There are only two full-time reporters left at El Diario La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language daily print newspaper in the United States, after the publication laid off 15 staff members last week.
The cut was one of many layoffs over the past four years, after a steady decline in print edition sales and cash flow issues since Argentina’s La Nación bought a majority stake in El Diario’s parent company ImpreMedia. The parent company is looking to take the paper digital to keep up with national competitors.
El Diario’s uncertain future could leave the local newspaper’s 294,769 daily readers — including many immigrants who rely on print ethnic media as their primary news source — in the lurch.
El Diario La Prensa has been under “financial stress,” according to Gabriel Dantur, CEO of ImpreMedia, with an estimated loss of $2 million in 2015 alone. Since 2012, the parent company had hopes of taking the paper “upscale,” expanding its target audience beyond traditional Puerto Rican and Dominican readers to Mexican and Central and South Americans. But the staff cuts have come at a cost — fewer metro reporters based in New York City has meant that the publication is instead carving out more space for national news and less space for original, local reporting.
“They were looking for a more educated reader, even though [our current readers] have been the bread and butter of El Diario for 101 years,” Oscar Hernandez, a union chairperson and employee since 1989, told Crain’s New York in 2014.
CREDIT: Gustavo Martinez
Downsizing has no doubt hit other newsrooms beyond ethnic media. Al Jazeera America will shut down in April, laying off its 197 staff members. The Los Angeles Times laid off around 80 employees last year. Other outlets that recently saw major staff cuts include The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, Philly.com, and the New York Daily News.
Layoffs in ethnic media, however, will make it particularly hard for immigrants and minorities to find news about issues that affect them.
Print ethnic media may be especially crucial for certain immigrants, like foreign-born, Spanish-speaking Latinos who are older than 65 years old and don’t have internet access, according to a 2013 Pew Hispanic study. The same study found that English-dominant Latinos and native-born Latinos are more likely to go online than Spanish-dominant Latinos and foreign-born Latinos, leading one to believe that the latter receive more of their news in print.
El Diario La Prensa’s potential demise is already leaving some community leaders worried that important information won’t get out to those who need it the most, particularly in New York City, where Latinos make up 28 percent of the population and nearly one-quarter of the city’s population speak little to no English.
“We’re experiencing record-breaking levels of immigration from countries all over the world, and each of those communities come with high needs,” New York Councilman Carlos Menchaca told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “They come with real city resource questions, and our city really needs to be at the forefront of communicating our services to each and every one of them.”
Menchaca believes that ethnic newspapers “hold a particular public trust” and “give legitimacy” for products to be “accepted in communities that just don’t trust the government.” He pointed to their role in spreading the word about ID NYC, a municipal identification card that more than 740,000 people have already signed up for.
“Ethnic press is closer to the community,” Manuel Avendaño, the night editor at El Diario La Prensa, said to ThinkProgress. Avendaño has been working at El Diario since the 1980s and was recently given his two-weeks notice. His last day is Friday, though he’s hoping to continue journalism with a focus on Peruvian news.
“El Diario is very important not only for news, but also for services,” Avendaño said. “We get calls from people who have problems with their houses or someone is missing, so we try to get someone to listen to them… It’s important for the newcomers who don’t read in English and need to get accustomed to a new city about the services that the city gives. They don’t have this kind of information in the mainstream media.”
Avendaño recalled that El Diario put out a “special supplemental” to help immigrants with government forms after former-President Ronald Reagan (R) signed a sweeping immigration reform bill in 1986. More recently, the publication published a series of stories about the immigration raids that happened earlier this year, an event that put the Latino community on edge and left many afraid to leave their houses. The publication also put out a supplemental guide to help Spanish speakers figure out what to bring for the ID NYC application.
“The forms were very complicated for the common people, so we printed a special supplemental with all the information with a step-by-step about the new program to fill out the documents,” Avendaño said.
But Avendaño has pushed back against the notion that Spanish-language media is advocacy journalism just because it reaches out to immigrants with various legal statuses. (Univision host Jorge Ramos received such criticism after he confronted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump over his stance on immigration last year.) Immigration is simply an important issue to Latinos, particularly because many of them know people living in the country without legal status. A 2013 Latino Decisions poll found that 63 percent of Latino voters have a personal connection to an undocumented immigrant.
“As a newspaper, we become an activist paper because we’re trying to help people, to inspire workers,” Avendaño said. “We have to put out stories about abuse that happens from owners of [companies] against employees. We are also in the fight for the immigrant because we feel that no human being is illegal.”
“Editorially, I think this is a good kind of journalism to help a special sector of the community,” he added.
Menchaca held a public hearing on Wednesday to talk about how the city could help support ethnic media to ensure that immigrant communities receive information on local matters. Specifically, Menchaca and his fellow councilmembers called on Nisha Agarwal, the Commissioner at NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, to get local government to invest more in ad placements for services and programs in ethnic media.
The mayor’s office also announced on the same day that it would expand the city’s outreach and engagement with community media. According to a press release, the city will “launch of an online directory of ethnic and community media for City employees to use in outreach and informational and paid campaign efforts, and a system to ensure accountability with the aim of having equitable communications across diverse ethnic, racial and geographic communities.”
“The de Blasio Administration is committed to speaking the language of multilingual New Yorkers, and as part of this outreach we must also reach them in the media outlets that are an integral part of their day-to-day lives,” Agarwal said in the press release. “The Administration has also deepened its commitment to language access to ensure that information is made available to all New Yorkers by hiring an Executive Director at MOIA who works to implement citywide tools, training, and reporting mechanisms. 311 now also accepts complaints from New Yorkers who have experienced language barriers at City Agencies.”
As a 2013 City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism report found, New York City has 95 ethnic publications, with a combined circulation of 2.94 million people, or 28 percent of the city’s population. But while New York City spends $18 million a year to convey messages on topics like health care, transportation, education, and economic opportunities, city agencies earmark 82 percent of advertising dollars for “mainstream media” outlets like The New York Times, the New York Post, and the New York Daily News. Spanish-language media, on the other hand, received only 4 percent of those advertising dollars.
The piece has been updated to include more information from the mayor’s office.