Border crossings: Long-time champion El Paso-Times faces new rivals

Many large US newspaper publishers, such as Gannett and Media News Group, are struggling to adapt their content to the demands of an increasing Hispanic population, without alienating their traditional “white” readers. These problems are exacerbated in the border states of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona by new, up-and-coming publishers, mostly Mexican (see “Mexican publishers expand into the Southwestern United States,” page 1, Portadatm No.2 May/June 2003), who are offering print media to advertisers specifically interested in Hispanics.

Mexican publisher Osvaldo Rodriguez Borunda publishes El Diario in Ciudad Juarez (Mexico). El Diario (circulation 87,000) was launched in 1976. It is Chihuahua's largest newspaper and Mexico's fourth largest daily. Sixty thousand copies are distributed daily in Ciudad Juarez, 20,000 additional copies in Chihuahua>City and 7,000 across the border in El Paso. Now, Rodriguez Borunda intends to publish a newspaper similar to El Diario, in El Paso (Texas), to compete with Gannett owned El Paso-Times.

Of its 100 daily publications, Gannet only faces competition in two other cities – Greenbay, Wisconsin and Honolulu, Hawaii. With the publication of El Diario in El Paso, Borunda hopes to make it three.

Rodriguez Borunda recently told the New York Times that, in his view, El Paso-Times only caters to El Paso's white elite, and neglects El Paso's large majority of Hispanics. Seventy-eight percent of El Paso's 670,000 inhabitants are Hispanic (mostly Mexican).

Rodriguez Borunda is also considering a newspaper venture in Tijuana, Mexico, near San Diego, Calif., hoping to sell to an underserved Spanish-speaking audience similar to that of Juarez/El Paso. He is expected to make a decision as early as August.

El Paso-Times, run by and for English-speaking Hispanics

Mack Quintana, publisher of El Paso-Times explained to the New York Times that El Paso-Times does not want to publish in Spanish, aside from a weekly supplement called Vecinos started in 1991, because, in his view, the education level of recent arrivals is “much lower” than the level of existing residents. The newspaper has websites in both English and Spanish, but the English site offers more in-depth content. According to Bruno Larosa, Marketing Director at El-Paso Times, there are already two newspapers in Spanish in Ciudad Juarez (El Diario and another one called El Norte) with relatively low circulations. “The market does not seem ripe for a third one.”

El Paso-Times was founded in 1881 and joined Gannett in 1972. It has a daily circulation of 75,127, and a circulation of 93,425 on Sundays. It serves residents of far West Texas and southern New Mexico. In 2003, Hispanics made up 61.4% of the El Paso-Times newsroom, the largest minority share in any Gannett newspaper and among the top ten US newsrooms ranked by percentage of minorities on their staffs.

Are national advertisers interested?

According to Bruno Larosa, marketing director at El Paso- Times, national advertisers are very interested in reaching Hispanics, but mostly in the five biggest markets (Los Angeles, New York, Puerto Rico, Miami and Chicago). “Even though 80% of El Paso's 700,000 inhabitants are Hispanics, the absolute number of Hispanics is not high enough to attract many national advertisers,” Larosa told Portadatm.

However, El Paso-Times has several initiatives to increase its popularity among Hispanics. It distributes some of its content and advertising daily across the border through a distribution agreement with El Norte in Ciudad Juarez, a competitor of El Diario.

Redesign

Recent changes in readership have led to a redesigned El Paso-Times, which premiered January 27, 2003. Times executives wanted to appeal to younger El Pasoans, mostly Hispanics, between 18 and 34 years old. “About four of every five people in our market are Hispanic predominately first, second and third generation Mexican-Americans. Our market tends to be several years younger than most and educational attainment and income levels are lower,” wrote Carlita Montoya Costello, assistant managing editor of design at El Paso-Times, in a paper published by Gannett in April. Median family household income in El Paso is $31,051, and the median age of the population is 30. While trying to attend to the needs of a younger population, the newspaper had the “challenge of nurturing its core readership, who was looking to get fundamental health, business and lifestyle information from our pages,” Montoya Costello added.

Focus groups comparing newspapers

The redesign recommendations were based on focus groups led by executive editor Bob Moore, with help from marketing experts at the Arizona Republic. “Focus group participants were asked to compare the El Paso-Times to two newspapers from neighboring Juarez, Mexico,” wrote Montoya Costello. “They asked for more news columns, more color on covers and inside pages, larger headlines, larger color photographs and more entry points. We were also asked for more business/international news and more local sports coverage. Finally, we were asked to remember the time constraints and educational levels of our readers.” El Paso-Times adapted its content and design (see chart) to most of these demands. Montoya Costello claims that both copy and home delivery sales have increased since the new and improved newspaper was launched.


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