Monday, August 4, 2008

Is El Sentinel Light Going Out?

The Orlando Sentinel's Spanish-language weekly El Sentinel is now down to three staffers thanks to paper cuts. That includes an editor, a copy editor and a reporter. The paper borrows a copy editor from the main desk several times a week. Yahoo!

I wince at what it must feel like to get out the paper. Full disclosure: I helped launch El Sentinel back in 2001 and was its editor for three years. El Sentinel hit the streets with three staffers, which is one more than the weekly has now. The staff topped out at seven, including me.

It was an incredible amount of hard work, week in and week out. No let up. Just more work. Very stressful. We were supposed to start with 16 pages, but launched with 24 and went up from there. It was never only a 16-page paper. And of course, the paper is bilingual, which is little like what Ginger Rogers was to Fred Astaire. We went through similar paces as the Orlando Sentinel, only with significantly less help and in ingles and espanol.

Today, El Sentinel doesn't have as many pages as it once had; it's down to 22 to 24 pages, thanks to paper cuts. And it doesn't contain nearly as many local stories as it used to, thanks to paper cuts. But its weekly circulation is up to about 80,000 - or so they say - from about 65,000 when I left the paper.

Not sure what the revenue figure looks like, but when I was part of El Sentinel it generated about $3 million a year, which may surprise some Sentinels who thought El Sentinel was a waste of resources. The figure underscores the fact that El Sentinel was more about scooping up ad dollars than providing good coverage of the burgeoning Hispanic community.

That $3 million figure has been surpassed by the Sun-Sentinel's el Sentinel, which launched a year after Orlando and is in a more populous and competitive market. Not surprisingly, it has six staffers churning out the weekly. Some of them complain that it's a lot of work but - hey - want to try Orlando?

El Sentinel was always lean, too lean. And I guess it has to take its licks along with the rest of the Orlando Sentinel. But I sure wouldn't want to be behind the masthead.


Anonymous said...

As a predecesor to the El Sentinel effort in Orlando, I feel very sorry that the project may be biting the dust. When I worked at the Sentinel in the late 70's I encouraged management to start a Spanish-language effort but that encouragement fell on deaf ears. What is amazing is that Orlando has a strong weekly, La Prensa, and Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia has moved into the Orlando area. The money is there, but the Zell administration is not hungry or dynamic enough. Maybe all they will do is to oursource the Spanish-language effort to a maquiladora cookie-cutter paper like Fronteras and do a lousy job in covering the Hispanic comunity. After all the bad attitude seen from other sectors with the Sentinel is plain old bigotry.
Carlos J Licea, former Deputy News Editor, The Orlando Sentinel.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of disappearances: Has anyone else noticed that neither Beth Kassab nor Mike Thomas has posted a new blog entry since July 16? And though Kassab has had some pieces appear on the print side, Thomas is invisible.
Can some Sentinel insider reveal the explanation?

Anonymous said...

Uh, maybe vacation. It is summer.

Anonymous said...

Now, how would that person have known it's summer. I'm sure the revelation probably moved the earth around him/her.
And, of course, that person also is loopy for seeing some sort of inconsistency in a dying paper giving a couple of columnists three consecutive weeks off.
Oh, but Ms. Kassab apparently isn't on vacation, since she has had columns appear that had timely aspects to them that makes it harder to believe they were canned and on the shelf for use during her holiday from hell.
But keep up that kind of thinking. You could be the next Sam Zell with just a little more work.

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest here, El Sentinel was not launched to serve the Spanish-speaking public here in the city beautiful - that may be the story people like to tell themselves. El Sentinel was launched to serve as an insert jacket for national advertisers trying to reach Hispanic households in the market. El Sentinel was Barry (Hazelton) and Bill's (Stieger)baby. They saw how much money national advertisers had in their Hispanic marketing budgets and went for it. Even after focus groups told us that a tab format would work better, they stuck with broadsheets becuase they work better for inserts.
Also, they never spent any money marketing the product. Rene Rodriguez tried to make some changes but basically found that the directors wanted (and these were his words) "chico's ad jacket". As far as editorial - the in-depth reporting on shopping carts was far from award-winning and no one wanted to here how much the people prefered La Prensa and El Nueva Dia or the changes the paricipants would have liked to see.

Maria Padilla said...

I agree with Anonymous that El Sentinel was nothing more than an advertising vehicle. The size was wrong and even the name, since sentinel in Spanish is spelled differently (centinela). But nobody cared.

I do differ about the reporting, however. No Pulitzers were won, but I specifically pushed for content over garbage. And on many occasions El Sentinel scooped the Orlando Sentinel. The problem was nobody knew what we were doing. And when we went to an all Spanish format, none of the poohbahs could read it, either.