A bilingual newspaper looks to provide Baltimore Latinos with information on Hispanic culture and the issues affecting them.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Latin Opinion, Baltimore's startup bilingual newspaper, wants to tap into the Hispanic community's demand for more local Spanish media.

The free, biweekly newspaper that started nine months ago joins a local monthly newsletter and a handful of national and regional Spanish publications distributed in Baltimore. Business and community leaders said the area's growing Hispanic population makes Baltimore an ideal spot to target Spanish consumers and the advertisers who increasingly want to reach them.

"[Latin Opinion] does fill a void," said Roberto Allen, president of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and president of Respira Medical, a Baltimore-based medical services company. "Up until two or three years ago, you didn't have the critical mass of people to reach, there wasn't as much of a need or demand for it. ... Now there's a viable population that it's going to make sense for a sophisticated publication to fill that need."

Data from the U.S. Census show that the number of Hispanics in the Baltimore region increased by 70 percent, to about 50,000, from 1990 to 2000. Estimates show the population grew to about 55,000 through 2003.

Joe Carrillo, chief operations officer for the National Association of Hispanic Publications, said Baltimore is a likely growth area for Hispanic media because it is close to cities like New York and Philadelphia, which have longstanding Spanish daily newspapers and several FM radio stations. Also, Washington has at least seven weekly Spanish newspapers.

El Zol 99.1, an FM Spanish radio station, started transmitting here six months ago. It can be heard along with a few Spanish AM stations that have been on the air for several years.

"In the Northeast region, you have some of the most developed markets and some of the most up-and-coming markets," Carrillo said.

He said Spanish media fill a need that their mainstream counterparts do not. Latinos are looking for more information about Hispanic culture and the social issues affecting them, he said.

Spanish-language newspapers have come and gone in Baltimore over the years, but area leaders believe the region can one day support a bilingual weekly or daily newspaper.

"The market is ready for the advertisers," said Erick A. Oribio, publisher of Latin OpiniM-sn.

Oribio and then-business partner Carlos Cruz launched the publication with 3,000 copies in September under the name Opinion Latina. Circulation has climbed to 5,000, and Oribio expects to double that by mid-summer. The staff of six publishes the newspaper from a Pratt Street office.

Startup costs have totaled about $100,000, Oribio said, and the paper is not making money. Oribio recently took over sole control of the publication. Cruz said he stopped investing in the newspaper during the past month after becoming impatient over not seeing a return on his investment.

Oribio recently changed the paper's name in hopes of luring more non-Latino readers and advertisers. He believes the newspaper can appeal to those who speak Spanish as well as those who are interested in Latino issues.

"I am offering the Latino market in Baltimore to all businesses," Oribio said. "I do this not just for Latinos, but for all cultures."

Editions of the paper are distributed at locations in Baltimore that Oribio has identified as "places any Hispanic would be" - schools, churches, public libraries, government buildings and Latino-owned businesses.

Oribio, a native of Venezuela, has lived in Maryland for 10 years. He is the host of a weekly radio program for Hispanics in Prince George's County on Viva 900 AM and serves as the Hispanic-Latino Community Liaison for the county's Office of Community Relations. He also is active in state politics, having served as Hispanic community director for the Maryland Democratic Party and as a Hispanic outreach and media manager for the Governor's Census 2000 office.

In 1999, Oribio worked for a Baltimore version of El Hispano, a Washington weekly. Another weekly, El Heraldo, was started in Baltimore during the early 1990s, but shut down a few years ago.

One mainstay has been El Mensajero, a monthly newsletter produced by Louis Queral, a retired physician and Cuban immigrant who lives in Towson. He started the publication more than 30 years ago as a hobby. It is mailed to about 3,000 subscribers and supported mostly by donations.

Each issue of Latin Opinion features up to four local articles, some of which are translated into English, and a local editorial. The rest of the content comes from international wire service Agence France-Presse.

The front page of the May 13 edition featured articles about registering for an identification card at the Mexican consulate in Baltimore, the debate over providing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and the Orioles' leading their division. Each article was written in Spanish; the ID card story also was translated into English.

Advertising has more than doubled during the past nine months, and Oribio expects to post a profit soon. He hopes to increase the paper from 16 pages.

Tony Bedon of Maryland Title Co., said his firm recognized the potential of the increasing Latino market and wants to become known as the title company for Spanish speakers in Baltimore. The company has placed ads in Latin OpiniM-sn for about two months.

"We've gotten a good response," he said. "There is no question that with the participation in the paper, business that's coming from the Spanish-speaking community has increased quite a bit."

Aldo Figueroa, a Realtor with Riley and Associates in Baltimore, recently began advertising in Latin Opinion.

"I'm interested in working with the Hispanic population in Baltimore," he said. "This is the first biweekly Spanish newspaper, and we are proud of that."

Some readers said Baltimore needs more Spanish outlets.

"I need to know more about [Maryland], to give me ideas on how to succeed," said Gregorio Gonzalez, a 32-year-old native of Tlapa, Guererro, Mexico.

The Fells Point resident moved to Baltimore about three years ago. He said he's interested in reading about immigration, transportation, Social Security and other services.

"When I'm in Mexico, I'm interested in knowing about Mexico," he said. "When I'm in America, I want to know about America."

Newspapers like Latin Opinion and hundreds of others founded during the past few years have become one of the fastest-growing segments of print media.

A report by Advertising Age, a national trade magazine, predicts Hispanic print media revenue will grow by 12 percent in 2005, to $404 million, and 14 percent in 2006, to $460 million.

The number of Hispanic newspapers in the United States grew 5.6 percent in 2004, to 704, compared with a year earlier, according to research by the Latino Print Network. From 2000 to 2004, the number of publications grew 28 percent. in

Several factors play into the growing numbers, including increased literacy, improved content and more availability, said Felipe Korzenny, professor of Hispanic marketing and communication at Florida State University.

Small, local publications serve a specific purpose, he said.

"They are not really there to challenge your thinking - they are for more practical things like where do I go for services?" Korzenny said. "They are very good, but they are very practical."

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