This week the Palm Beach Post became the first major South Florida daily to shutter its Spanish-language publication, La Palma.The free, weekly Post spin-off will fold next month.
The news didn't come as much of a shock for journos who have followed La Palma closely. Born in 2004, as the local real estate market was booming, La Palma's fortunes have mirrored South Florida's housing crash.
Insiders say the paper's downsizing began about two years ago, as the real estate market plummeted and the Post slashed more than 300 jobs though buyouts and layoffs. Then last December, just
before Christmas, three La Palma staffers lost their jobs, leaving a skeleton crew of just five editorial employees.
According to Post Publisher Tim Burke, some La Palma employees will retain jobs at the Post, and the daily will reach out to the Spanish-speaking community with an Hispanic affairs reporter.
That's great, but not the same as providing targeted, local news to readers in their native tongue. An ad on La Palma's website says 47 percent of its readers have salaries that top $50,000 a year. Why would the Post give up on that kind of audience?
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Carolyn Nielsen, a journalism professor at Western Washington University who studies Spanish-language media, notes that Spanish-speaking readers are coveted for the ad revenue they can generate. But that doesn't mean publishers necessarily care about giving their readers high-quality, original news. As Nielsen told Poynter Online:
The growth in Spanish-language newspapers has been driven not only by a desire to serve readers, but also by advertisers' desire to reach a growing target audience. Now that the vehicle exists, newspapers may decide to maintain targeted advertising while reducing the costs of producing stories specifically for that audience.
That's why papers such as El Nuevo Herald have recently cut costs by running Miami Herald stories translated into Spanish, rather than reporting original news.
By ending La Palma, Palm Beach Post Newspapers Inc. is sacrificing ad revenue, and sending a clear message that Latino readers are a luxury it can no longer afford. Hiring an Hispanic affairs reporter is unlikely to dilute that message.