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Entering a Crowded Market: Investor Launches a New Daily Newspaper in Puerto Rico

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Entering a Crowded Market: Investor Launches a New Daily Newspaper in Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

A FOURTH DAILY paper is about to enter Puerto Rico's already crammed newspaper market, and nobody in the industry -- including its new publisher -- expects an easy battle.

El Diario, a tabloid like its one English-language and two Spanish-language rivals, has already printed two prototype issues and is scheduled to begin appearing as a five-days-a-week newspaper in early May with a circulation goal of 60,000.

"I think this is the best moment to begin a new Spanish-language paper. There's a need for alternative points of view in Puerto Rico," said Rafael Santos Del Valle, a 51-year-old corporate attorney heading the new venture.

"We did a feasibility study and found that there are four areas abandoned by the other papers: youth, women, senior citizens and those living outside the San Juan metro area. We promise that this paper will cover the whole island, not just San Juan."

Puerto Rico's 3.6 million people already have three dailies to choose from. The largest is El Nuevo Dia, a 230,000-circulation paper thick with ads and sophisticated graphics. Next-largest is El Vocero, whose 200,000 copies splash crime stories on the front page with big, blood-red headlines that appeal mainly to blue-collar workers.

By comparison, the English-language San Juan Star, a Scripps Howard affiliate, sells only 36,000 copies, but its readership consists of tourists, affluent "gringos" and Puerto Ricans who have lived on the U.S. mainland and use English as a second language.

There was a fourth newspaper, El Mundo, but labor problems forced that prestigious paper shut in December 1990 after 68 years of continuous publication. A fifth daily, El Reportero, lasted only eight years until its demise in 1988.

In both cases, the papers found it impossible to compete with El Nuevo Dia, which was founded in 1971 by Antonio Ferre, the son of former Gov. Luis A. Ferre, and has enjoyed steady growth ever since. Many people view El Nuevo Dia as a booster for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP).

"It's not going to be easy [for El Diario] to enter the market," says Francisco Priegues, media director for West Indies & Grey Advertising, one of the island's largest ad agencies. "It would have to compete head-on with El Nuevo Dia and El Vocero.

Adds consultant Alex W. Maldonado, who now writes a political column for the Star: "Anybody who wants to take on El Nuevo Dia better be prepared for a fight."

Maldonado should know. A former editor of El Mundo, he launched El Reportero in 1980; at one point, El Reportero's circulation hit 40,000. "We did well but we couldn't sell enough advertising," he recalls.

Del Valle says that El Reportero failed also because it was too closely aligned in the public mind with the island's Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which advocates continued U.S. commonwealth status for Puerto Rico. Del Valle is a PDP stalwart who headed the Cooperative Development Administration under former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon.

However, he insists he will not let his personal politics interfere with El Diario's editorial content.

"I will take positions that benefit the Puerto Rican people, regardless of the political parties' positions," vows Del Valle in an interview at his 21st-floor office in San Juan's banking district.

He concedes that the bulk of his readership will probably come from among the 800,000 or so Puerto Ricans who voted for the PDP's gubernatorial candidate last November and are now disenfranchised and "without a forum." Their candidate, Sen. Victoria Munoz Mendoza, lost to the NPP's Dr. Pedro Rossello.

Total investment in El Diario is $3.5 million, split equally among Del Valle and 19 other investors, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s, he says. The new paper is to be printed on a 5-year-old, 12-unit Goss Community press in the town of Canovanas. …

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