HOY is in the timing.

        There was a time when the demise of the New York Spanish language daily, HOY, would have sounded like sweet music to my ears.

The news of HOY’s closing would have come in a similar fashion as it did last week: a phone call from some agency friend asking if the rumor could be true, a news bit on 1010Wins Radio, or some email or news clipping from the New York Daily News business section. In those days I would have been thrilled. A celebration might have followed…at least at my office.

That was back in 2000 when I was working as general manager of el diario /La Prensa and the audacity of the Tribune Company to dare challenge el diario/La Prensa’s prominence, its almost 100-year history in serving New York’s Hispanic community was nothing short of insulting, transparent, greedy and – dare I say – stupid!

This was a time when the Internet was in its first big boom (just prior to the first big bust). There were maybe four or five major Spanish language daily newspapers of significance in the whole country and the U.S. Hispanic market had not only just gotten hot, but was about to get hotter thanks to the 2000 U.S. Census. September 11th was yet to happen, so advertisers were noticing Latinos; the automotive industry was still a friend to newspaper classified and ROP advertising, and people still looked to newspapers for news, job listings, and real estate.  In a sense, immigration was still not a dirty word, so we had a mission.  It was a bright time when media companies going public was a good thing and the stock market had its ups and downs but nothing like today’s roller-coaster disasters.  You can’t really say they were the glory days, but by comparison…

Back then, HOY inspired conflicting emotions, questions and debate and, yes, even great pride. For many of us at el diario/ La Prensa there was no question that something strange and aggressive was happening in Hispanic print and that HOY was a key catalyst.  It seemed that where HOY went, so would the Hispanic newspaper industry. HOY represented the birth of national Hispanic newspaper network market coverage; as clear a sign as any that Hispanics were a force with which to be reckoned.

Circulation numbers that had taken el diario decades to grow and maintain were surpassed with ease by this upstart publication.  How could that be?  Design and layout and color and editorial and distribution were constantly being discussed, while HOY, with the lucrative backing of the once mighty Tribune Company set the new bar.  Could we have missed something along the way?  Had we gotten lazy? When advertisers started taking notice of HOY, the rest of the Hispanic newspaper industry was rattled and suddenly new, better, sleeker, Hispanic newspapers started to pop up across the country.

This, frankly, worried the old-timers. My reps needed constant motivating and some of our top people were picked right out from under our noses with outrageous salaries and packages. HOY represented the future.  So did the Internet.  Between the two, traditional media – Spanish or English – was in for a battle.   It was war in the classic newspaper sense! And it was personal. HOY was Walmart, Home Depot, big-box and well funded.  El diario/ La Prensa was Ma and Pa. It was Samson vs. Goliath.

In its heyday, and even as recently as a few months ago, there were many in our industry that would lay claim to being the originators of the HOY idea. I heard it as recently as a holiday party a few weeks ago.  “HOY was my idea!” they would proudly say. The Tribune Company had either bought it, stole it, or copied it.  HOY always seemed to have the aura of being a great idea.

Still, everything about this newspaper was subject to discussion and debate.

When the Tribune circulation scandal broke out a few years later, there were many who proclaimed, “I told you so!”  I was one of those people because we had figured it out years earlier…or thought we had.  But by then I was long gone from el diario/ La Prensa and the responsibility of proving these suspicions would have landed on the shoulders of others.  Looking at it from a completely detached point of view, what I saw was that the scandal actually created so much doubt and apprehension about Hispanic readers that the newspaper industry as a whole reeled from the negative impact for quite some time. Again, where HOY went, so did the industry. HOY’s sudden turn of fortune would continue to make headlines.

An even more astounding round of questioning and debating took place when Impremedia, by now unquestionably the Hispanic newspaper industry’s 500 lb gorilla, bought the scandal ridden New York edition of HOY.  The Hispanic newspaper industry and market had changed so very drastically since those days in 2000 and Impremedia was at the forefront of much of that good change and growth.  In essence they had won!  Why buy the loser?  Why buy only HOY New York and not all three editions? Why didn’t el diario/ La Prensa just reclaim its rightful place as New York’s number one Spanish language daily and call it a day?  Yet for an undisclosed number, HOY New York became an Impremedia property.

I am not sure how some felt about that, but what mattered is that Impremedia demonstrated faith in HOY’S vision and understood the significance of this paper’s contributions. Maybe, had it not been for this damned economy and all the damage it has done to our business, advertising, consumer confidence and media (especially ethnic media), Impremedia’s strategies might have proved them right.  Unusual circumstances, a constant barrage of misfortune, management changes, legal problems and an unpredictable, changing Hispanic market landscape certainly would prove too much for HOY to circumvent. Perhaps HOY’s closing was simply inevitable?

In the transition, Impremedia did much to keep this paper alive and well in an ambitious attempt at a Pygmalion transformation.  Numbers were cleaned up, money was pumped into HOY and some of their best people were sent over to make the transformation happen.  You can’t say they didn’t try many things.  They should be applauded for their effort.  Impremedia and el diario, as well as much of the Hispanic newspaper industry, has always been somehow connected to the fortunes of HOY.  In retrospect, to own it, see it flourish and find its rightful place would be good business for all.

As always, HOY is once again the subject of discussion.  What-ifs and whys will fly in the days to come but the truth is that we’ll never truly know why HOY’s big day never happened. Timing is everything and things change.

This time around, I lament HOY’s departure.

As I see ethnic specific papers like Diario De Mexico -USA edition and some of the older institutions like El Nuevo Herald and La Raza stay afloat, grow and adjust there’s clearly a place for Hispanic newspapers.  Clearly, the economy was too much of a hurdle for Impremedia to keep two Spanish language dailies alive in the same market when one, el diario/ La Prensa, has been and should continue to be there bread and butter.

If only things had gone differently.

By Roger Gonzalez

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