Naturalizing Readers: New Americans targeted by big-city dailies

Ask any newspaperman and he’ll tell you: Immigration is hot copy. Headlines predict the deployment of National Guardsmen as border patrol; columnists debate the English-as-official-language amendment; editorial cartoons from both liberals and conservatives depict boatloads of potential U.S. citizens sailing towards Lady Liberty; and news and feature writers cast newcomers as either job-grubbers or models of the kind of ingenuity and drive upon which this nation was founded.

But somewhere between editorial nativism and mosaic-speak, American newspapers began to recognize that if they played it right, the country’s newest arrivals could give them a solid readership and boost their advertising base, too. Papers around the country have been testing their multicultural wooing abilities with beefed-up international coverage, advice columns fielding questions newcomers might not know to ask, and investment in foreign-language editions. Cultivating new immigrants is more than hot copy-it has become good business.

Chicago is one of the country’s top 10 cities for attracting immigrants. Susan Zuckrow, the Chicago Tribune’s marketing vp, keeps close tabs on who is coming to the city and from where. Last year, 79 percent of the city’s newcomers came from Mexico. “From an advertising standpoint,” says Zuckrow, “a lot of emphasis has to be in that market because there are a lot of immigrants here who run cottage businesses.” As Mexican American grocery shops proliferate, she says, so does the need to attract their ad dollars, particularly since that money could easily go to any number of Spanish-language publications in the area. Those dozen or so weeklies have forced the 100-year-old Tribune to pay closer attention to the Latino market. In response to the stiffer competition, parent company Tribune Newspapers invested in Exito, a Spanish-language companion to the Tribune, in 1993.

New York Daily News editor-in-chief Pete Hamill made outreach to immigrants one of the tabloid’s top priorities when he took the post in January. A Brooklyn native who reminisces about the waves of Irish who flooded the city during his youth, Hamill saw a dearth of immigration stories in New York’s papers. “The coverage was sporadic,” he says. “People would do their five-part series on immigrants and then it would go away.” Integrating coverage of immigrant life is to Hamill “as important as consistent crime coverage or City Hall.” As for New York City, he says, “The newspaper can play several roles: One is explaining the city to newcomers; the other is explaining the newcomers to the rest of the city.” The Daily News’ launch of Sunday Extra has been essential in generating that kind of coverage.

One of Hamill’s proudest achievements is the paper’s examination of international sports being brought into the States. “We had cricket-huge with the Jamaican and the Caribbean population,” says Hamill. “We saw soccer and rugby finding their ways into the public parks.”

Solidifying the Daily News brand with increased immigration coverage also means being there. The News is the official publication of West Indian Carnival parade, and it has launched Caribbeat magazine, which appears on weekends. Attention to the city’s shifting demographics paves the way for the paper, on both civic and financial levels. “Let’s say there is a large number of people who don’t speak English and get their news from Spanish-language TV or Korean newspapers,” conjectures Hamill. “But their kids are going to use these papers as a guide to the U.S. On that level, it’s very important to get their attention.”

To that same end, The Arizona Republic also has reached out to a younger audience, not only with its print operations but also by tailoring its Web site content appropriately. The Republic’s online operations (azcentral.com) include links to newspapers from the neighboring Mexican town of Sonora. The relationship that Phoenix has with its neighboring area in Mexico is an economic one; the proximity to Mexico has meant increasing coverage relative to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In South Florida, two of the largest mainstream papers are doing battle with their respective Spanish-language editions. Competition for readership among the huge Cuban, Puerto Rican and Caribbean arrivals is intense. Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel launched its Spanish-language edition five years ago in addition to increasing its own immigration coverage. Sun-Sentinel executive editor Ellen Soeteber explains, “People know that their jobs depend on what is happening internationally, and that immigration has done a lot for our economy.” The Sun-Sentinel recently got the go-ahead from the U.S. government to be one of only seven American news organizations to open a Cuban bureau. Now they must get the green light from Havana. “It’s not as easy as it sounds,” Soeteber says. “But it will happen. I mean, Castro has said that he reads the Sun-Sentinel.”

For the Sun-Sentinel’s Spanish-language edition, staying in business means understanding the range of political views represented by the various waves of Cuban immigration since the early 1960s. To reach the broadest audience possible, editor Alfredo Durán realizes that “we have to walk that tightrope and reflect those opinions as well as others coming into Miami. Needless to say, there are the more conservative and more liberal views on Castro, and we try to include all of them.” What Durán believes the paper has accomplished is that “our branding is very strong. In a market that is not particularly newspaper-driven, we’re known throughout the area.”

The Sun-Sentinel itself is looking for the same cachet. The English-language Sun-Sentinel has added to its ranks

Creole-speaking staffers to cover Florida’s Del Ray Beach, which has one of the largest Haitian communities in the country. Their next step? “What I don’t have is someone who speaks Portuguese,” says Soeteber, alluding to nearby Pompano Beach, which has become a huge Brazilian enclave also ready to be tapped.

As the Daily News’ Hamill points out, capturing the new-immigrant readership involves paying closer attention to their already established reading habits, namely local ethnic publications. The potential pitfall for the dailies, says Hamill, is in ghettoizing the coverage. “The one thing I don’t want to do is pander,” he says. “The stories have to stand on their own as news. I don’t want anyone to say, ‘Gee, that was a wonderful story on page three about the Koreans’-and then not read the rest of the paper.”

Posted by on July 21, 1997