While daily newspapers are struggling to post circulation gains, the city's foreign-language newspapers are flourishing, thanks to the burgeoning population of immigrants.

A recent study by New California Media, a San Francisco-based media research firm, found that there are 60 ethnic newspapers in Los Angeles, catering to nearly every facet of the population, with circulation at some rivaling those of established English-language publications.

While the Los Angeles Times, with a daily circulation of 1.1 million, isn't in jeopardy of being knocked off the top of the list, La Opinion has become the city's third largest daily newspaper. (Tribune Co., which owns the Times, also has a 49 percent stake in La Opinion.) Meanwhile, a broad assortment of papers including The Korea Times, the Beirut Times and China Post is posting steady gains in circulation and advertising revenues, said Sandy Close, executive director of New California Media and author of the report.

La Opinion with a circulation of 126,000 and bureaus in Mexico City, Sacramento and Washington is inching up on the 190,000 daily circulation of the Los Angeles Daily News. Other influential ethnic papers include El Classificado in Los Angeles, a Spanish-language weekly with 110,000 circulation and Studio City-based Israel Today, a monthly publication with a circulation of 100,000.

"These papers have also been able to grow their circulation by filling a void left by major newspapers that can't focus on specific communities and stories that may be important to a section of Los Angeles rather than to the city as a whole," said Close.

"The ethnic media, especially Spanish-language publications, have been growing in the double digits for the last 10 years," said Octavio Nuiry, owner of ON Marketing, a Long Beach-based advertising and public relations firm.

"This growth is being fueled by several factors, including the growing purchasing power of the ethnic consumer and the shrinking of the mainstream non-ethnic market," said Nuiry.

Because of their influence, L.A.'s ethnic publications command the attention of advertisers who want to connect with ethnic communities, said Rosa Serrano, senior vice president of the Multi-Cultural Group at Initiative Media, a Los Angeles-based media buyer.

"As a media buyer," Serrano said, "the best way to reach new immigrants is through the ethnic media." Last year, Initiative Media's ethnic media division placed more than $100 million in advertisements nationwide, up from just $9 million in 1993.

That said, there is still the sense that those gains should be higher.

Ad rate disparity

Monica Lozano, editor of La Opinion, pointed out that ethnic publications still charge lower ad rates than those charged by English-language media.

"Because of a false perception by many in the advertising business that ethnic newspapers are poorly written and edited, we are forced to price our advertising at about 30 percent below the rates charged by the mainstream media," she said.

Still, the ad revenues of ethnic papers will likely continue to increase, according to Cynthia Z. Rawitch, chair of the journalism department at Cal State Northridge. "Ethnic media is still a market that has gone largely untapped by most advertisers," she said.

It's a market untapped by mainstream news coverage as well. By focusing on specific communities, concentrating their resources on stories that may be important to a section of Los Angeles rather than to the city as a whole, the ethnic dailies move to fill that gap.

"It's also a different style of journalism," said Rawitch. "The ethnic newspaper gears toward advocacy journalism and a strong community relationship more than the mainstream media."

Representatives of the Daily News and Times declined to comment.

Community ties

Mergers within the mainstream media also have made it very difficult for them to meet the needs of what editors consider niche markets. "The reality and the challenge is that this is the new American mainstream," said Close.

It's a sentiment shared by the ethnic press as well.

"We see ourselves as a major metropolitan newspaper," said Lozano. "But with the majority of our readers being immigrants, we also see ourselves as a partner with the community in helping them develop both socially and politically."

Lozano said readers can see that policy reflected in every section of La Opinion.

"In our political coverage, for example, we try to explain the benefits of participation, the need to vote and the methods by which one can participate," she said.

These newspapers are so interconnected with the community that they could be categorized as community businesses, said Close.

"Ethnic papers also chronicle the intimate life of a community," she said. "If the mainstream media wanted to capture these communities, they should partner up with some of these newspapers."

Despite the overall growth of ethnic newspapers in Los Angeles, there are exceptions.

"Nowhere is the problem of stagnant readership a greater problem than in the African-American community," said Rawitch. "I don't know the reason why, but many papers are society oriented, and I'm not sure there's a great demand for that (in the African-American community)."

By "society oriented," Rawitch was referring to such features as photo spreads on celebrity fundraisers, engagement announcements and other similar content.

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