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The Other Paper

Photo by Jenafer Gillingham

In the days after the Tribune–Times Mirror deal was announced, many in the English-speaking press and some community leaders fretted that Los Angeles would no longer have a locally owned newspaper.

Most of Spanish-speaking L.A. knew they were wrong, at least by half. Almost lost in the shuffle was La Opinión, the country’s largest and arguably most important Spanish daily. Ten years ago, Times Mirror bought half of La Opinión, considered a staple in the Latino community since it first was published in 1926. Now, with Tribune’s acquisition of Times Mirror, that half interest in La Opinión will fall to Chicago. The other half remains with the L.A.-based Lozano family. Financial decisions are made by a nine-member board, which includes five members of the Lozano family. Even so, La Opinión staffers wonder what the changes will bring.

“There still are some very concerned people about the deal here,” said Pedro Pulgar, the editor of La Opinión’s business section.

The sale comes at a crucial time for La Opinión. For years, circulation had stalled in the 100,000 range after growing year after year. During most of the 1990s, the relationship with the Times was rocky. The Times even ventured into the Spanish-language market with its own weekly, called Nuestro Tiempo, in a move that was seen by La Opinión as trying to undermine the newspaper with Spanish readers.

But in the last 12 months, circulation and staffing levels were both up at La Opinión, president and chief operating officer Monica Lozano said. A new home-delivery program was started in Los Angeles and Orange County, with circulation up by 14,000 since last summer. In some areas, subscribers are offered La Opinión with a copy of the Times inside.

In the last year alone, at least five new sections have been added. A daily Internet version is soon to be available, and three more sections will be added to the print version. Seventy new employees have been hired since last summer, more than at any other time in the history of La Opinión. The editorial sections are currently being beefed up, while the paper posts job openings that range from the managing editor’s position to entertainment writers.

“People that have been here for a long time tell me that never before have they seen anything like this,” Pulgar said. He added that since last summer, five reporters and an assistant editor were hired for the business section alone.

With things going so well for La Opinión, Tribune’s acquisition immediately raised questions. What would happen to the newspaper? Are there layoffs in store? Will Tribune decide to bring in its own staff?

Jack Fuller, president of Tribune Publishing, gave vague reassurances about the future of La Opinión the day after the deal was sealed. He said La Opinión was an important part of the deal and that he was “anxious to get to know them personally.”

Originally skeptical of the relationship between the Times and La Opinión, Julio Moran, the California Chicano News Media Association executive, predicts that Tribune will continue the Times’ efforts to help the Spanish-language paper.

“I don’t expect Tribune to come in with any significant changes that aren’t in place already,” Moran said. “And I don’t see them selling off the potential for Tribune to make more profits.”

But not everybody is convinced that the Tribune’s acquisition of half of La Opinión is such a great thing. Some editorial staffers don’t welcome the Tribune’s novel, “synergistic” ways, in which the duties of print, radio and television reporters intermingle.

Some La Opinión reporters questioned whether editorial content would remain the same. They worried that Tribune’s notoriety for expecting high profits could have executives looking at the Spanish daily far too closely.

Some are even wary that Tribune might bring in staff from the Chicago-based ¡Exito!, the Spanish-language weekly that has been published by the Tribune since 1993. “Who knows, they might be our new bosses,” said one reporter, who asked not to be identified.

But ¡Exito! president Liza Gross said in an interview published in La Opinión that the venerable L.A.-based paper had nothing to fear from the merger. In fact, ¡Exito!’s financial and often editorial relationship with the Chicago Tribune is a success that could set a precedent for La Opinión.

The Chicago Tribune and ¡Exito! have worked together in some cases and often swap stories, Gross said. Marketing executives from both papers are encouraged to sell publicity for both publications.

Though wary of how the merger might affect the paper’s editorial independence, Pulgar said that businesswise it was very reasonable. The current success of La Opinión had some executives talking about expanding editions into other states, and possibly New York City, where they would go one-on-one with La Prensa, that city’s longtime Spanish daily.

Whatever road the Tribune Co. decides to take, Lozano will press on. She said, “We’ve got a paper to do.”