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LARRY KANTER

Staff Reporter

Mention local media dynasties and people immediately think of the Chandler family and the Los Angeles Times. But L.A. is home to another such dynasty the Lozano family, which for three generations has guided the city's dominant Spanish language daily, La Opinion.

These days, the paper's most public face is that of executive editor and associate publisher Monica Lozano, the 41-year-old granddaughter of Ignacio Lozano, the paper's founder.

Monica Lozano joined the family business as managing editor a dozen years ago, following a short stint running a printing and graphic arts business in San Francisco. Since then, she has become a familiar presence moving easily between downtown business circles and the Spanish-speaking, largely immigrant neighborhoods that characterize much of Los Angeles today.

Despite La Opinion's long history in L.A., the 103,000-circulation paper faces an unprecedented level of competition, mostly from super-hot Spanish language broadcast outlets.

Q: As immigrants begin to assimilate into America, as children grow up speaking English, what happens to the Spanish-language media? Is there a point where you'll no longer be needed?

A: We have been publishing for 70 years. When my dad became the publisher of the newspaper in the 1950s, he was sure he wouldn't have a job in a few years because there was such a move to assimilate and abandon the native language.

Yet here we are 40 years later and La Opinion is still going strong. And it's because our readership is a community that prefers to receive their information in Spanish. It's not a dependency, it's a preference. We provide them with something they don't get from any other news source.

Q: L.A.'s Spanish language media is incredibly strong right now. Do you see that strength continuing into the future?

A: Certainly there is great opportunity for Spanish language media to continue to be strong, considering the large number of Hispanics that reside in Los Angeles, and the significant number that depend upon the Spanish language media as their primary source of information.

In terms of capturing advertising dollars, there also is great optimism. More and more companies are looking to this community as an area where they can grow their market share.

Q: Have you found that your paper is an easier sell now to mainstream companies?

A: Absolutely. This particular newspaper has been in business for 70 years. And it's only in the last 10 years or so that we've really begun to see the large national adverstisers begin to direct their marketing message to this community.

It used to be that you would have to convince advertisers that, one, there is a market, and two, the market served by Spanish language media is an attractive market for them. We no longer have to convince them. There's a level of sophistication and knowledge about the market that wasn't there before.

Q: What other opportunities are ahead for La Opinion? Are you following mainstream papers into cyberspace?

A: We'll have fully interactive, online daily news product ready to go by the end of the year. We also have a weekly product, "Para Ti," which is a weekly supplement that is home-delivered to over 200,000 households in the Los Angeles-area. It's a joint venture between La Opinion and the L.A. Times, that gives us entry into a home delivered product that La Opinion does not have.

Q: In your 12 years at La Opinion, what are the biggest changes you've seen in the Latino community?

A: There have been great advances made. The Latino population is so dynamic, continually evolving. It's been fun to be a part of that and to have the newspaper not just following the evolution but also being a real engine for that kind of change.

For example, two years ago, we launched a business section. We had contemplated doing that for a long time, but we didn't want it to be a traditional financial page. We knew that that wouldn't be appropriate for our market.

But eventually it became apparent that L.A.'s economy was becoming more and more dependent on small businesses and that small businesses were becoming more and more Hispanic-owned. We targeted that market through our business section, where we profile entrepreneurs and people who have become successful as well as people who are not successful.

This was a segment of the market that hadn't been identified until we focused on it and started giving names and histories to all of these people who are contributing so much.

Q: Most Angelenos have never read La Opinion. If your paper was translated into English and placed alongside, say, the L.A. Times, how would the picture of the city that emerged be different?

A: I think we have a different perspective on Los Angeles. We'll cover the Board of Education, City Hall politics, the MTA, but our approach is really to assess how decisions made in those institutions affect the Hispanic community.

We are very much interested in how the community is responding. Our reporters spend a lot of time in neighborhoods, reporting on neighborhood issues. That, in essence, is our role: to link our community to policy-making institutions and to help bridge those communities in ways that don't necessarily occur.

Q: You are a family-operated newspaper in an industry that is losing most of its family-operated institutions. How do you do it?

A: We're not 100 percent owned by the family any longer. Times Mirror owns 50 percent of the company. So we have a partner and it is a major media company.

When we made the decision to sell, personally it was a very difficult decision after so many years of having La Opinion owned exclusively by the Lozano family. But it was at a time when we very much needed to be able to expand our capacity and grow in tandem with the growth in the market. We were not able to generate the kind of capital internally that was required.

Now, Times Mirror owns 50 percent of the company. In terms of day-to-day management of the newspaper, operational control is exclusively internal to La Opinion. The board of directors is a board of 9 individuals five are Lozano family members and Times Mirror has four members.

Q: You were born in L.A. into an extremely prominent family. Has that posed any problems for you in terms of covering a largely foreign-born community?

A: More than anything, it's been an issue of language. I was born in this country, I'm third generation. My parents, when we were growing up, insisted that we speak Spanish at home. At the time, I never realized how valuable that was. In fact, I think that all of the kids rebelled against it.

When I came to work here, knowing that my fluency and ease of writing was not in Spanish... that was a hurdle I had to overcome. I think that was the only time I questioned my preparation.

Other than that, I've never felt any questioning of my legitimacy.

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