy Yamanaka spent several hours at the Nguoi Viet newsroom teaching staffers there about the art, and legalities, of photojournalism.

“It’s a relationship that allows us to understand the community and the culture a little bit better,” says Ken Brusic, the Register’s editor and senior vice president. “Our organization didn’t feel like it had the resources to be able to begin our own [Vietnamese] publication, and we certainly didn’t want to exclude a significant number of readers.”

Much of the newspapers’ relationship has centered on the efforts of Anh B. Do, who edits Nguoi Viet 2, a weekly English-language section in her father’s paper. Once a Register reporter, Do now writes a biweekly column for her former employer called Asian Perspectives.

In the last five years, arrangements also have been made to run Register articles—in Vietnamese—in Nguoi Viet. In exchange, Do’s newspaper helps Register reporters find the right people to talk to when they’re working on a story about the Vietnamese community.

Brusic says he hopes that some of his staffers can one day switch places with those at Nguoi Viet for a day or two to “get a better sense of what some of the customs and cultures are in that community. And also, from Nguoi Viet’s standpoint, they could see some different ways to cover the Vietnamese community, and benefit a little bit from how we think and how we operate.” A.S.B.

For nine months, tempers in the San Francisco East Bay region’s Korean community simmered. At presstime, New America Media, The Oakland Tribune, Korea Daily and Korean Times have joined forces to fully investigate the shootings. The results will be published in all of the participating newspapers.

“With the heft of The Oakland Tribune and the accessibility of the Korean community through Korean media, we are able to bring forth a story that was stalled,” says Sandy Close, founder and executive director of New America Media, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

Close says this type of mainstream-ethnic media collaboration will become increasingly important to good journalism as the country becomes more diverse. Ethnic newspaper reporters “know the culture, know the history,” she says. “One reporter can’t do it on his or her own anymore.”

Adds Fox-Alston, “I also think it is the hope of some of the mainstream papers that they will identify some good reporters in the process—some they can hire. A lot of young people who in the past may have considered more of a mainstream career are going to ethnic papers because it’s more closely in line with their interests.”

For his part, Rodriguez hopes media collaborations will grow into a regular practice, both at the Bee and at newspapers around the country. But, he admits, it is an idea that “really has to have a champion.

“I think there could be a commitment here, but how do you get it to go to other newspapers?” he says. “It’s the same question we’ve asked about newsroom diversity.”

[ Presstime Magazine ]

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.