SAN FRANCISCO — After nearly a decade of serving the Central Valley, the Spanish-language weekly El Sol De Visalia, printed its last edition in late December.
The newspaper, which was published by the Gannett-owned Visalia Delta Times, had not been faring well in the economic downturn, according to Eduardo Stanley, its editor since 2006. As advertising and profits slumped, El Sol could no longer survive.
In the state’s Central Valley, home to a large concentration of Spanish-speaking communities, El Sol’s closure is not an isolated case. In the last decade, a string of corporate owned as well as smaller, independent publications have closed their doors, a phenomenon that has jolted Spanish-language media publishers and editors to embrace more bilingual and bicultural content.
Hard Times for Spanish Media
A boom in Spanish-language papers in the Valley in the last two decades – largely owned by English-language newspaper chains, Stanley said, turned into a bust in the recent recession.
The Sacramento Bee’s La Voz, The Stockton Record’s El Tiempo, and The Modesto Bee’s El Sol were all shuttered in the last decade.
In 2007, the downward spiral continued with the closure of the weekly Las Noticias del Valle of Hanford, which was published by the Hanford Sentinel. The following year, El Mexicalo of Bakersfield, an independently-published newspaper, shut down because of advertising losses. And most Latino media in the Valley that have managed to stay in business, have made significant reductions in their staff and the number of pages they publish.
Spanish language broadcast media have also suffered. According to Stanley, in 2006, 20 Spanish language radio stations could be heard, just in the Fresno area, but now he says there are only a few.
For their long-term sustainability, more Spanish-language publishers are incorporating English-language content into their pages – a move that reflects the region’s changing demographics, despite a robust Latino population.
Incorporating English: ‘A Tool For Survival’
Nearly 30 years ago, Raul Camacho Sr. founded El Popular, an independent, weekly in Bakersfield, with the intention of publishing solely in Spanish. But his son, George Camacho, the paper’s publisher, says he sees incorporating English as an essential “tool for survival,” and said his father has begun realizing that as well.
“He sees the changes we’ve been experiencing and he’s opening up more to change,” Camacho said, noting the significant demographic shifts in the region.
According to the 2010 Census, more than half of Californians under the age of 18 are Latino. The group accounts for 90 percent of the state’s overall growth over the last 10 years, and currently make up 38 percent of the state’s residents. In the Valley, that number is even higher. Fresno’s Latino population stands at 47 percent, Bakersfield’s at 45 percent, Stockton’s at 40 percent, and Merced’s at nearly 50 percent.
“Immigration is slowing down, the Hispanics are younger and they’re bilingual,” Camacho said. “Their parents are aging, the population is aging, so our demographics are getting younger and younger and for us to survive, we have to adapt to that.”
According to Camacho, El Popular is faring well at the moment, but the newspaper suffered advertising cuts at the height of the recession in 2008.
Camacho says he hopes a younger readership will help the paper to woo more advertisers. “We’d be engaging younger audiences,” he said. “And if we do that, the advertising will come.”
Kirk Whisler, president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Latino Print Media said that Latino media have been shifting toward incorporating bilingual and bicultural content.
“The Latino (print media) market isn’t a Spanish market, it isn’t an English market,” he said. “It is a bilingual market and that person out there is going to sit and choose what they want based on what’s being offered to them. Language is almost secondary,” he said.
How Bilingual Has Worked Well
For Juan Esparaza, editor of the Fresno Bee-owned (McClatchy Co.) bilingual newspaper Vida En El Valle, producing bilingual content is critical to engaging the Latino community and retaining a healthy readership.
Vida en el Valle has been “bilingual since day one,” in 1990, Esparza said. The newspaper, while “it has shrunk by 20 percent in the past two years,” has a circulation of over 170,000 copies distributed weekly, and is 65 percent in English and 35 percent in Spanish.
“I think we were a little ahead of the curve in deciding to become bilingual as a Latino publication, but I think that’s important,” Esparza said.
He added that his newspaper is “bilingual and bicultural.”
Otherwise, he said, “you’re not going to reach a monolingual English speaker who has been here three or four generations and doesn’t speak much Spanish,” he said.
Andrew Ysiano, publisher of the Stockton-based bilingual monthly Latino Times, says incorporating English is also key to gaining more advertising.
“It’s an election year and we plan to be very involved (in elections advertising), because it’s the smart business thing to do,” he said.
Even one of the nation’s largest Spanish-language broadcasters is embracing the trend. Univision’s CEO Randy Falco, last summer, suggested that Univision would consider introducing English-language segments in the near future.
“It’s definitely a change of the times,” said Esparza.
Transitioning with Concerns
Even those who embrace moving away from strictly monolingual content express some concern for the substance of Spanish-language media over the long term.
Stanley, former editor of El Sol, said many bilingual newspapers “translate content intended for the first generation into English, expecting that the second generation reads it,” but the problem is “those stories don’t resonate with them.”
“Even though they (2nd generation, onward) keep the interest about their culture or the language, they won’t care about the issue,” he said, noting that Spanish-language media could lose readers if they employed this method.
Camacho agreed with Stanley, saying the paper would move toward bilingual content that would be unique and relevant to younger readers. Camacho says the paper plans to work the changes into the website first.
“Maybe we’ll work them into the print publication, but it’s something that we’re testing, and depending on the response we get, either this stays or we pull it out,” he said.