Times Mirror Buys 50% Stake in La Opinion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Times Mirror, the media company that publishes the Los Angeles Times, on Thursday said it has agreed to buy a 50% stake in La Opinion, the Los Angeles newspaper that ranks as the nation's largest Spanish-language daily.

La Opinion and The Times will maintain completely separate staffs and operations, according to executives of both papers. "Our ties will have been strengthened, but the Times and La Opinion will remain completely independent," said David Laventhol, president of Los Angeles-based Times Mirror and publisher of The Times.

The value of the transaction was not disclosed. Laventhol said no additional investment in La Opinion is planned.

La Opinion will retain its Spanish-language format, and no management changes are anticipated as a result of the deal.

"Through the partnership with The Times Mirror Co.," La Opinion publisher Jose Lozano said in a statement, "we can continue to strengthen the newspaper, expand its coverage and make it even more relevant to the lives of our readers."

Southern California's rapidly growing Latino community--which numbers about 4 million--has helped boost La Opinion's circulation in recent years. Daily circulation grew by 17% in 1989 and now stands at about 100,000. The Times' circulation totals about 1.2 million daily and 1.5 million on Sunday.

The mushrooming Latino community has attracted other Spanish-language daily newspapers, including Noticias del Mundo, which is owned by the Unification Church. A third daily--El Diario de Los Angeles, which was financed by a Mexican newspaper chain and other investors--closed in October, 1989, after 2 1/2 years in operation. Noticias has a circulation estimated at 35,000 to 50,000, and El Diario's circulation never rose above 30,000.

Buying into La Opinion may help Times Mirror tap into the growth of Southern California's burgeoning Latino population. In the past three decades, the Latino population of Los Angeles has grown to more than 3 million from 580,000. In the next decade, it is expected to reach more than 4 million, about 40% of the population. Already, The Times publishes a bilingual supplement, Nuestro Tiempo, that is distributed 15 times a year in heavily Latino communities. Nuestro Tiempo will continue to be published, Laventhol said.

In addition to The Times, Times Mirror publishes a number of newspapers, including Newsday and the Baltimore Sun, owns a chain of television stations and is involved in magazine and book publishing.

The partnership between The Times and La Opinion is "something that's been under consideration for some time," Laventhol said. "The Latino community is an increasingly important part of our readership."

Under the agreement, a new board of directors will be created to oversee the partnership, with a majority of the board composed of representatives of La Opinion, which is owned by Lozano Enterprises of California.

La Opinion was founded in 1926 by Lozano's grandfather, and the paper has remained a family-controlled operation since.

La Opinion and The Times have a history of cooperation with each other. They have worked together on public information supplements, collaborated on stories and shared facilities during emergencies.

The purchase agreement is subject to review by federal antitrust officials. "We have reviewed this (the antitrust question) and are satisfied, and feel it is correct to proceed and would not have done so otherwise," Laventhol said.

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