Minority groups carving big niche in media market

NORCROSS - When La Vision, a daily Hispanic newspaper based in Norcross, began publishing five years ago, it printed 1,000 copies a week.

Now it prints 60,000 a week, and owner Victoria Chacon projects it will begin distributing 100,000 copies by the end of the year.

The exponential growth of La Vision reflects the explosion of ethnic media in Gwinnett County and the Atlanta area.

"There's a newspaper that pops up every month," said Frank Vera, general sales manager for two Doraville radio stations.

That may be hyperbole, but there's some truth to that statement. Gwinnett is home to several Hispanic newspapers and radio stations, as well as a Korean television channel. On top of that, numerous Chinese and Korean newspapers and other Hispanic media outlets are distributed and broadcast throughout the county.

As immigrants are drawn to Gwinnett by new developments and the low cost of housing, new media outlets have followed in their wake.

"Gwinnett is one of the most important markets," said Sammy Zamaron, program director for La Favorita, the longest-running Hispanic radio station in the Atlanta area.

Because studies report minorities prefer ethnic media rather than mainstream media, big media companies and advertisers have begun to recognize a lucrative new market.

Korean and Hispanic community leaders estimate 100,000 Koreans and 600,000 Hispanics live in the Atlanta area. And according to a study sponsored by New America Media, 45 percent of black, Latino and Asian-American adults prefer ethnic media over their mainstream counterparts.

"If you don't speak English, you will never go to the mainstream media," said Judith Martinez-Sadri, editor-in-chief of the Norcross-based Atlanta Latino. "And even if you're bilingual, you will always go back to your main language."

Comcast, Clear Channel and Cox Newspapers have bought or started their own Spanish-language broadcasts or publications. And advertisements in ethnic media outlets don't come from only mom-and-pop grocery stores - more than half of the advertising revenue for several media outlets is derived from national businesses and corporations.

Center stage

Because they serve mainly immigrant populations, ethnic media outlets aim to provide consumers with useful information in addition to straight news headlines.

"We see ourself as a local information center," said Susan Sim, vice president of the Korean Television Network in Duluth. "We're very community focused."

The Korean Television Network, the only one in the Southeast, broadcasts a Tuesday talk show where an attorney, doctor or real estate broker will educate new arrivals and encourage them to take part in American society.

Hispanic media isn't as widespread here as it is in Los Angeles, but it is arguably more important in Atlanta because consumers are generally new to Georgia, if not America. Pierto Broadcasting, which operates two Doraville radio stations, has increased the number of news and talk shows on RadioMex, which is broadcast on WPLO 610AM. In addition, it has begun broadcasting a new station, La Ley - "the law" - on WFTB 1080AM, which helps inform listeners about American and Georgian society in addition to playing music.

Mundo Hispanico, the oldest Atlanta-area Hispanic newspaper, also followed the trend, starting a new weekly publication to inform people about life in America.

"When you have such rapid growth in a community such as ours, a lot of people need that kind of information," said the publisher of the Hispanic weekly Mundo Hispanic, Lindo Dominguez.

Also, the debate over Georgia's new immigration law and the resulting protests increased the importance of Hispanic media, which sought to galvanize support or sort through disinformation about the new law.

"During that time, we felt people were thirsty for information," Martinez-Sadri said. "It was crucial for us to have timely information written in a way that our readers would understand."

Entering the mainstream

The importance of ethnic media has not gone unnoticed by mainstream media companies.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, owned by Cox Newspapers, recently purchased Mundo Hispanico. Cable providers Charter and Comcast both carry the Korean Television Network, allowing the network to reach 95 percent of the Atlanta area.

"There are different needs in the community now with growth of the Korean population," Sim said. "I think it's only going to get bigger."

Comcast also carries Georgia TeVe, founded by Rafael Ortiz-Guzman, Adrian Bernal and Jose Rede in July 2005. The television station is the first locally produced Spanish-language broadcast, and it carries Spanish content 24 hours a day.

"The Latino has gotten more sophisticated," Ortiz-Guzman said. "He wants to know more, to be more informed."

Clear Channel opened their own Hispanic radio station, Viva!, in Atlanta in 2004 after studying local population trends and deciding the Hispanic market was underserved, Clear Channel Regional Vice President Jerry Del Core said.

Victor Martinez, a consultant for Pierto Broadcasting, said corporate interest in Hispanic media is beneficial, giving Latinos access to bigger media executives and advertisers.

"It's taking us to the next level," Martinez said during an Atlanta Press Club panel discussion on the power of the Hispanic media.

Buying power

The expansion of Hispanic media and its consumer base has caught the eye of major advertisers.

"Some national advertisers are really starting to take note in the growth of the Hispanic community."

In a June issue of Atlanta Latino, Delta and Sprint ran full-page, Spanish-language advertisements within the news section. Martinez-Sadri said about half of the newspaper's advertisements are drawn from non-Hispanic businesses.

While most businesses who advertise with the Korean Television Network are local operations, corporations have begun to see Hispanic media as a means to attract a new market. Eighty-seven percent of Latino adults use Spanish-language television, radio or newspapers on a regular basis, according to the New America Media study.

"If they really want to reach the Latino market, this is the option," said La Vision owner Victoria Chacon.

Vera said advertising on RadioMex comes mostly from local Hispanic businesses, but companies like Kroger and Ford Motor Co. also purchase air time on the radio station.

With corporate backing, Martinez expects Hispanic media to only grow bigger and faster in the Atlanta area.

"There's going to be an unbelievable expansion," he said. "We're not even halfway there."