By JONATHAN GOMEZ
Leaders of New York City’s large Latino community are expressing concern that the newspaper El Diario La Prensa, the self-described “champion of Hispanics,” has become a shell of itself because of cutbacks imposed by a new corporate owner.
“Despite the great benefit that ethnic and minority media provide to their respective communities and to New York City as a whole these recent cuts in staff and size, which shifts away from locally generated content, suggest that these invaluable resources are in a period of transition, the result of which is sure to impact immigrant and minority communities,” Council member Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn) said during a hearing on ethnic media in January.
El Diario has held on by a thread for several years as it continues to lose readership and advertisers, which according to its chief executive officer has led to a series of layoffs over the last four years. ImpreMedia, El Diario’s parent company, imposed its most recent rounds of layoffs on Jan. 15.
According to the Newspaper Guild of New York, the editorial employees’ union, just under half of the workers were laid off.
During the Jan. 27 Council hearing, ImpreMedia chief executive officer Gabriel Dantur defended the layoffs, blaming the current media landscape and how readers obtain their information for the newspaper’s recent cutbacks.
“They have developed new habits in terms of accessing information, not only news but services and promotions as well. As a result of this change newspaper circulation has fallen dramatically,” Dantur said. “Our journalistic relevance is at stake.”
However, in spite of his rationalization of the recent cutbacks, Dantur and ImpreMedia – which bought the paper in 2012 — have come under heavy criticism from the Newspaper Guild.
“With these cuts, ImpreMedia will severely degrade the quality news coverage that hundreds of thousands of Spanish-speaking readers depend on nationwide,” the union said in a statement issued in January. “If ImpreMedia cannot maintain its commitment to the communities that it is supposed to serve, it should step aside and make room for ownership that will.”
According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, since 2014, two years after ImpreMedia’s purchase, circulation for El Diario has decreased by 9 percent. Dantur said the circulation drop justifies the cutbacks.
“For the newspaper equation to work there should be earnings. And the truth is that since we took over four years ago, we’ve only been losing money,” Dantur told the City Council. “Any enterprise is at risk and we’re working to keep printing the newspaper. These decisions are the only way we can keep a sustainable El Diario.”
El Diario, which has been around for 103 years, is the city’s oldest ethnic community paper, setting a standard for other publications like it. For many, its longevity puts the onus on Dantur and ImpreMedia to find a way to keep the publication from folding.
However the current state of the publication speaks to a larger issue — what happens when corporations buy up smaller, struggling publications and scale back on vitally needed local news coverage. ImpreMedia also has purchased two other important Spanish-language newspapers, La Opinion in Los Angeles and La Raza in Chicago.
According to Professor Frances Negron Muntaner of the Center For The Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, this is a trend across all media platforms but it is more detrimental to smaller publications like El Diario.
“These bigger companies look at the smaller companies like El Diario as a way to expand their market and that’s when the disconnect emerges, when these companies don’t know or recognize the cultural dynamics that already exist,” Negron-Muntaner said.
This implication that a corporation like ImpreMedia is focused less on local community coverage and more on financial gains has many concerned in Latino communities.
“Money talks in the mass media, which has resulted in the deterioration of the profession and quality journalism, and its corporatization comes with adverse consequences for those who know the local community best,” says Alan Aja, professor of Puerto Rican and Latino studies at Brooklyn College. “In other words, a phone call from a desk reporter in a faraway state, hired cheaply to save the media company labor costs while it boosts its bottom line and CEO pay, to ask experts for a quote about an important issue affecting Latinos in the Bronx, is a terrible way of writing a story. Well-paid, unionized local journalists who have roots in the city should be writing the stories, equally managing their own production.”
Dantur contests this notion that El Diario has lost its local flavor and says that the newspaper continues to be a staple within the Latino community, maintaining its dedication to local news that directly concerns Latinos throughout the five boroughs.
“In spite of the loss of valuable resources we have succeeded in maintaining the journalistic quality our audience deserves while developing new products and services for the local community,” Dantur said in his statement to the City Council. He referred to El Diario’s Medalla de Oro (Gold Medal) as the best Hispanic publication in the country, an award given by the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Upstander Prize from Mayor Bill de Blasio for its journalism on domestic violence.
Those successes have not silenced the call to save the publication from dire straits, and the loudest call comes from Council member Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), an advocate for supporting ethnic media.
“It is unfortunate that in 2016 we still have to make a case that we deserve the same attention when it comes to investing in the second largest group in New York City,” Rodriguez told Brooklyn News Service. “For many members of that 28 percent of that Latino population in our city El Diario became the only vehicle that they had to be informed and still today is the only vehicle that they have today.”
Staff members of El Diario La Prensa did not respond to requests for comment.