Ethnic papers are often left out of the discussion when it comes to the death of the newspaper industry. And so it came as a surprise to us that the nation's oldest Spanish language paper, El Diaro La Prensa, is actually thriving. El Diaro executive editor Alberto Vourvoulias explains why.
Artist: Talk Talk
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you read about all those papers struggling to beat the reaper, it might surprise you to learn that not every paper is recoiling from the sharp edge of his scythe. I do love grisly metaphors. In our coverage, we've overlooked the newspapers that cater to growing immigrant populations in major cities around the country. El Diario La Prensa, based here in New York City, is the nation’s oldest and one of its largest Spanish language newspapers. Executive editor Alberto Vourvoulias explains that El Diario is actually thriving. ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: El Diario has been the fastest-growing newspaper in America two out of the last three years. Ad sales have suffered due to the recession, but we're doing better than any other newspaper I know. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what makes you so special? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Well, I think we're better than all other newspapers, of course. [BROOKE LAUGHS] But in addition to that, El Diario knows its readership, and we have a readership that on the one hand involves Latinos in the New York/New Jersey area, recent immigrants as well as people who have been here for several generations, and also our audience is very much a working-class/lower-middle-class audience. We feel that the information we provide to them is essential information that really is most effectively given through a newspaper form rather than through other media. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And why is that? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Many of our readers don't have desk jobs, which means they don't spend all day in front of a monitor checking up on websites to see what the latest news is. And, therefore, they take the paper into the office, share it with the people they work with, take it home at night and share it with their families. BROOKE GLADSTONE: New York has the second largest Hispanic population in the country? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: That’s correct. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And your audience is pretty diverse. ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: It’s very diverse. In fact, New York has the most diverse Hispanic population I know of. In terms of our readership, we have an important number of readers from every country in Latin America, so we very much know that our readers live, like so many of us, with a foot in two different worlds. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you don't have the usual international, national and local desks at the paper. You seem to cover international stories like local stories. ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Absolutely, a number of different neighborhoods in New York that are tied to different communities in Latin America. For example, doing some local reporting we came across a story involving the problems facing the fast-growing Mexican community in Staten Island, and so we did coverage about some harassment issues, possible anti-Hispanic crimes in Staten Island. The reporter figured out that he was interviewing hundreds of people who all came from the same village in Oaxaca. So we sent him to Oaxaca, to that village, and did a little profile connecting up to their families that live in Oaxaca to try to tell the story of why they left, why they send money home, what that money is used for. Often the money that’s sent home from Staten Island is far more important to San Marcos than the federal money they receive from the government of Mexico. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So do you think your newspaper offers any lessons to the struggling mainstream papers in the country? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Yes, absolutely. I think it offers very interesting lessons. I hope they don't pay attention. [BROOKE LAUGHS] But I think first is that most English language newspapers have tried to reach out to a very broad suburban middle-class audience, and as a result of that, working-class Americans have been left out of the coverage equation. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let me just interrupt and say we know why they do that – because middle-class people buy the products that are advertised in the papers. ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Indeed. It’s a more moneyed audience. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you giving up that advertising when you focus on the working class? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Well, you gain a different sort of advertising. What you need to do is to be able to connect to an audience. Clearly the audience that English language newspapers have connected to seem to be deserting them for far more effective and inexpensive means of getting their information. So that’s one. Second, we find that we cover issues and neighborhoods where there is really no presence from the English language press. There are large pockets of our society that are simply not covered, and they feel it. They know it. And you can see the absence, their absence from the pages, if you look at the major newspapers. BROOKE GLADSTONE: A lot of El Diario’s success has to do with the fact that it’s on paper, the very thing that we all say is passing into the mists of history. Now, you have a pretty robust Web presence. Do you ever wonder if, as the immigrant population changes, becomes more moneyed, sits in front of a computer screen more, that you might lose, or that perhaps you ought to charge for that content? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Well, for us it’s not a matter of losing readers to the Internet. It’s being able to extend to a whole wider generation of readers, because we understand that our younger readers prefer to get their news online, and we want to be the place where they get their news. BROOKE GLADSTONE: If your younger readers are getting the information online for free, haven't you simply just postponed the crisis? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Well, no. One of the things that I think is a bit of a misconception is that people think of both immigration and demographic change as if they were waves. The wave comes in and then there’s nothing left, and you wait for the next wave. But, in fact, we have a constantly replenishing pool of readership for our paper edition. In addition to that, we want to reach out to the second and third generation readers who like what we do, the way we cover news, which is different from any other publication. So it’s not like the pool is emptying out. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, newspapers that cater to immigrants and to non-English speakers, they hardly ever figure into these discussions about the death of the newspaper. Do you ever yell at your radio or television when somebody says newspapers are dead? ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Yes, absolutely. I yell all the time. If you look at every major American city, what you have is thriving ethnic media, whether it’s newspapers or radio, and sometimes television, and it’s media that completely exists under the radar. And it’s ironic that one of the barriers, the limitations to imagination in terms of newspapers, is that if it doesn't happen in English, to them it seems like it doesn't exist, which is sad because I think, you know, ethnic media is doing a lot of very interesting things. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you so much. ALBERTO VOURVOULIAS: Thank you. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Alberto Vourvoulias is the executive editor of El Diario La Prensa.