The battle for the hearts and minds of Spanish-language newspaper readers in Los Angeles appears to be going to the incumbent.


Tribune Co.'s Spanish-language Hoy, launched seven months ago in a highly publicized effort to unseat La Opini & #243;n, has gotten nowhere against the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper.


Some local advertisers who left La Opini & #243;n in March to advertise with Hoy's L.A. edition have since returned.


"We had a few attorneys who advertised in the classified section legal page that gives advertorials and advice for readers," said Carole Mintz, La Opini & #243;n 's vice president of advertising. "They left and tried advertising in Hoy and they came back."


Despite the competition, La Opini & #243;n's readership has barely budged. For the six months ended Sept. 30, the paper's Monday to Friday circulation has fallen by only 1,638 copies, to 124,990, since the six months ended in March. It's a drop of just 1.3 percent, even after factoring the loss of 4,000 to 5,000 subscription copies when La Opini & #243;n eliminated home delivery to focus on individual sales.


Meanwhile, Hoy has been wracked by a circulation scandal and the recent layoff of 20 percent of its newspaper staffers.


In an e-mailed statement, Hoy publisher Digby Solomon Diez said: "The reduction in force that occurred on Oct. 21 is part of Hoy's effort to ensure long-term success both journalistically and as a business."


When it was launched, there was expectation that Hoy would be a stronger competitor to La Opini & #243;n and undermine its circulation, said Jose Luis Benavides, a professor of journalism at California State University, Northridge. Now, he noted, "I don't think that Hoy will run over La Opini & #243;n any time soon."


The layoffs followed editorial changes starting in mid-September that greatly reduced the size and content of all three of Hoy's tabloid editions in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.


The Oct. 29 edition of Hoy included four pages of local reporting and a two-page spread on the presidential campaign. The first four or five pages of Hoy are produced locally, while the remainder of national, world and U.S./Mexican border sections are produced at Hoy's New York offices to share among all three editions.


The cutbacks appear to be having an impact on advertisers.


Hugo Troncoso, a Century 21 agent in Orange County who has been advertising in Hoy since it launched, said he was worried by its reduction in content and the fact that the paper is not distributed in some of the neighborhoods he wants to reach. He hasn't stopped advertising, but has taken a novel approach to the problem.


"Hoy doesn't come out in Mission Viejo or San Juan (Capistrano), so I buy about 500 editions of it with my ad, and put in bags and distribute it myself to houses."

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