[Metroactive News&Issues]

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Todo El Mundo

La Oferta Review
Hard Pressed: Franklin and Mary Andrade, publishers of La Oferta Review, say the Mercury News' competitive practices have hurt their newspaper.

Photo by Christopher Gardner

In pursuit of profits for Nuevo Mundo, the Mercury News plays hardball with the local Hispanic press

By Michael Learmonth

WHEN MARY AND FRANKLIN Andrade 19 years ago published the first issue of La Oferta Review, a Spanish-English news weekly, it was on a Varityper in their San Jose home. As San Jose's Hispanic community grew in size and affluence, the Andrades moved into a bigger space on North Fourth Street and borrowed $300,000 to buy their own printing press.

"We're still paying on it, but it's worth it," Franklin Andrade says proudly. "Just going back there and watching it run; then I have the paper in my hands and it makes me happy."

But after reaching a circulation high of 25,500 last year, La Oferta's growth has slowed dramatically and the Andrades have begun to feel like outcasts in their own community. Suddenly, they've been getting a polite "no thanks" from longtime allies such as the Hispanic Women's Council, the American GI Forum and even their tenants, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, when they have offered to sponsor conferences and cultural events. This year, the Cinco de Mayo celebration, which La Oferta began sponsoring in the mid-1980s, went on without them.

Last May the San Jose Mercury News launched Nuevo Mundo, part of the daily paper's push to reach the South Bay's Hispanic population. Since then, Mercury News management has poured the power and resources of the paper's parent company, Knight-Ridder, into the semi-slick weekly publication, distributing 68,000 copies every week and leaving San Jose's three Hispanic-owned newspapers--La Oferta, El Observador and Alianza Metropolitan News--gasping for air.

"David and Goliath is a symbol for us," says Alianza editor George Villalobos. "We don't even have a chance."

FOR NUEVO MUNDO'S May 3, 1996, launch, the Mercury News rolled out the red carpet. "It's something we have to do for our future," Mercury News publisher Jay T. Harris was quoted as saying in a prepublication front-page story. "We want to be the newspaper for all people here." The day Nuevo Mundo hit the streets the Mercury News ran another announcement, calling it an "expensive challenge" and adding that the paper's debut at 40 pages was 25 percent larger than planned.

Six months later, the Mercury News reported that the "owners of competitive local newspapers welcomed the publication."

Before Nuevo Mundo, if national advertisers wanted to reach Santa Clara County's 400,000 Hispanics, the Hispanic papers were an attractive option. Budweiser advertised in Alianza for seven years. This year, Villalobos lost the account and now sees Budweiser ads in Nuevo Mundo.

Villalobos notes that other advertisers he pursued for years--such as Bank of America and Mexicana Airlines--also began advertising in Nuevo Mundo this year.

From his office in the Alum Rock neighborhood of San Jose, Villalobos views Nuevo Mundo as "hostile competition" because the paper lowballs its advertising rates to steal business from the established Hispanic press. Alianza sells ad space for $15 an inch. Nuevo Mundo, which claims three times the circulation, charges a dollar more. La Oferta charges $30 an inch.

In the Mercury's November story, Nuevo Mundo staff denied predatory ad pricing, saying "competitors are uneasy because Nuevo Mundo has started to acquire national accounts ... which are coveted by the ethnic and other non-mainstream papers."

THE EDITORIAL STAFF of Nuevo Mundo, parked in a section of the Mercury corporate offices, is smaller than that of some of the Hispanic-owned papers. Editor Lorenzo Romero notes that the paper has a staff of five, but not one actual staff writer. He says the paper has the budget for a reporter, but after a year the position has not yet been filled.

The opening pages of Nuevo Mundo contain letters to the editor and sometimes a column. One recent column recounted the writer's trip to Spain. Another, written by Mercury News columnist Joe Rodriquez, suggested a way to "save" the Cinco de Mayo festival. Assistant Editor Reynaldo Mena frequently pens a column about what he's found on the Internet.

Inside, Nuevo Mundo turns to wire services for the news. Most of the international stories come from the Associated Press and Reuters. Some come from Knight-Ridder's more established Spanish-language paper in Miami, El Nuevo Herald. Some are translated directly from the Mercury News. The cover story is written by a freelance writer "especial para Nuevo Mundo."

Mary Andrade maintains La Oferta's readers can tell the difference between a Hispanic paper and an "Anglo" paper written in Spanish.

"Some of their reporters are Spanish-speakers, but it is a problem they are facing," she says. "Up to this point, they have not reached the Hispanic community."

"Hispanics are not picking it up," Franklin Andrade says. "They know it's an Anglo paper."

On a recent Thursday afternoon, after Nuevo Mundo had been out six days, 36 copies were stacked high in front of the Mexican mercado at First and William streets. The shiny, black box in front of the Federal Building on First and Santa Clara contained nine copies. (Every morning, a queue of immigrants forms there for citizenship papers.) At the bus stop in the transit mall: 42 copies. At the bus stop at First and Post: 24 copies. At Second and San Carlos: 63 copies. In front of La Peñita restaurant at First and Reed: 37 copies. By contrast, readers looking for La Oferta or El Observador six days after publication are lucky to find a crumpled copy on the bottom of the box.

On Friday morning, the box in front of the mercado was replenished with 72 copies of the new edition.

Angela Liberman, director of ethnic marketing, wouldn't say how many Mundos are pitched into the recycling bin at the end of the week.

In launching Nuevo Mundo, the Mercury News joins dozens of major daily newspapers around the country that hope to tap the growing Hispanic market. Knight-Ridder's flagship paper, the Miami Herald, launched El Nuevo Herald in 1989, and it became a tremendous success.

According to Kirk Whisler, publisher of the National Hispanic Media Directory, there are 1,100 Spanish-language publications in the United States, with 367 owned by non-Hispanic companies.

While daily newspapers watch their readership decline, circulation numbers for the Hispanic-owned press have risen from 1.7 million in 1970 to 12.8 million today. In 1970 Hispanic-owned papers took in $15.8 million in ad revenue. In 1990 it was $141 million.

Penetrating ethnic communities has been a top priority for Mercury News publisher Jay T. Harris. Though Harris did not return several phone calls for this article, he has spoken about the issue publicly in the past. During a talk at UC-Berkeley two years ago, Harris said that reaching ethnic communities was crucial to the future of the Mercury News, and to daily papers in general.

"Why are mainstream dailies looking at this market?" Whisler asks. "They are looking at those numbers right there. Any industry in the world would want that growth."

TO SECURE A POSITION in the Hispanic community, Nuevo Mundo created an advisory board of Hispanic leaders that includes Fernando Zazueta, chaimrman of the Mexican Heritage Corporation; Esther Medina, director of the Mexican American Community Services Agency; Carmen Johnson, chairwoman of the Hispanic Women's Council; and SJSU professor Tony S. Carrillo to critique and help guide the publication.

For some of these Hispanic leaders, the Mercury News' investment in the Hispanic community was a validation of its growing influence.

"It feels terrific to have a sober, money-oriented, profit-oriented corporation say this is a good investment," Zazueta says. "We were an invisible minority for a long time."

In its first year, the paper inked sponsorship agreements with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Women's Council and the GI Forum that give Nuevo Mundo and the Mercury News exclusive rights to sponsor these groups' events, as well as the right of first refusal to sponsor the events for years to come.

"We are Hispanic. We have been supporting the community for many years," Mary Andrade says. "They want their banner in front of the audience, exclusively. They try to portray that they are the only ones interested in the community."

Recently, La Oferta has found itself virtually shut out of Hispanic events. When the Hispanic Women's Council asked La Oferta to sponsor its conference, La Oferta responded, offering $3,780 in free advertising. Then, on April 4, Mary Andrade got a letter from council president Liz Martinez, who wrote: "Due to a previous invitation from the San Jose Mercury News, we committed to their sponsorship."

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also asked La Oferta to sponsor their "Bridge '97" conference. La Oferta obliged with an offer to print an advertisement worth $945. After they were approached by Nuevo Mundo, the chamber withdrew its request.

"Unfortunately, we signed the agreement and gave [Nuevo Mundo] exclusivity to this event," says Alex Torres, president of the Chamber. "We didn't consider the ramifications. In hindsight, we should have negotiated closer with the Mercury News."

Since then, Torres has tried to apologize to the Andrades. But for Mary Andrade, it is more than pride that has been wounded. By being shut out of Hispanic-oriented events, the Hispanic publishers believe their visibility and credibility in the community is compromised. Says Andrade: "People ask me, 'What happened to the Spanish newspaper?' "

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the May 29-June 4, 1997 issue of Metro

This page was designed and created by the Boulevards team.
Copyright © 1997 Metro Publishing, Inc.