The life and death of El Diario
A Reporter’s Worst Fear
It was just a regular day for Gloria Medina, former reporter at El Diario La Prensa, a newspaper considered to be the oldest Spanish-speaking daily in New York. Medina, at the time, had felt proud to work at a paper with such distinction, as did her fellow reporters.
El Diario was family, Medina said. And when working for a paper for such a long time you begin to feel that you are a part of the paper itself.
Her voice cracked for a moment as she remembered the day that she was laid off from her job of 16 years. The first job she held in journalism.
“We were laid off on June 13, 2013,” Medina said. “Almost three years ago, it seems like it was yesterday.”
El Diario was founded in 1913 as a weekly under the name La Prensa in Lower Manhattan, and in 1963, merged with El Diario de Nueva York El Diario La Prensa, according to impreMedia, the paper’s current publisher.
The paper’s audience has transitioned over the years, not only serving its New York Latino population but according to the Huffington Post, its Dominican, South American and Mexican immigrants as well.
But like many print publications throughout the country that are struggling to keep afloat in the digital age, El Diario has fallen on hard times. ImpreMedia describes their product now as “a state-of-the-art multimedia operation that includes print, digital, and other platforms.”
June 13th was a Friday and Medina had the day off. When the Metro Editor called her in for a last-minute meeting, Medina wondered what it was she had done.
On her way to the meeting, she called her union leaders who were unaware of what was going on. They told Medina to wait at her desk and that they would call her back.
Medina waited for a bit until she was taken to the press conference room where she was told, almost unfeeling, by ImpreMedia Vice President of Human Resources Bill Graham that her services would no longer be needed.
“I didn’t understand anything because we had a union,” Medina said. “He was reading a letter, but I wasn’t really listening to what he was saying. I just kept thinking, what did I do wrong?”
Medina finally asked the question, and got an answer: nothing.
The paper was going through changes, changes that would lead to more layoffs even after Medina’s time, that El Diario would no longer need her.
“I don’t know if I was upset, sad or everything,” Medina said. “Then they told me to go to another conference room where someone would explain to me about the union, severance pay and other things.”
In the second room, Medina saw a group of people but there was one person in particular that stood out to her. It was another co-worker who Medina knew had worked with the union. Medina asked why didn’t she tell her what was going on, she replied to Medina that she didn’t know anything and that she was being fired as well.
Slowly, the room started to fill with other staff from El Diario. And for a moment Medina found herself feeling a little better, she had thought that she was alone when it became clear that she was not. People from the union started coming into the room as well, discussing things with Medina and now her former co-workers about insurance and severance pay.
“We had to take our things and just go home. We were talking and talking and we just couldn’t believe it,” Medina said.
In the beginning Medina found herself simply hiding in her apartment and crying. She didn’t know what else to do. She felt lost.
The contacts that she had made while working for El Diario would often call her during the following months, offering story ideas but unaware that Medina was no longer employed at the paper.
“Every time someone would call I would start crying because I had to tell them that I don’t work for El Diario anymore and would explain the situation, that was very painful,” Medina said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but I felt at the moment when I left my job that I had lost everything.”
More Layoffs, botched negotiations
El Diario has faced countless amounts of layouts. In 2012, Newspaper Guild employees at El Diario voted to accept a then new contract with parent company, impreMedia reported the New York Post.
The deal resulted in the layoffs of 17 workers, then about 28 percent of the paper’s 61 unionized workers. A few years later in 2014, El Diario laid off 20 employees eight of whom were Newspaper Guild members, according to CrainsNew York.
Earlier this year, El Diaro laid off 13 of its employees, six of which belonged to its editorial team. ImpreMedia, owner of El Diaro, and new CEO Gabriel Dantur noted that the paper would continue to be printed, but that measures would be taken in order to put more attention on digital, mobile and social networking communications.
Dantur acknowledged that the company has lost money in the last four years since the Argentinean Group La Nacion brought impreMedia.
Alberto Mendez had started working for El Diario around 1996 as a graphic designer, eventually he became a part of the paper’s marketing department and had worked there for nearly 16 years. He accepted a buyout but was later called back to be a contractor until he was ultimately laid off.
During his time with the paper, Mendez said that he was involved with negotiations between the union and the company, and as a result of what he said were “botched” negotiations 16 people had lost their jobs.
“We’re talking about three years ago. Unfortunately, I’m going to tell you in one single sentence what one of my ex-managers told me,” Mendez said. “Why are you going to pay to the union? You better take the money and spend it, because what would happen is that the union would not do anything.”
This was a lesson, Mendez said, that he and others did not learn until years of negotiations and less than appealing deals had been made. They were, he added, not made in his group's best interest.
Mendez said that when he was at the negotiation table he learned a lot of things. Things that he’s not really suppose to discuss because of the numbers, but there was a lot of money spent when it came to the implementation of the internet.
“They spent over 2 million dollars at that time and during the process we lost,” Mendez said. And I say we, because I always felt that El Diario was my newspaper also. When you work there for 16 years, you realize that that’s your family,”
Similar to the echoes of Medina, Mendez said that years ago it was very nice to work at the newspaper because it truly felt like a family. People celebrated holidays together, birthdays even inviting the community to the offices of El Diario to celebrate events.
Everything started to come to an end, Mendez said, when the mentality of El Diario started to change from a family newspaper and to the mentality of a corporate newspaper. The transition to a digital age started to begin.
“If I’m an immigrant, like most of the Latin America people or Spanish speaking people, we’re immigrants we want to hear about things that are going on in Ecuador, for example.” Mendez said. “I’m from Ecuador, I’m not going to read the El Diario. I’m not going to read it on my tablet. I want to read the physical El Diario, on the paper I want to smell the ink on the paper.”
What lies ahead
The News Guild of New York has been desperately fighting the changes what impreMedia has been implementing.
It began at City Hall in January, according to Fox News Latino, when they rallied council members to hold a hearing about ethnic media. Mayor Bill DeBlasio said the city could invest in all ethnic publications by putting ads for city services in these papers. They moved on to politicians in Albany in late March.
“El Diario is a staple in the Hispanic community. And it's been that for over a 102 years, my mother reads El Diario,” Jesus Sanchez, member of the News Guild in New York said. “No matter how many times I have a computer she wants to read the newspaper, as do ten of thousands of New Yorkers in all of the burroughs. It’s how they get their news, how they know what is going on in their local communities and this particular employer has really destroyed this paper and they really don’t know what their doing.”
At the Latino leadership conference known as Somos, where notable Latinos gather and politicians court the community, Fox Lation reported that the Guild pushed the paper as a topic of conversation.
There, the Guild decided to launch an online petition asking El Diario’s parent company to save the paper.
“We can’t force them to sell but if you have a concept and you realize your business model is not working, don’t take everyone down with you. It’s unnecessary,” Sanchez said. “And our suggestion to them [impreMedia] publicly and privately, is that if you don’t know what you’re doing doing, get out of the way and let someone else do it. This is not about your business or business model, you have a bigger responsibility to the public.”
Gabriel Dantur told Fox News Latino by email that the company is trying to do more with less and be innovative.
Mendez does miss the good old days at El Diario and he keeps in touch with some of his former co-workers from his time, though he added that he does not visit El Diario’s current offices.
He’s happy now, working and doing freelance work for Lehman College in New York since he departed the paper. Medina too is doing well. After doing contracted work for NY1.com, she decided to enroll in CUNY’s graduate school for journalism where she is study social journalism.
“Through my process of looking for a job I saw that companies were asking for social skills, like social media tools. So I thought to myself that I needed to learn these skill in order to find a good job,” Medina said. “So it was the next step for me, because I love journalism that’s really what I love and enjoy doing that’s why I wanted to continue in the industry. I decided to take a class and get those skills and if I have those skills I will get a better job. With this knowledge of the social media tools it's going to be so much easier and better.”