Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
They’re a crucial way to engage an already hard-to-reach group of city residents.
The oldest Spanish-language newspaper in the U.S.—New York City-based El Diario la Prensa—recently laid off half its editorial and sales staff, after four years of financial and labor issues. In 2015, the company incurred a loss of $2 million. Now it’s announced the death of its print edition, which could have significant consequences for the city’s sizable Hispanic population, many of whom primarily speak Spanish.
Here’s how Oscar Hernandez, an employee of the newspaper, explained the significance of the publication’s demise, via The Huffington Post:
“You’re killing the very substance of information that’s been such a part of the community for so many years,” Hernandez told The Huffington Post. “Is this the downfall of a newspaper, or is it the downfall of a community?”
The print circulation, which brought in most of the revenue, declined over the years, as with many mainstream media outlets. From a peak circulation of 80,000 in the 1980s, El Diario served fewer than 40,000 readers in 2012. Former employees like Hernandez, have blamed the outlet’s more recent troubles on the company’s change in business strategy after Argentine publication La Nacion bought a majority stake that year.
But while the print audience may have shrunk, immigrant newspapers still perform critical public service and civic engagement functions. El Diario, for example, has released special supplementals in the past to help Spanish-speaking residents understand complicated immigration-related laws, developments, and events (such as the recent deportation raids), as Esther Yu-Hsi Lee at ThinkProgress points out. Here’s Lee, quoting New York Councilman Carlos Menchaca on the importance of this media in communicating with the city’s growing yet hard-to-reach Hispanic population:
Menchaca believes that ethnic newspapers “hold a particular public trust” and “give legitimacy” for products to be “accepted in communities that just don’t trust the government.” He pointed to their role in spreading the word about ID NYC, a municipal identification card that more than 740,000 people have already signed up for.
In other words, immigrant newspapers are key in reaching the people who stand to benefit the most from city services and resources. And yet cities such as New York have invested very little in placing public services ads and announcements in these traditional media, a 2013 report by the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism found. Community and immigrant publications circulate to as many as 4.5 million people in the city, which is 55 percent of the total population, yet they only got 18 percent of the municipal budget allocated for ads with public service information on education, health care, and economic and employment opportunities. Spanish-language publications, in particular, only received 4 percent of the total designated amount in the 13-month period analyzed by the report (even though Latinos make up 28 percent of the city’s population).
In late January the city pledged to change that commitment and engage more with immigrant and community newspapers. “In the city of immigrants, no person should be denied access to vital services or information due to their language,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press release. These are words to go by for multicultural hubs in the country. At a time when populations are ballooning across the U.S., more cities should regard immigrant media as key outreach partners—not fringe publications.