Thursday, August 14, 2008

Orlando's First Newspaper Casualty

Newspaper analysts have been predicting that the industry downturn will produce newspaper closings, and Orlando is seeing its first one. El Nuevo Dia Orlando is shutting down after five years. The five-day-a-week paper, whose last edition is Aug. 29, provided competition among Spanish-language papers (where, by the way, there exists more competition than among English papers).

Although it was the area's only Spanish daily, it couldn't make a go of it. Last year, it reported audited circulation of 25,706 from Monday to Thursday and 38,378 on Fridays. It boasted a pick-up rate of 99.5%. Now El Sentinel and La Prensa, both weeklies, can divvy up what's left of the advertising revenue. But since neither El Sentinel nor La Prensa has strong editorial, the Spanish-speaking community will continue to be ill served.

The wealthy Ferre family of Puerto Rico owned El Nuevo Dia Orlando and two other very successful island dailies. The failure must be hard to swallow. But considering the black hole that was sucking its dollars, it also must be a big big relief.

The Ferre's launched the paper in 2003 and sunk a lot of money in Orlando. They implied they would do whatever it took and wait however long they needed to make the venture work. They were convinced Central Florida's Hispanic population was ripe for the picking. And they were not wrong.

Early on, the company indicated it wanted to team up with the Orlando Sentinel, but Sentinel folks were wary that El Nuevo Dia was elbowing into its market. El Nuevo Dia's interest pushed the Sentinel to finally launch a Spanish newspaper of its own -- after about 15 years of "discussion." If you want to know what's wrong with newspapers, that's a good example right there. Newspaper by committee. The Sentinel's hesitancy allowed La Prensa to have the market to itself and become a local institution.

El Nuevo Dia opened its local offices with a big splash, inviting Orange County and Orlando mayors Richard Crotty and Buddy Dyer. We know all this because El Nuevo Dia Orlando was very good at blowing its own horn in its own pages, complete with pictures.

But the Orlando market turned all their assumptions upside down. El Nuevo Dia thought the Puerto Rican market was all theirs, and it's not. They didn't factor in that about half of Orlando's Puerto Rican population is from other states, not the island. El Nuevo Dia doesn't have a relationship with this sector. Meanwhile, other Hispanics didn't take to the paper because it was perhaps "too Puerto Rican."

El Nuevo Dia also decided to charge 50 cents a day for the paper, when every Spanish newspaper in Orlando, including El Sentinel, is free. Well, the 50 cents dropped to 25 cents, and finally it was a giveaway like all the rest. It didn't have a proper distribution channel. And it was an unknown quantity to the local advertising community.

In addition, El Nuevo Dia never quite got the hang of covering Central Florida, where power is decentralized. In Puerto Rico, power is very centralized in the island government, and the local press spends its day running from press conference to press conference. Not necessarily so in Orlando.

Still, I'm sorry to see the paper go. It was fun while it lasted.

El Nuevo Dia stirred things up in Central Florida's Spanish newspaper market for a while, and that was good.

No comments: