El Diario lays off 12

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The redesigned cover. (El Diario)
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Nicole Levy

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El Diario La Prensa, the nation's oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper and the largest in New York, handed out pink slips to 12 staff members Friday.

The layoffs came a little more than a week after the 101-year-old daily relaunched its print edition to counteract its declining circulation and more than three months after the Newspaper Guild of New York filed an unfair labor practice charge against ImpreMedia, El Diario’s parent company, for allegedly threatening to fire employees over their loyalty to the union at an editorial meeting in February.

Late last month, the National Labor Relations Board coordinated a settlement requiring ImpreMedia management to publicly post and email union members a notice pledging the company’s agreement to negotiate with the Guild. Posted on the bulletin board in the cafeteria at the paper’s Brooklyn offices, the notice stated that ImpreMedia would “continue to abide by the contract with the Union.”

On Friday afternoon, employees were called into a conference room one by one to receive the news from their individual managers, along with a letter explaining that their jobs were being terminated.

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An ImpreMedia spokesperson confirmed this morning that 12 staffers were laid off.

“During that meeting, they were told how the company had to make cuts,” said Oscar Hernandez, El Diario’s union chairperson and an employee of the paper since 1989.

Hernandez said the company broke its contractual bargaining agreement with the Guild in failing to give the labor organization and its members two weeks’ notice of their termination.

But the company spokesperson said ImpreMedia had abided by the terms of the agreement. "Layoffs are on June 27th. On Friday they communicated to the people affected, precisely with the 2 weeks in advance as required by the contract," the spokesperson wrote in an email to Capital.

The tabloid newspaper's circulation has been declining for years, and over the six-month period ending in March, average weekday circulation fell 12 percent to 30,955, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

"To continue to transition to a media property of the future, we must unfortunately, make very difficult but necessary decisions to respond to new financial realities and become more efficient," ImpreMedia C.E.O. Francisco Seghezzo said in a statement emailed to Capital, referring to the paper's new print edition as evidence of his company's evolution. "It is always painful to part with valued colleagues. We thank them for their unwavering hard work, dedication and contributions to El Diario."

The first staffer to collect her discharge notice, former metro reporter Rosa Margarita Murphy, had worked at the paper for over 13 years. In an email to Capital she said that since February the company had been “looking for ways to get rid of us, unionized employees, harassing and belittling our work in front of our peers.”

“ImpreMedia has followed through on its illegal threat to fire veteran journalists and try to replace them with nonunion staff,” Guild president Bill O’Meara said in a statement issued to Capital.

The paper’s new management took over in 2012, when the Argentinian paper La Nación purchased a majority stake in ImpreMedia.

At a staff meeting in November about the paper’s upcoming print redesign, ImpreMedia content director Juan Varela said El Diario had to expand its readership, from Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans to central and South Americans, Hernandez said.

As the union chairperson remembered Varela’s words, the content director called El Diario a “ghetto” paper that needed to elevate its standards and pursue more highly educated readers.

In an interview with Capital in March, Varela noted that the city’s Hispanic population has become increasingly diverse in the decades since some of El Diario's staff began working at the paper, as Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Colombians and Guatemalans join Puerto Ricans and Dominicans among New York’s Spanish speakers.

The act of firing longtime El Diario staffers “affects the community because it loses experienced journalists who really have strong ties to the community and who for decades have been the voice of the voiceless,” Murphy said.

Although she predicted that El Diario will go the way of ImpreMedia’s Texas weekly Rumbo, which discontinued printing earlier this month, the company unveiled a redesigned print edition of its New York publication on June 4. In an appeal to readers and advertisers, the revamped paper features a larger emphasis on color printing and graphics, a new focus on service-oriented topics, more news from Latin America, expanded sports coverage and hash tags.

El Diario’s print product accounts for about 90 percent of the publication’s advertising revenue, Matthew Flamm reported for Crain's New York Business. Although the paper’s profitability is still an unanswered question, El Diario general manager Hernando Ruiz-Jimenez told Crain’s that print advertising has “stabilized” and digital ad revenue had grown by 11 percent year-over-year in 2013.

But Hernandez said the paper that has long called itself the “champion of the Hispanics” is in jeopardy of relinquishing its core identity.

“It’s never, never sacrificed anything in covering the news, even after bomb threats and the murder of our chief editor, Manuel de Dios [in 1992], El Diario never lost its integrity,” he said. “And now the question here today is, ‘Campion de?’… Usually we put down ‘of the Hispanics,’ but today that’s a question mark.”