One Man's 'La Opinion'

Article excerpt

Seventy-five years after its founding by Ignacio E. Lozano, the Los Angeles daily has become the largest Spanish-language paper in the United States

Like a favorite Los Angeles landmark beloved by locals and ignored by tourists, La Opinion has been hiding in plain sight for decades. It has become the largest, most successful, and most influential Spanish-language daily newspaper ever published in the United States -- yet east of Pasadena it has a surprisingly low profile.

The Miami Herald's sibling Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, generated national publicity when it defied the industry circulation slump by posting gains of 6% to 8% in recent Audit Bureau of Circulations six- month reporting periods. But, with almost no hoopla, La Opinion has racked up circulation increases of 10% in each of the last four reporting periods.

Ask the average Madison Avenue media buyer to name the biggest U.S. Spanish-language daily, and chances are he or she will name one of two tabloids on sale at Manhattan newsstands: the 53,843-circulation El Diario La Prensa or Newsday's 3-year-old Hoy, which sells 53,794 copies daily. As a broadsheet with weekday circulation of 118,080, La Opinion is twice as big as either in paper size as well as sales. It's the only Spanish- language newspaper that makes E&P's list of the 100 biggest U.S. dailies.

In fact, according to the Gallup Poll of Media Usage released in June, La Opinion, aided by a pass-along readership that averages about five adults a copy, has a daily readership of 679,403, a 29% increase from Gallup's 1999 study. By audience measure then, La Opinion is the second-most-read daily newspaper in the Los Angeles market, ahead of the L.A. Daily News.

In a market fragmented among 17 Spanish-language radio stations, nearly every Hispanic household in L.A. sees a La Opinion-branded print product. Every Wednesday, its total-market-coverage (TMC) product, La Opinion Semanal, is delivered to 600,000 homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanic households. And the paper is planning a Sunday TMC that would reach 1 million households.

But the real story about La Opinion isn't so much its size in a market that is home to 20% of all U.S. Hispanics, who make up one of the nation's fastest-growing demographic segments. Nor is it that La Opinion, which was founded in 1926 and began the 1990s with a circulation of barely 60,000, is outpacing the growth of its prime demographic.

More importantly, La Opinion provides a complex and sophisticated model for newspapers that want to succeed in the 21st-century's multicultural market. La Opinion is something very different from the traditional ethnic paper that relies almost entirely on a seat-of-the-pants feel for the community it serves -- or the corporate creations that consider their ethnic audience just another marketing niche.

Still, at first blush, La Opinion's model appears to be a formula of contradictions.

The newspaper continually upgrades its market-segmentation and database efforts -- yet it excels at public-service journalism that some complain crosses the line into political advocacy. It is proud of its deep family roots, and just last month, with the grandchildren of founder Ignacio E. Lozano at its helm, La Opinion celebrated its 75th anniversary. Yet, for the past dozen years, 50% of the paper's parent company, Lozano Communications, has belonged to a media giant, first the Times Mirror Co. and then, after its March 2000 acquisition, the Tribune Co. in Chicago.

La Opinion is a pillar of L.A.'s Hispanic establishment -- yet it's shaking up its staid image by introducing the Thursday youth-oriented tab "La Vibra" ("The Vibe") and by co-sponsoring just about any rock en espaNol concert that can attract a crowd.

"Somewhere along the way, I think [the Lozanos] began to realize La Opinion is truly an institution, a business, and no longer just a sort of mouthpiece for the community," says James E. …