By Elena Shore
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
Latino journalists are disturbed by what they fear could be a new trend in the Hispanic media market: the outsourcing of ethnic media.
In California’s Silicon Valley, where high-tech industries have found they can produce the same product overseas for a fraction of the cost, one media company is following suit, shutting down its local Spanish-language paper and replacing it with a tabloid produced in Mexico.
The San Jose Mercury News announced Oct. 21 that it is closing its nine-year-old Spanish-language weekly Nuevo Mundo in order to cut costs. It is also selling its Vietnamese-language weekly Viet Mercury.
Knight Ridder, owner of the Mercury News, is replacing Nuevo Mundo with Fronteras de la Noticia, a weekly Mexican tabloid based in the city of León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. Produced by Mexico’s Danilo Black Company and sold by the United Press Syndicate, Fronteras is already being published by the nearby Contra Costa Times, another Knight Ridder paper.
Mexican newspapers may share cultural similarities with Spanish-language papers in the United States, but the needs of U.S. Latino readers are intrinsically different from the needs of those living in Mexico, says Jose Luis Benavides, journalism professor at California State University, Northridge and creator of the first Spanish-language journalism minor in the country. “They may speak the language but they don’t understand the context,” he says.
Ethnic media has a history of helping migrant communities to assimilate, says Benavides. “They tell readers where to get vaccinations for their kids and how to operate in this country,” he says, along with covering issues of concern to their communities, including immigration, education and health all of which can only be covered by local reporters.
According to an employee of the San Jose Mercury News who did not wish to be named, the outsourcing of ethnic media represents “maquilajournalism,” and is akin to “a U.S. corporation killing off one of its own to bring in a foreign product.”
Replacing Nuevo Mundo with what he calls “a cookie-cutter, low-cost, factory-produced tabloid from Mexico” comes “at the cost of the quality of journalism and U.S. Latino journalists’ jobs,” he says.
Felix Gutierrez, professor of journalism at USC Annen-berg’s School for Communication, says Knight Ridder’s move to import a paper from Mexico is indicative of what’s going on in the industry as a whole. “Anytime you can produce for pesos and sell for dollars,” Gutierrez says, “you’re going to make money.”
Nuevo Mundo hired a local staff, but its entrance into the market nine years ago was nevertheless met with protest. Frank Andrade, publisher of the 27-year-old newspaper La Oferta, was part of a group that objected to the newspaper’s tactic of giving money and free ad space to nonprofit organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and then asking them to sign an exclusivity contract with the paper.
Andrade was unable to prevent Nuevo Mundo from carrying out these business practices. But nine years later, La Oferta has a circulation of 103,000 and Nuevo Mundo, with a circulation of 57,000, is shutting down. Andrade was even asked if he wanted to buy Nuevo Mundo, an offer he turned down.
He says his newspaper outlasted Nuevo Mundo because La Oferta represents a more authentic voice. “We’re 100 percent Hispanic owned,” he says, “and we know the customs and traditions of Hispanics.”
Corporate interest in Spanish-language media is nothing new. “Our industry is vulnerable,” says Jonathan Sanchez, associate publisher and chief operating officer of Eastern Group Publications, an independent chain of bilingual newspapers in Southern California. “Mainstream corporations see the potential of the market and see an opportunity to make money,” he says.
“What’s new is that this time, we’re being approached by people from other countries,” says Sanchez, who says investors recently offered to buy his own newspaper and replace it with one produced in Latin America.
According to Sanchez, the main factor that determines why some ethnic media survive and others don’t is a lack of capital to compete with large corporate players. “In publishing, you have to run your paper as a business,” he says. “On the other hand, you have to be the voice of schools, the young, the elderly, etc. It’s a catch-22.”
On the other hand, corporations like Knight Ridder may understand the business model and outspend their poorer ethnic media counterparts, but lack the community component to attract and maintain a loyal readership.
“There’s a lot more to running a newspaper than publishing,” says Andrade. “You have to be a community leader.”
Andrade sees the outsourcing of ethnic media as a national trend: Fronteras already appears in 14 U.S. markets. But he isn’t worried.
“If [Fronteras] comes in the area and thinks it’s going to be a quick kill, they’re wrong. It’s not going to make a difference,” Andrade says. “In the newspaper business, there are no shortcuts. You have to earn every cent that you secure.”