Media: Leaner Miami Herald gets commercial makeover - It's best to know who you want to drop a story to at the Herald - The Florida paper has undergone big changes in recent years as it refocuses on its bilingual readership, writes Teresa Mears

No one would ever mistake The Miami Herald's newsroom for an insurance office. Cubicles are crowded with toys, cartoons, books and piles of papers that threaten to swallow the occupants. No one is wearing a power suit, though editors are less likely to engage in rubber-band fights than they once were.

No one would ever mistake The Miami Herald's newsroom for an insurance office. Cubicles are crowded with toys, cartoons, books and piles of papers that threaten to swallow the occupants. No one is wearing a power suit, though editors are less likely to engage in rubber-band fights than they once were.

No one would ever mistake The Miami Herald's newsroom for an insurance office. Cubicles are crowded with toys, cartoons, books and piles of papers that threaten to swallow the occupants. No one is wearing a power suit, though editors are less likely to engage in rubber-band fights than they once were.

Life at The Miami Herald is never dull. Like the metropolitan area of more than 3.5 million people it covers, the paper finds the only constant is change.

'We are, in my view, a lively newspaper, like our community,' says managing editor Larry Olmstead. 'In most senses of the word, we are a colorful newspaper, like our community.'

In the last decade, the paper's ups and downs have been the subject of articles in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time and all the media industry titles. The Herald's coverage of the Elian Gonzalez controversy brought intense community pressure from both sides. The struggle to cover the emotional story was another example of the many challenges the paper faces as it reinvents itself to serve the new Miami and meet Knight Ridder's demand for higher profit margins - 22% this year.

Gone are the bureaus in New York, Atlanta, Jerusalem, Europe and Brazil.

Most of the foreign reporting has been taken over by Knight Ridder, though the Herald still has bureaus in Bogota and Managua and a team of Miami-based reporters who cover Cuba and the Caribbean.

Tropic, the paper's award-winning Sunday magazine, ceased publication in fall 1998. The Herald's aspirations to march up the Atlantic Coast have also died, and it now focuses its resources on Miami-Dade and southern Broward County, where the paper competes fiercely - and successfully - for suburban readers with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Circulation has declined from a high of 442,560 in 1985 to 349,114 for the six months ending September 1999. But Olmstead points out that cuts in one area are not always budget savings, sometimes meaning enhancements in another. For example, money saved from closing Tropic was used to create a new Sunday arts section called In South Florida and add pages to the sports and business sections. In the last few weeks, the paper has added a weekly religion page, boosted the size of its Sunday Travel section, inaugurated a Sports Monday section and an outdoors page and added a technology pullout to its Business Monday tabloid.

Last fall, the Herald joined other newspapers in switching to a narrower page, putting some of the money it saved on newsprint into expanding the daily business section. At the same time, the paper was redesigned. New presses, at a cost of dollars 110 million, have allowed the Herald to use more color throughout the paper, including daily color comics.

'Last year we spent less money in the newsroom but we gave it back to the readers in terms of more space, and a better-looking newspaper,' Olmstead says.

The last four years have brought a complete change in management. Olmstead was hired as managing editor four years ago from Knight Ridder, which he joined after a career as a reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press, Baltimore Sun and The New York Times. Alberto Ibarguen became the paper's first Hispanic publisher in August 1998, after working as publisher of the paper's Spanish-language edition and for Newsday. And executive editor Martin Baron arrived from The New York Times, where he was associate managing editor, in January.

From a PR standpoint, dealing with the Herald is like dealing with any large newspaper, says Joanna Wragg, one of the principals in Wragg and Casas, a Miami public relations firm. 'They're eager to work with PR firms if the PR firms are careful and know what they're doing,' says Wragg, who worked at the Herald before opening the PR firm in 1992. 'But they can't be bothered with every little fluff story.'

David Satterfield, the paper's executive business editor, recently met with Wragg's staff to talk about how the firm should approach the paper.

And such meetings, with PR firms or various segments of the public, aren't unusual for Herald editors.

Satterfield's advice: 'Don't send paper. E-mail, e-mail, e-mail.' The paper also wants color photos by e-mail, JPEGs and GIFs, to accompany announcement of promotions, new hires and other news.

His advice for someone seeking to get a story into the paper is somewhat contradictory, but it also reflects how the Herald really works. 'It's best to take a targeted approach,' he says, and go directly to the reporter who covers the beat. That said, 'It is also prudent at the Herald to reach as many people as you can,' sending the same release to several sections or departments if you're not sure where the item fits best.

Like most major daily newspapers, the Herald does not allow its staff to take press junkets, unless the paper pays its own way.

In addition to seeking budget cuts to raise its profit margin, the Herald has also looked at ways to increase revenues, including creating new publications.

Last year saw the debut of the tabloid Street, a free entertainment weekly, and The Jewish Herald, which is distributed with the paper in some ZIP codes. A new custom publishing division is also publishing the bi-monthly DestinoMiami, a glossy aimed at Latin American visitors.

The paper is fighting to stem declines in circulation. The Herald faces the challenge of marketing to an audience that was raised on television, as well as a high percentage of Hispanic non-English speakers.

The Herald inaugurated a Spanish-language edition, El Nuevo Herald, nearly 25 years ago but in recent years has considerably beefed up its resources and made it more independent. In 1998, for the first time, the company made it possible to subscribe only to the Spanish-language edition, which now has more than 90,000 subscribers.

Parent company Knight Ridder moved to San Jose, CA, in 1998, saying it wanted to be closer to Silicon Valley as part of its drive to profit from the Internet. The move sparked rumors, which the corporation has vehemently denied, that the Herald was for sale.

Those who predict doom for Miami's daily English-language newspaper aren't seeing the bigger picture, Olmstead says. Many of Miami's bilingual Hispanic residents prefer to receive their news in English, and 40% of the English-language Herald readers are Hispanic. If anything, the transient nature of the community makes the role of the daily newspaper even more important than it is in most major cities. 'The Herald is the dominant news-gathering force in South Florida,' he says.

'We're influential. We're a household name ... I think the Herald is definitely here to stay.'



CONTACT LIST

The Miami Herald

One Herald Plaza

Miami FL 33132-1693

www.miamiherald.com



Broward Office

2010 NW. 150th Ave.

Pembroke Pines FL 33028

Tel: (954) 764-7026

Broward News: (954) 538-7102

Miami Tel: (305)350-2111 (305-376 and four-digit extension for individual editors)

Fax: 2287 for news, 2202 for features, 2378 for El Nuevo Herald 2378, (954) 538 7020 for Broward.

E-mail: firstinitiallastname@

herald.com, also dadenews, neighbors, browardnews, sports, business, features, travel, nationalnews, worldnews, statedesk, investigations, actionline, HeraldEd (letters), factline (archive research)

Publisher: Alberto Ibarguen

Executive editor: Martin Baron

Managing editor: Larry Olmstead (3504)

Section editors: Mark Seibel, metro (3638); Juan Vasquez, world and nation (3624); Rick Hirsch, Broward (954 538-7130); David Satterfield, business (4525); Kendall Hamersly, features (3667); Kevin Baxter, arts (3655); Connie Ogle, Weekend (3649); Joan Chrissos, Tropical Life (2635); Jane Wooldridge, travel (3629); Diane Kolyer, real estate (3659); Kathy Martin, food (3663);

Barbara Gutierrez, reader representative (2186); Richard Bush, sports (3484); Carlos Castaneda, El Nuevo (3535).



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