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Ownership and Economics

Newsroom Investment, Ownership and Economics

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Again, information for these areas is scarce, though growing.

In 2004 Professor Federico Subervi, a media consultant who lives in Austin, Texas, released a survey of news professionals at Spanish-language outlets. The data contain some interesting nuggets of information, but cannot be compared longitudinally over time.

For most of the ethnic press, ownership is not a complicated matter. Shares are not traded on the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. A person or a group of people or a family decides their community needs to be served by a news outlet and a “media organization” is born. Operations are often hand-to-mouth, and advertising revenues are usually generated by a handful of local businesses, many of which are owned by members of the local ethnic community.

But now some of the larger ethnic groups – again, particularly Spanish-speakers but also some Asians – are finding that larger-scale advertisers are interested in reaching their communities. At the same time, some large owners have waded pretty deeply into the pool of the ethnic media. NBC’s purchase of the Hispanic network Telemundo and Tribune’s launch of its “Hoy” dailies are prime examples.

As we reported last year, two primary models of ownership exist: one in which English-language companies buy into or create ethnic outlets and another in which ethnic outlets try to join together to compete with English-language giants. There is not yet a winner between those two approaches, nor do we expect one anytime soon. They could simply survive as alternative practices. But the last year has presented some new wrinkles in the game.

Newsroom Investment

The survey data from Professor Subervi also revealed that those surveyed, 400 newsroom professionals working at Spanish-language and other Latino-oriented news media, came mostly from the print (56%) and broadcast media (39%) with the rest coming from a variety of other kinds of outlets.1

Some additional findings:

The survey also indicated that those who work in the Spanish-language media are relative newcomers to the U.S. More than 90% of the journalists who responded were born in another country, as were 90% of the managers. Still, the respondents were well rooted in the U.S.; 56% were U.S. citizens and 24% were permanent residents.5

Citizenship of Spanish-language News Professionals
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Source: National Association of Hispanic Journalists survey of news professionals

The survey also found that all the respondents had received “some type of education or training in journalism,” with half receiving journalism education in the U.S. And most respondents had attended at least two years of college.

When it came to pay and working situations, however, the study found that many of the respondents were working in less than an ideal situation. Even among those who were employed full-time, nearly a third were working without a contract. And 5% of journalists and 3% of managers were working under an “informal agreement.” Incomes were spread over wide range, but with many clumped in the middle, $25,000 to $49,999. That income range accounted for the majority of respondents – male and female, journalist and manager – for all groups except male newsroom managers.

Income of Spanish-Language News Professionals
By gender and job description
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Source: National Association of Hispanic Journalists survey of news professionals

The survey also found, perhaps not surprisingly, that TV still had the best-paying jobs in the Spanish-language media. Higher incomes were reported most frequently among those journalists who were born in the U.S., were citizens, had contracts and worked in TV newsrooms where news was produced daily.


In the big picture of the ethnic media, the outlook is clearly positive. The sheer number of outlets today, compared to a decade or two ago, reflects unmistakable growth. Beyond the Spanish-language media, however, there are three large barriers preventing large-scale national growth.

Again, in economic numbers the Spanish-language media have the most to offer. The Latino Print Network has captured the growth of ad revenues for the Spanish-language newspapers. The data show remarkable increases, but like the circulation numbers there is a proviso here – these numbers are largely self-reported.

Spanish Language U.S. Newspaper Ad Revenue
Select years, 1970 – 2003
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Source: Kirk Whisler & Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, CA

Even from 2000 to 2003, when the U.S. economy was going through a slow period, ad dollars for Spanish-language newspapers actually increased by more than $250 million according to the Latino Print Network figures, growth that is stunning if accurate. Accuracy is a big question here, particularly considering the tough times the largest Spanish-language dailies have had with circulation. And according to LPN, most of the ad revenues came from the forty Spanish-language dailies.6

Spanish Language Newspaper Ad Revenues by Publication Category, 2004
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Source: Kirk Whisler & Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, CA

Assuming those numbers are right, or at least partially right, they would seem to suggest that the Spanish-language papers with the brightest future are less likely to be supplements to other reading and more likely to be the papers that audiences turn to for news every day. Such papers, after all, provide the most direct competition for the bigger advertising dollars that normally go to the English-language dailies. Most English-language dailies – and other English-language news media, for that matter – have declining audiences. Advertisers looking for another avenue probably see a lot to like in the Spanish-language press. It offers a chance to reach a growing demographic and a chance to target ads with a more directed appeal.

At the same time there may be questions about the long-term viability of those papers. If, as use numbers show, Spanish-speakers rely more on English-language papers than Hispanic ones, and if the circulation slowdown at some Spanish-language papers continues, it’s not clear that the ad dollar numbers are accurate and, if they are, that they will continue to rise in this way.

But there are other signs of growth among Hispanic media outlets. In October 2004 Univision signed a $100 million television and radio advertising contract with Miller Brewing.7 Even before the deal, in the first six months of 2004, the company’s net income was more than double what it was in the first half of 2003 – $115 million versus $54 million.8 That follows steady increases over the past few years in net income, from $54.7 million in 2001 to $155.4 million in 2003.9

Univision Net Income, 2001-2003
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Source: Hoover’s Online,–ID__51512–/free-co-fin-factsheet.xhtml

Univision seems to be the big winner so far in its race with NBC-owned Telemundo. When NBC purchased the then second-place Spanish broadcaster in 2002, the assumption was that Telemundo was primed for a run to compete with Univision. But revenue numbers on Telemundo are not readily available, and Univision seems to be scoring the biggest gains in viewers.

Outside of the Spanish-language media, there simply isn’t much hard information on the economic situation of the ethnic press. Some reports indicate that the black press was hit particularly hard by the economic downturn that began in 2001, with some papers seeing ad declines of 40% to 50%.10


The last 12 months have brought some interesting changes in ownership in the ethnic news media. As the growth of audiences continued through the last decade, a question emerged about what the ethnic press of the future might look like. Would the various ethnic communities across the country grow to the point where large, English-language companies would begin trying to buy into the audiences that they missed with their mainstream outlets? That happened relatively early on with Knight-Ridder’s creation El Nuevo Herald to capture readers who might not read The Miami Herald. Or, as the ethnic populations grew, would competitors from outside the traditional big media companies emerge and develop their own foreign-language equivalents of the English-language chains? That has happened in television with Univision, which has evolved into the fifth-largest television network in America.

In the past year, Spanish-language papers in the three largest U.S. cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – were joined under one company, ImpreMedia. La Opinion in Los Angeles, El Diario/La Prensa in New York and La Raza, a Chicago weekly, will now find out if a national corporate identity and presumably a more nationalized approach to some ad sales is a ticket to better times. Together La Opinion and El Diario/La Prensa have a daily circulation of more than 175,000,11 and La Raza reports a weekly readership of nearly 170,000.12 In theory the three could create a force in the Spanish-language print market in terms of ad sales and the ability to share bureau resources. But while the readers of all three papers speak Spanish, the similarities between their readerships end there. The papers serve very different populations – La Opinion largely a Mexican immigrant group, El Diario and La Raza a more diverse readership from a variety of Latin American countries. It seems thus far that there is no rush to create one national paper out of the three. In part that may be due to respect for each paper’s individual identity, but it may also stem from the belief that a true merging of the papers into a national daily wouldn’t work.

At the same time, Tribune Company, which once co-owned La Opinion, has pushed forward with a version of Hoy on newsstands in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But Tribune has run into problems. After news of circulation skullduggery broke, the paper’s re-audit showed that its supposed 92,000 daily circulation was overstated by some 46% and that the actual number was under 50,000.13 The bigger question for Tribune, however, is whether the company, which may want to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to all its Hoys, will understand the differences in the populations it is dealing with.

On a more local scale, Meximerica Media launched four daily newspapers in Texas in 2004. The papers, all called Rumbo (Spanish for “heading north”) are based in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and an area comprising Starr, Cameron and Hidalgo counties. The four colorful, sharply designed tabloids are just the first step for Meximerica, which was funded by the Spanish company Recoletos Grupo de Comunicacion S.A. to the tune of $16.5 million in 2004. The company says it is considering “outside of Texas in 2005.”14

Traditionally English-language companies continue to step into the foreign-language marketplace, though as a rule gingerly. In the Dallas-Fort Worth market, Knight-Ridder and Belo have Spanish-language papers competing with each other, La Estrella and Al Dia respectively. In Denver the Media News Group’s Post and Scripps’s Rocky Mountain News, which are run under a joint operating agreement, are working together on a Hispanic weekly that would take on the long-time weekly La Voz. In Detroit, another JOA city, the News (Gannett) and Free Press (Knight-Ridder) are reportedly looking into starting a weekly to compete with the local bilingual weekly El Central. Over all, mainstream news organizations own 46 (mostly weekly) Hispanic publications that have a combined circulation of 2.9 million, according to the Latino Print Network.15

And it is not just Hispanic publications. In San Jose, Knight-Ridder’s Mercury News has been running the weekly Viet Mercury, a newspaper aimed at the area’s large Vietnamese population, since 1999. San Jose is a special situation, with 110,000 Vietnamese Americans living in a relatively small area that is easy to target. The population has its own shops and businesses, and the Viet Mercury allows the Mercury News to tap into it. Interestingly, the Viet Mercury looks like a local Vietnamese-American newspaper rather than a copy of the San Jose Mercury in Vietnamese.16

In radio, Clear Channel, the medium’s giant, announced in September 2004 that it was launching a bigger push into the Spanish-language market. The company had only 18 Spanish-language stations when it announced the move. It says it plans to convert 25 more stations to the format in 2005 and early 2006. The step suggests that Clear Channel, which controls more than 1,200 stations, has decided it needs a larger share of the growing Spanish-language market. But even adding those 25 stations would mean less than 4% of the company’s total would be broadcasting in Spanish.17

In television, where there are fewer outlets, there is a more clear-cut winner so far in the competition between the two ownership approaches: Hispanic-run Univision is ahead of NBC-run Telemundo. How successful has Univision been? It doesn’t just run the most popular Spanish-language network in the U.S., it also runs the second most popular, Telefutura, aimed at a younger audience.

The question for NBC is relatively straightforward: Are Telemundo’s struggles a function of bad management or poor programming or could it be that the network simply hasn’t put the resources into Telemundo that it needs to compete? NBC and Telemundo haven’t sat completely still. Like Univision, Telemundo has added a second network, Mun2, or Mundos, aimed at younger viewers, aged 18 to 34. But over all, Telemundo is something of a side-project for NBC, one of many networks the broadcast giant is using to reassemble the mass audience it had when it was one of only three options available to viewers. It is competing with a company, Univision, for which Spanish-language broadcasting isn’t one of many missions, but the only mission. So far, the competitor with the singular focus is riding high.


As the nation’s immigrant population grows, it seems almost certain that the universe of the ethnic media will continue to expand. The growth, however, is likely to be anything but uniform. The many different ethnic media that already exist in the U.S. are likely to grow in their own different directions and at their own different paces.

And even within those ethnic communities there is diversity in what different outlets provide. The content of the ethnic newspapers we examined varied greatly. Some were focused largely on news from readers’ home countries; others were more like mainstream newspapers simply printed in a different language. The papers face unique challenges. They are charged with two missions at once, providing readers with news about their old homes and about their new one. How the papers handle those missions will ultimately have a large impact on how the nation’s new immigrants come to understand U.S. culture and government and their place in their new country.

Economically speaking, the ethnic media are operating on at least two tracks: The small-scale, local business model of most ethnic media and the large-scale national model of some of the Spanish-language press. Unlike the media of other ethnic groups, the Hispanic media have audiences large enough to lead to the formation of fledgling newspaper chains and national broadcast networks. It’s not clear when or whether other ethnicities, with smaller populations, will be able to follow that growth path.

One great unknown in the discussion of the ethnic media is how U.S. government policy will affect immigration, and ultimately the next generation of ethnic media readers, listeners and viewers. Extremely strict limitations could affect the growth in ethnic outlets.

But even with government restrictions, it seems likely the ethnic media will continue to grow to some extent because they represent larger trends in the media and the broader culture: segmentation and personalization. These outlets provide a product to ethnic groups that they can’t get elsewhere.


1. Subervi, Federico, NAHJ Survey of News Professionals Working at Spanish-Language Media Companies in the U.S., August 2004.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. “Hispanic Publication Advertising Sales in 2003,” Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, CA.

7. “Univision, Miller Toast $100 Million ad Deal,” Los Angeles Business, October8, 2004.

8. Ibid.

9. Hoover’s Book’s Online, November 2004 data.

10. Hooker, Cliff, “Hard News: Black newspapers fighting against the worst climate in decades,” Black Enterprise, December 2002.

11. Audit Bureau of Circulations, El Diario, La Opinion

12. Impremedia website,

13. Audit Bureau of Circulations audit report for Hoy

14. Meximerica Press materials.

15. Porter, Tim, “Dismantling the Language Barrier,” American Journalism Review, October/November 2003.

16. San Jose Mercury News website,

17. Leeds, Jeff, “Clear Channel ready to push Spanish radio,” New York Times News Service, September 17, 2004.